Stuck in the Clouds: On Writer’s Block

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to my high-flying newsletter! The only newsletter that tells you to smash through your writer’s block in a fit of rage like the hulk!

Following a 3-2-1 approach, it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 joke that’s so bad, it’s good!

Let’s begin!


3 Thoughts:

1) “Cutting out distractions and inspiration are the same thing.”- click to tweet

2) “We cultivate meaning by helping others. Intrinsically this is what we want to do. Asking for help allows others to do exactly that. Letting people help you is perhaps the greatest gift you can give. The gift of meaning.”- click to tweet

3) 5 ways to smash your writer’s block to smithereens:

  • Charge through it. Show up at the same place, same time, every single day. Be ritualistic about it. (Even – especially – when you don’t feel like it. ) Eliminate all distractions and just write. Do nothing else. You’d be amazed how many people with writer’s block actually fail to show up and do any writing. Inspiration comes from doing the work, not the other way around.
  • Karate chop multiple blocks at the same time. Similar to the last piece of advice. Don’t put all your psychological eggs in one basket. I think it’s best to have two or three projects going at the same time and to move between them. Not only does this help with the cross-fertilisation of ideas (that makes you a better writer), it stops from feeling defeated by any one of them.
  • Rise above it. Writer’s block is often born out of perfectionism. Being a perfectionist is another way of saying you’re self-conscious. When this happens the internal editor tends to step on the toes of your muse. You need to separate the two. A time for writing. A time for editing. Another idea is to think in terms of writing to one person instead of an audience. Not only does this help to make us feel less self conscious – it has the added benefit of making your writing feel more personal. People respond to honesty and vulnerably first and foremost.
  • Walk away from it. Ultimately writer’s block is an emotional problem. If you really are stuck it either means you’re taking your writing way too seriously or not taking other matters in your life seriously enough. In either case that means you need to walk away and put life first. Going for a slow mindful walk, sitting down to meditate, playing with our kids or even taking the day off is often all we need to gain that much needed perspective. That’s usually when the apple falls from the tree and smacks us over the head.

2 Quotes:

“All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.”

– Eckhart Tolle

“The responsibility of any creator is to do the work, not judge it. Your job is to fall in love with the process, not grade the outcome.”

– James Clear

1 Joke: 

I entered ten puns in a contest to see which would win.

No pun in ten did.


You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

***

To have my weekly newsletter delivered straight to your inbox sign up for my Stuck in the Clouds newsletter here. You know you want to

Writer’s Roadblock

So I hit a roadblock with my writing recently. I stalled. Ironically while writing a book about stalling and the need to let go to regain lift in life. Instead of doing that, I kept smacking my head against a brick wall. 

I am the master of not following my own advice. 

Eventually, I ceded defeat, downed tools, and went on the first holiday I’d been on in over 3 years. (No fucking joke!) 

But as soon as I returned, I found myself in the same creative rut. I couldn’t let go of this question I’d been chewing on. And you’re going to laugh. Here it is: What’s the meaning of life?

Truth be told, it’s tortured me a great deal of late. It’s plagued me precisely because I’m struggling to answer that question for myself.

Of course, that’s why we ask it in the first place. Out of desperation – usually following some major life event or change – because we don’t believe our lives currently are. 

But the moment we ask what it all means, we fall into a stupid trap. The goalposts only move further away. That’s because the question misses the point entirely. The purpose of meaning. 

Meaning isn’t some cosmic truth destined to come to you in the middle of the night (you can go back to sleep now). That’s because meaning is a mental construct. 

That means (ha) meaning is something we give to life. It’s something we instill. It’s something we have to cultivate. The meaning of life, therefore, is to cultivate meaning. The purpose of meaning is to give us purpose. 

So that’s problem one solved. 

Don’t ask what the meaning of life is; instead, think in terms of answering it. But how on earth are we supposed to do that? How do we even begin to determine what the right path for us might be?

The brutal truth is this: We don’t know. We can’t know. 

The only way to find out is to make a plan and then take a bold step in that direction. Only then will you know if you’re at least heading in the right direction, generally speaking, or if you need to pick a different path altogether. Even then, you still need to course correct. It’s not just the mountain we choose to climb that matters, but the pathway up it.

The big issue with this is the time and effort required. The older you get, the more you feel you must get it right. You don’t want to spend another 10 years in a career that isn’t right for you. If you’re going to go through the arduous process of climbing another mountain, you better make sure it’s the right one. 

Yet, the issue remains. We can only know if it’s the right mountain once we start climbing. Even then, it takes a while. Only after we’ve done most of the hard yards – after we’ve completed our degree and gotten a job or climbed up the corporate ladder – will we know for sure. 

When I started climbing the aviation mountain, I gave it very little thought. It seemed obvious to me that that was the mountain I should climb. I wanted to travel the world, and being a pilot was a fantastic way to do it. 

Now my motivations have changed. I want to pursue a path of deeper meaning. But I’m having the usual unrelenting doubts. Should I return to the safety of the mountain I’ve already climbed? I have two kids now. A mortgage to pay. The choice seems more complex than it once was. The risks seem more significant, the rewards less certain.

This is at the heart of my writer’s roadblock. I’m seeking answers to questions I can’t know until I put one foot in front of the other. Until I take that bold step into the unknown. 

The alternative is to keep smacking my head against a brick wall. At the very least, I know that isn’t working. 


You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

***

For more pointless musings about life sign up for my Stuck in the Clouds newsletter here!

Stuck in the Clouds: On the Meaning of Life

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to my high-flying newsletter! The only newsletter that tells you the meaning of life is up to you…

Following a 3-2-1 approach, it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 joke that’s so bad, it’s good!

Let’s begin!


3 Thoughts:

“To suffer without meaning is the very definition of torture.”

“When we instil the present moment with meaning – when we see the deep meaning inherent in it – we fall into it. The past and the future melt away. Meaning in the present is our pathway to peace.

“Meaning is the antidote to an inherently meaningless existence. We need meaning to give ourselves a psychological footing to stand on. We need meaning to make sense of an incomprehensible universe. We need it to feel that life is worthwhile despite the fact it all ends with our inevitable demise. Despite the crushing weight of existence. This is how we keep the existential worm at the core at bay. Meaning gives us the mental footing we need to prevent us from falling into the psychological abyss.”

2 Quotes:

“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

— Vladimir Nabokov

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

– Viktor Frankl

1 Joke: 

Which branch of the military accepts toddlers?

The infantry.


You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

***

To have my weekly newsletter delivered straight to your email account sign up for my Substack newsletter here.

Stalling: The Paradox of Meaning

“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

—Vladamir Nabokov.

“What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; “why?” finds no answer.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Meaning is the antidote to an inherently meaningless existence.

We need meaning to give ourselves a psychological footing to stand on. We need meaning to make sense of an incomprehensible universe.

We need meaning to feel that life is worthwhile despite the fact it ends with our inevitable demise – that nothing matters in the grand cosmic scheme of things.

This is how we keep the existential worm at the core at bay. Meaning gives us the mental footing we need to prevent us from falling into the psychological abyss.

Our reason for living stems from a refusal to acknowledge our mortality.

Now, this isn’t some crazy idea I’ve pulled out of my pilots hat! (Although I have a few.)

Ernest Becker raised this point in his masterpiece of a book, The Denial of Death, claiming the why of human existence stems from a vital lie – man’s refusal to acknowledge his own mortality.

And it is a vital lie. Because we are biologically hardwired for survival and yet we know death is inevitable

Biologist Ajit Varki argued the overwhelming fear of death would “be a deadend evolutionary barrier, curbing activities and cognitive functions necessary for survival and reproductive fitness.” 

If we didn’t have a way to keep our mortal terror at bay we would be unable to take the necessary risks to survive – we would be unable to find the necessary motivation to carry on living.

Otherwise the worm would lurch forth from our subconscious and swallow us whole. 

To manage fear we must feel we are valuable members of a meaningful community.

Terror Management Theory is an empirically oriented offshoot of Becker’s position. Authors Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski spent 25 years researching and testing Becker’s original hypothesis.

They presented the findings in their book, The Worm at the Core, showing conclusively that our unconscious fear of death and the desire to transcend it drives almost everything we do. 

They note to manage the knowledge of death humans call on two basic psychological resources:

“First, we need to sustain faith in our cultural worldview, which imbues our sense of reality with order, meaning, and permanence. The paths to literal and symbolic immortality laid out by our worldviews require us to feel that we are valuable members of our cultures. Hence, the second vital resource for managing terror is a feeling of personal significance, commonly known as self-esteem.”

They go onto say, “The twin motives of affirming the correctness of our world-views and demonstrating our personal worth combine to protect us from the uniquely human fear of inevitable death.

Modern psychology (and most of the self-help industry) is largely aimed at shoring up self esteem for this reason.

We have a massive problem with it in the modern world. Not just because we don’t value our own society anymore, but because the things our society values are fucked.

The cultural values of wealth and status in particular, and the humiliation of not having those things, are sources of anxiety for millions. It exacerbates the issue of heroic individualism – our desperate desire to measure up – that is causing us to all burnout and stall.

Not only do we need to feel good about ourselves, we need to see through ourselves.

But shoring up self-esteem is only part of the puzzle. I would argue this fixation on self-esteem is failing us on some fundamental level. It’s giving people relief – much needed relief, no doubt – but it’s not, ultimately, a cure.

It’s a bit like placing a bandaid on gunshot wound.

Unfortunately modern psychology often falls short of mentioning the worm at the core for fear of angering the hornets nest. I say we need to give the hornets nest a good fucking shake.

Even with the healthiest self esteem in the world, the worm is still buried deep beneath the surface. It’s still pulling the strings. While that’s better for the individual, arguably this is far more dangerous for the world at large.

The beliefs we use to protect us from our own fear of death become the things we are willing to die for.

Here’s where I flip the aircraft upside down and take the paradox of meaning to an even more absurd level.

We desperately need to understand that the meaning we give our lives is rooted in an existential fear of death. We need to understand where our need for meaning is truly coming from.

Otherwise we become incapable of challenging of our beliefs. We become incapable of updating them when we desperately need to.

Not only do we increase the risk of stalling, we run the risk of taking down an entire plane full of passengers with us – quite literally!

Now, the elephant in the existential room known as the universe here is God.

Atheists often deride a belief in God while failing to see the very real psychology security faith provides. Religious people suffer from depression and anxiety in far fewer numbers than non religious people.

The truth is God was an ingenious solution to what Buddha called the big problem of consciousness. 

The big problem of consciousness isn’t simply the knowledge we will die. The issue comes from taking the question of why to it’s natural conclusion. The eventual death of all things. Because nothing lasts forever. 

That includes the human race. 

Our cultures give us a sense of permanence that we crave, but that’s all it is. A sense. When you take the question of why to a cosmic level it finds no answer. Meaning falls away and all we are left with is a cold indifferent truly absurd universe. 

Here is where run the risk of throwing out the baby with the holy bathwater in the modern age. This is what greatly concerned Fredrick Nietche when prophesied about the death of God. Something that Viktor Frankl subsequently called the existential vacuum. 

God provided us with the belief that our lives meant something as a whole. It was encompassing. The big issue that nihilism presents – what I believe to be at the crux of the modern day mental health crisis – is that meaning of our lives becomes contingent. 

It’s contingent on you being a valuable member of your country, or community, or family. Of course theses things are important. They do give our lives a huge amount of necessary meaning. 

But the issue arises when we lose our job, when we get divorced or a family member dies. The issue comes when our health fails us – when we suffer a debilitating disease – because then what? 

If you can’t fufill your role as a valuable member of your community then what?

This is when the existential vacuum sucks the life out of us. This is when the worm eats whatever remaining life we have left for breakfast. 

Friedrich Nietzsche is regularly quoted as saying those who have a why can bear almost any how.

What if the only way to prevent the existential worm at the core from eating you alive is to give yourself up to something? Perhaps we need an unshakable why to counteract the crushing how of existence?

Now there’s a question to chew on.

One of the major things that people struggle with is the underlying sense that something is missing in their lives.

It’s just, they can’t put a finger on it. Even when they have everything on paper, they still feel something is off. The existential grumblings beneath the surface torment them. So much so they can’t even sit still for fear of having to confront it.

But confront it we must. As it turns out, the worm holds the fucking key.


This is part four of a series of posts on the subject of stalling in life.

Part 1: Stalling: The Aerodynamics of Life

Part 2: Stalling: Why We Lose Lift

Part 3: Stalling: Why We Lose Lift (2)

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

Stuck in the Clouds: On Stalling in Life

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to my new and not-at-all improved (except for name) newsletter! It’s the only newsletter that tells you if you want to take control of your life you have to let go…

Following a 3-2-1 approach, it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 joke that’s so bad, it’s good!

Let’s begin!

3 Thoughts:

When we stall in life the only way to regain lift is to let go. We must let go so we can find our feet again in the present. So we may accept and face our reality as it stands. This is what grounds us. We let go of what we can’t control in order to regain control of what we can.”

“The primary reason we give life meaning is because it gives us hope. When we fail to see the meaning in something we lose hope. This causes us to give up.”

“The reason we lose meaning is because we’re clinging to something. Ironically it’s often an outdated belief that we’re unable (or refuse) to let go of. A belief that clashes with our current reality. This prevents us from instilling or finding new meaning in what currently is.”

2 Quotes:


“When you are grounded there is no need to look up or down. You are where you are, and you hold true strength and power from that position. The success you experience becomes more enduring and robust. It is only once you are grounded that you can truly soar.”

– Brad Stulberg

“The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. Proficiency and results come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, or combining relaxation with activity.” 

– Aldous Huxley

1 Joke: 

What is the opposite of a croissant?

A happy uncle.


You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

***

To have my weekly newsletter delivered straight to your email account sign up for my Substack newsletter here.

Stalling: Why We Lose Lift (2)

The Paradox of Progress

The story of Buddha is well known. Born into a palace and given every indulgence he could possibly wish for, while, at the same time, shielded from the outside world. And yet, it wasn’t enough. He knew something was off. (Sound familiar?) 

So, he decided to go against his father’s wishes and venture out of the palace. It was then that he saw, for the first time in his life, suffering and death. This unsettled him greatly and sent him on the path to enlightenment. To get there he had to give it all up.

He came to see that all attachments – including to and of the self – were the reason people suffered. 

This is us, in the developed world. Metaphorically speaking we have all been born into the palace. We have everything. We have more options than we’ve had before. The possibilities are endless. (This is part of the problem too. There are too many options. We’re stuck in the supermarket spending our lives deciding which brand of ketchup to buy.)  

We live in the most prosperous, safest period in human history. We’re all literate, well educated. Violence and wars are at an all time low. Racism, sexism and discrimination are at their lowest points in history too. Far fewer people live below the poverty line. We’ve cured countless diseases. The list goes on.

And yet, and yet, where do we go from here? Because the meaning we give our lives is based on a better tomorrow is it not? Hope is based on a better future. If not for ourselves then for our children – for our family, our community, our political party, our country, our fucking football team. 

This is what it feels like.

It feels like we’re sitting on the apex of humanity. It feels like we’re at the top of the mountain looking down. At the very highest cruising level knowing all that’s left is our gradual or perhaps rapid descent to our inevitable demise. 

The threat of nuclear war is the highest it’s been in decades. Extremism is on the rise across the political spectrum. The world is boiling. The environment is in free-fall. Donald Trump is running for president again… 

Here we are, sat inside our palace walls. It feels like a swarm of flesh eating zombies are clambering at the walls ready to rush in and devour everything we know and love. But it’s not the walls that are cracking – we are. 

Mark Manson calls this the paradox of progress. He says, “We are the safest and most prosperous humans in the history of the world, yet we are feeling more hopeless than ever before. The better things get, the more we seem to despair… And perhaps it can be summed up in one startling fact: the wealthier and safer the place you live, the more likely you are to commit suicide.”

The Worm at the Core 

But here’s the thing. (I suggest you tighten your seatbelts. This is the part of the flight where I take a rapid nose off a cliff!)

We know we will lose it all. We know that we will die. All these things – the environment, the threat of nuclear war, the pandemic (the list goes on and on and on) are simply reminding us of this painful truth.

They’re bringing the existential worm at the core to the surface. 

Las week I said that stalling is a result of losing meaning. That’s another way of saying we’ve lost hope. The problems is we become attached, not only to things, but beliefs.

Why do we get attached to them, exactly? They’re just thoughts right? I mean, all beliefs are just ideas, fundamentally. So why? Why are we so unwilling to hear the other side? Why are we all so utterly convinced that out point of view is the correct one? 

We’ve all been there right? We’ve all had that massive argument over nothing. We wake up the next morning with egg on our face wondering why it was we cared so much. Why we felt so strongly about something we know, in the light of the next day, doesn’t matter in the slightest.

This is why. It’s because we know what the end result is. We know that death is inevitable. And because we know the end result we feel that our lives must mean something.

We want to know, if we can’t live on that, at the very least, our religion can, or our political party, or our country, or even our football team. We need some part of us to live on. 

When those things lose out we can’t stand it. When the things we believe in are attacked or challenged, it feels like our very lives are at stake.

American philosopher William James dubbed this the “the worm at the core” of the human condition.

Now, I like to call him Mr wormy head because this makes him feel less threatening. (And also, I have two young boys so this is how I talk at the moment.)

Mr wormy head is always there – residing deep beneath the surface. It’s at the very core of our psychology – at the deepest root. The way we keep him at bay is by instilling our lives with meaning.

This is the primary reason we give life meaning – even if most of us aren’t aware – to protect us from the knowledge that we will one day die. Not only that, to protect us from the knowledge that nothing we do ultimately matters. 

The problem is, he likes to comes to surface any time we suffer a major loss. Whenever our self esteem takes a hit. He senses when his prey is vulnerable. He tries to eat whatever remaining lift we have left for breakfast. 

He’s a very naughty Mr wormy head. When he comes to surface he likes to remind us that nothing we say or do matters. That everyone we love will die and everything we know will be swallowed up by the sun. He tells us we are nothing but an insignificant cosmic speck in the infinite expanse of time and space. 

Like I said, very naughty. 

The natural conclusion when Mr wormy head starts to eat us from the inside out is that nothing matters at all. That because life is ultimately meaningless there’s no point whatsoever. So why not sleep with my best friends wife? Why not shoot up a school full of children? Why not hang myself from a noose and end it all? 

At it’s deepest darkest level this is what it means to stall in life – why we become completely untethered from reality. It’s not only a lack of belief in oneself but everything. It’s a lack of meaning, control and belief all rolled into one nihilistic ball. 

Not only does this cause us to stall, it causes us to give up completely.

But to finish this admittedly depressing post with something to cling to, giving up isn’t the same as letting go. When you give up on life, the reality is, you’re still not letting go.

(To be continued…)


This is part two of a series of posts on the subject of stalling in life.

Part 1: Stalling: The Aerodynamics of Life

Part 2: Stalling: Why We Lose Lift

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

Stalling: Why We Lose Lift

Last week I said the reason we stall in life is because we lose meaning. Of course meaning, lift, purpose (whatever you want to call it) is the reason we do anything. The meaning we give our life is the reason we get out of bed in the morning. Otherwise, why bother?

In its deepest sense this means depression. Depression is a loss of lift. Most people think of depression as a kind of sadness but that’s not correct. While sadness is often associated with depression they are not the same thing. 

Sadness is a feeling. Depression is a more like a lack of feeling. It feels like a heavy fog blankets everything. All you want to do is let that fog envelope you. It’s a form of retreat from life. A deep withdrawal. A shrivelling of the self.  

It’s a loss of hope, either in yourself or the world at large. As it happens that’s the primary reason we give life meaning. Meaning gives us hope. When we fail to see the meaning in something we lose hope. This causes us to give up. 

This is happening to us collectively on a staggering scale in the modern world. A scale that is only increasing. To quote some rather alarming statistics:

Clearly then, something is up. It certainly ain’t the sky!

If we take the premise that the underlying reason we stall stems from a loss of meaning, and if we also take the premise that the main reason we lose meaning stems from an inability to let go (meaning we’re unable to accept something), that begs a number of questions. 

Why have we lost meaning on such a colossal scale, especially in the modern developed world? What it is we’re unable to let go of? What can we do to save ourselves before it’s too late? 

Undeniably these are complex and difficult questions to answer, but since I’m writing a book, I best have a crack. Let’s start with the obvious before taking a rapid nose dive off a cliff!

Heroic Individualism

On the surface it seems the reason we stall is a matter wanting something we can’t have. It’s like being grounded as a pilot. The desire to fly leaves us wishing for a different reality. 

Of course, we want to be out and about, exploring the world, playing with our mates. We want to be getting rich, ripped, promoted and recognised for being the hero (or heroine) we all imagine we could and should be.

We all want to have the perfect glistening bodies, deeply meaningful careers, and raise perfect children who would never fart in public. We want a bigger house, a faster car, a fatter paycheque.

We want adulation from millions of ardent fans. We want to conquer the world and leave a legacy so our name may live on for all eternity.

That’s we want, if we’re brutally honest.  

The question is why? Why do feel we must have everything, do everything and please everyone? Why is what we have never enough? 

Performance coach and author Brad Stulberg calls this condition heroic individualism. “An ongoing game of one-upmanship against both yourself and others, paired with the limiting belief that measurable achievement is the only arbiter of success.” 

As he explains, “men describe it as a cumbersome need to be bulletproof, invincible.” Whereas “women report feeling like they must be everything always, continually falling short of impossible expectations.”

The big issue with heroic individualism is the underlying belief.

We aren’t driven by a deep internal value system – or moral compass – but a deep seated fear that who we are and what we have isn’t enough. A fear that we are way off course, miles away from the destination we should be, and heading in wrong direction still. 

So we feel we must keep striving, pushing, whipping ourselves in a desperate attempt to make up for our lack of being, to get our lives back on course – to climb to the highest possible cruising level for our lives to hold any meaning.

It’s the equivalent of pulling full back struck and applying maximum thrust 24/7. You’ll certainly see some short term results. But eventually, rather quickly, you’ll burn out and stall. It’s not sustainable over the long haul. 

This is worth stressing: Whether you feel need to do everything or struggle to do anything, in either case you are driven by a sense of hopelessness. 

Ultimately, if we don’t learn to accept ourselves for who and where we are, we will always feel out of control. This is important because a sense of control is central to maintaining hope. If we don’t feel we have any control, eventually, we lose hope.

When this happens we get a visit from the existential worm at the core. (I’ll talk more about Mr wormy head next week)

Hedonic Adaptation

Unfortunately a lack of belief isn’t the only issue when it comes to stalling. In fact, there are a number of psychological flaws that fuck us up in the modern age. 

One of those flaws is something behavioural scientists like to call hedonic adaptation or set point happiness. Something I like to refer to as the pursuit of unhappiness.

Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahr, who coined the term “arrival fallacy”, describes it as living under the false illusion that once we make it (whatever that means) we will find the kind of lasting inner peace and contentment we desperately crave. Then, only then, we will live happily ever after. 

But even when we do arrive, even when our wildest dreams are realised, that happiness is short lived. Despite sacrificing everything to achieve our dreams, it’s a mere “blip” on the radar of life. We immediately start thinking about the next best thing. How that next promotion, fatter paycheque, or faster car will give us everything we need.

This is because we all have a set-point of happiness. Some of us have a higher set point (bastards) while others have a lower set point (poor bastards), but the vast majority of us (regardless of sex, gender, age, class etc) lie somewhere in the middle.

And somewhere in the middle looks like this: “Life is okayish, I guess. Not bad, but not great either. Certainly room for improvement!”

Of course, this set point is continually reset based on our life circumstances. So, if we win the lottery for example, what happens? We’re happy for a while, because, well, we just won the fucking lottery! But, eventually, much quicker than we would like, we get used to it.

We get used to our new lavish lifestyle – we get used to the big mansion, the 5 sports cars, the jet-setting. The existential worm at the core catches up with us. (There he is again.) We start to feel that something is off. That money really isn’t everything. (Shocker!) That we didn’t want the world after all.

The good news is that hedonic adaptation works in reverse. 

If you have a divorce, for example, or end up in accident that leaves you paralysed – studies have shown that although your life on paper becomes worse, you readjust. Things feels awful for a while, but then get use to this new normal. You accept it – sort of – and move back to your default level of slight dissatisfaction. 

Loss Aversion

The problem is (here’s where I open my bay doors and drop a bombshell on you) we don’t see this. 

The same way we think gaining that next promotion or winning the lottery will solve all our problems, we think that losing what we already have will be an unmitigated disaster that will end in the collapse of humanity itself (I may be exaggerating).  

This is because we suffer from something known in psychology as loss aversion (which goes hand in hand with something else known as a negativity bias). Loss aversion states that, on average, the pain of losing something is three to four times greater than the happiness of having it. 

Lettings go hurts – a lot!  

This brings us to the next critical life lesson: We are terrible at predicting what will make us happy.

Mother Nature – that cruel mistress – wired us this way. She’s got us convinced that we need to keep climbing to the flight level above us, even though, in reality, it won’t make us any happier. On top of which she convinced us that letting go and descending to a lower altitude would be a massive mistake, even if the turbulence at our current one is unbearable. 

The reason for this is simple: survival.

To think back a few thousand years – for the vast majority of our evolution – we really didn’t have much stuff. The stuff we did have was invariably necessary for our survival. So we clung to those things while going after whatever scraps we get our scrawny little mits on. We kept hunting and gathering because we needed to! We needed to save up for the inevitable rainy day. Of which there were many.

The grass is always greener for a good reason. Once upon a time, the grass was always greener.

To come back to issue of meaning. When our survival is at stake that’s meaning enough. But past a certain point, the issue isn’t about our survival but the survival of our things. We cling to our things – our jobs, our relationships, our privileged lifestyle, our beliefs – because those things define who we are. They’re what give our lives meaning.

And right now in the modern developed world at least, it seems we have everything to lose and very little to gain. This scares us to death – quite literally.

(I’ll pick this up next week.)


This is part two of a series of posts on the subject of stalling in life.

Part 1: Stalling: The Aerodynamics of Life

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

Stalling: The Aerodynamics of Life

The Four Forces of Flight

The reason an aeroplane flies is because of something known as the four forces of flight. Those are thrust, lift, weight and drag. Thrust counteracts drag, whereas lift counteracts weight. 

If the forces of lift and and thrust are greater than the forces of weight and drag your aeroplane will climb, if they are less you will descend. When they are balanced, well, then, Bob’s your uncle. 

That means your flying straight and level – sitting pretty while cruising at your optimum altitude. Thanks Bob. 

Here’s a nice picture:

Now, let’s imagine you’re sat fat, dumb and happy, at your optimum cruising level, with all four forces in perfect harmony, when, all of a sudden, for reasons that Bob can’t understand, you bring the thrust back to idle. 

Now, let’s pretend, for reasons that Bob really can’t understand, you decide you want to stay at your cruisy cruising level, despite the fact you brought the thrust back to idle. 

How do you do that? 

Well, the only thing you can do is pitch up. You must increasingly pitch up to counteract the loss of energy so that the sum of the four forces remain equal. 

The problem with this is, by pitching up, although you increase lift, you also increase drag. Unless you come to your senses and increase thrust, you will continue to lose energy. 

If you keep pitching up in desperation, eventually you will reach a critical angle of attack (the direction of the aerofoil relative to the airflow) where the air starts to separate from the top of the wing resulting in a substantial loss of lift.

This is what’s known as the stall. 

When this happens Bob is no longer your uncle. In fact, Bob is fucking furious. (It’s possible he may be the Captain.) The only way to make Bob happy again is to do the one thing you don’t want to. Unless you have enough thrust to blast off into space (and you don’t), you must pitch the nose down. 

You must bring the angle of attack down in order to regain lift. You must come back to earth – you must sacrifice height for energy. It’s the only way to recover from a stall. 

As you might have guessed, this isn’t just a crucial lesson for aviators but all of us. Which leads us to the first critical life lesson and the central thesis of my (soon to be) high-flying book: 

When we stall in life the only way to regain lift is to let go. We must let go so we can find our feet again in the present. So we may accept and face our reality as it stands. This is what grounds us. We let go of what we can’t control in order to regain control of what we can. 

Now, hold on to your pilots hat because I’m about to take this analogy to new heights! 

The Four Forces of Life

As it happens there are – broadly speaking – four forces that act on you at anyone time. These are known (by Bob at least) as the four forces of life. 

They work, of course, just like the four forces of flight. Those are your health (which is equal to thrust), purpose or meaning (which is equal to lift), responsibility (which is equal to weight) and life itself (which is equal to drag). 

Just like an aeroplane, when the forces of health and meaning are greater than the forces of responsibility and life, the human aeroplane that is you, will climb. If it is less, you will descend. 

If they are balanced, well, then you’ve found the sweet spot. You have full health and enough meaning to carry the weight of your responsibilities. You’ve achieved that tricky thing known as life balance. 

Here’s another pretty picture:

Now, let’s imagine you suddenly lose your health. Maybe you get ill or suffer a depilating disease or break you leg. What ever it is, suddenly you don’t have the capacity to carry on to destination. Does that mean you’ve stalled? No, although it can lead there if you try to soldier on. What it does mean is you need to come back to earth pronto! 

It’s like when Captain Sullenberg ingested birds in both his engines. Did he stall? No, but he suddenly became a big-ass heavy-weight glider. That meant he had to come back to earth, and fast. 

He understood how crucial it was to let go of everything that wasn’t absolutely pertinent to the emergency at hand. Had he not had that clarity of purpose – had he not been able to accept what had happened – well, the end result may well have been much worse. 

Stalling in Life

So, what do I mean, exactly, when I use the term stalling in life. What causes us to stall? 

Well, meaning. Fundamentally, the reason we stall in life is because we’ve lost meaning. Meaning in what, you say? Well, the present. Your current circumstances. Life as it stands. 

The reason we lose meaning is because we’re clinging to something. Ironically it’s often an outdated belief that we’re unable (or refuse) to let go of. A belief that clashes with our current reality. This prevents us from instilling or finding new meaning in what currently is. 

When I ended my 12 year career in aviation and left the city I’d called home for most of my life, that resulted in a substantial loss of lift. Did I stall? You bet your bottom dollar I did! Letting go of that was one of the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But, of course, I had to. I had to let it go in order to find meaning in my current circumstances. My present reality.

As it happens, this is why I’m writing this book. It’s part of my stall recovery. I’m not only letting go of my past in the process – I’m subsuming that past and including it as part of my present day narrative. It’s the whole idea for this (soon to be) high-flying book. It’s so fucking meaningful to me, so fucking poetic, I could cry.

Not only is this important, as I will attempt to argue, it’s absolutely necessary. We must continually replace meaning in our lives. We must let go of old limiting beliefs and update them with new, slightly less limiting, ones. We must keep doing this. We must keep dying to ourselves over and over and over again. 

But, and this is a big but, there’s a deadly important caveat. Not only do we need to instil meaning in our lives, ultimately we need to learn to transcend meaning altogether. We need to see through meaning itself.

We need to let go and take control – we need to transcend and give meaning – at the same time.

Now, I’m going to circle back to this particular paradox and the question of how, but first it’s important to understand why. Why it is we all find it so damn hard to let go. What it is at our core we’re unable to come to terms with.

I suggest you buckle up boys and girls. Turbulence is forecast.


This is part one of a series of posts on the subject of stalling in life.

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

Piecing Together My Thanks

I realise that writing a book is like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle. Except you have to make the pieces first. You make the pieces and then work out where they go. You move them around until everything just sort of clicks into place. Then you flesh out the spaces in between. 

The hardest part for me is discarding the pieces that don’t fit. That’s probably why I hate/am so bad at editing. You’ve got to murder your darlings. You’ve got to be ruthless about which make the final cut and which don’t. Instead of trying to cram everything in because you’re unable to let go. 

I’ve already run into this problem with my introduction. I’ve got a good idea of how it’s going to go and I’m keeping the foot down. Just writing and writing and writing, as so many of you advised last week. I’ve gotten off to a flying start! But I can already see whole sections I’ve worked on being sent to bin. 

Still, I’m trying not to think about killing my darlings just yet. I’m simply placing them in a maybe folder for the time being while I continue to write. (This helps me let them go without having to actually let them go.)

In the coming weeks and months I’ll be posting various pieces of this massive jigsaw puzzle. Some will make the cut. Others, undoubtably, will not. And you probably won’t get them in the correct order. I’m still in the constructing the pieces stage (as opposed to piecing them together stage). So, you’ll have to bare with me. 

My process is a little bit messy but I realised, following all the excellent advice given last week, that I need to trust that process. I’m a free-flow pilot. When my muse goes on a tangent it’s important I let it. Even if it runs out of steam and comes to nothing. That often happens. 

But I know it can connect the dots in a way my conscious mind can’t. I know that every now and then it leads me to a destination I never expected. Somewhere way better. This has already started to happen. 

That, for me, is what makes the process of writing such as joy. It’s a rollercoaster. When the muse gets going, boy oh boy is it a blast. Honestly, I can’t wait to take you all along for the ride. 

For now though, I just want to say thank you all for your advice and many many words of encouragement. It means a lot. 

Stay tuned. This one is for all of you. 

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

A Radical Idea. (I’m Going To Write a Book.)

Just imagine, you’re sat fat, dumb and happy when BAM! Your engine shits itself. (And so do you.) Suddenly you’re forced to divert. You need to get on the ground pronto!

Before you know it, there you are. Grounded with a bum engine – a million miles from the original destination you had in mind. 

So, you find yourself sat around in your underpants on a Thursday afternoon scratching your whatsit wondering what to do with the rest of your life. (Probably not scratch your whatsit.) 

After twiddling your thumbs you decide, at exactly 3:34 pm, you’re going to grab the day by the horns. So, you make a cuppa and sit down at your desk. After checking facebook, twitter, instagram, youtube and then facebook and twitter again, you begin typing.

All that thumb twiddling has given you a radical idea. (Actually, it’s given you many, but not all of them are suitable from younger readers.) 

You decide that the time is now or never. After all, your wife is bringing home the bacon. You have no excuses. “No more thumb twiddling!” you say. 

It’s down to business. 

So, ladies and gentlemen, here I am. This time I’m really doing it. I’m committing. I’m going all in. I’m going to start by stating it out loud.

But first let me check facebook one more time. Oh look! Someone liked the photo of the coffee I made. (Yesterday’s main accomplishment.) Yay! 

Anyway, back to this radical idea, this pet project of mine. 

A book, damn it! 

There, I said it. No backsies. I’m going to take my thumb out and write one. By announcing it out loud it I figure that 

  • a) you dear readers can hold me accountable and,
  • b) give me some much needed feedback as I progress and, crucially,
  • c) tell me how to actually write a book. 

Because I don’t have the first clue!

Anyway, I guess I should start by telling you what my radical idea for this book is. 

This tremendous book (title to be decided) will combine lessons in aviation (and life) with modern psychology (and a bit of ancient philosophy) in an attempt to help people hit the metaphorical reset button and rebuild their lives from the ground up. 

The idea is to provide a roadmap for those who feel their lives have stalled – who feel lost and unsure about what direction to take – who feel overwhelmed and burnout out. (So yes, me.) It’s going to talk them through the stall recovery. The need to come back to earth in order to gain some much needed clarity and perspective. But also to regain the energy and lift needed to maintain a sustainable climb over the long haul. (Of course all of this will play to my strengths: long extended aviation metaphors.)

It will be broken down, roughly, into four parts. 

  • Section 1 will be entitled Grounded
  • Section 2 will be entitled Lift. 
  • Section 3 will be entitled Turbulence. 
  • Section 4 will be entitled Moral Compass. 

Sections 3 and 4 will expand upon 1 and 2 respectively. A kind of beginners section and command section. This will possibly be spilt into two books (or a series of mini books). Anyway, this is just me spitballing – the basic idea I have in mind – all to be expanded upon in due time dear readers. 

For now I just want to throw it out there and get your feedback on 

  • a) the idea itself and 
  • b) where the hell I should start? (From the ground up I suppose.)

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

A Singapore Fling

It occurs to me that I’ve gone through something of a divorce over the past year or so. Only, it’s not been to a person but a place.

Of course, there have been others. York for one. We had a few difficult years together. Then there was Oxford where I went to university. That was a nonstop party.

And I’ve certainly sowed my wild oats. I’ve traveled the world and experienced more cities I can count.

But, ultimately, Hong Kong was the girl I always came back to. There is no city in the world I know more intimately. We’ve been in a long term relationship – on and off – since I was 6 years old.

This has made the changes she’s undergone over the past few years especially painful. After we got married and had kids together everything changed. 

She became controlling. She tried to stop me from having an opinion. She even tried to stop me from seeing other people! 

In the end it was too much. I decided she wasn’t the right lady to spend the rest of my life with. So, as painful as it was, I filed for divorce.

But what are you supposed to do after such a long relationship? How are you supposed to cope? Should you jump in bed with the next city you find? Should you return to a former lover? Or, should you take some time to have a bit of fun and clear your mind?

I’ve really enjoyed my short time in Singapore so far. I think part of the reason is because I’ve come in with few expectations. Because I’ve taken a no-strings-attached approach. 

First impression are good. I’ve very much enjoyed exploring her green leafy back streets in my spare time. 

This is, incidentally, one of my favourite pastimes. Usually, before a layover, I would do an inordinate amount of research into places I want to eat. 

I would star many of these obscure eateries (often in the middle of nowhere) on google maps. Then I would create a kind of walking foodie tour by connecting the dots.

I would walk far and I would eat well.

It’s something I’ve sorely missed during the past few years of endless quarantine. So, to make up for lost time, that’s what I’ve been doing since I arrived in Singapore. 

I’m ecstatic to report that she’s an exceptional chef. 

Honestly, the relationship wouldn’t last long if she wasn’t. When it comes to cities, the best way to my heart is through my stomach!

Still, nowhere is perfect and Singapore is no exception. Her parents – namely the government – are known to be particularly heavy handed when punishing certain offenders. That may well be a flag longer term. 

With that said, the people here feel looked after for the most part. They have access to cheap affordable housing, excellent medical care and world class education.

Of course, they rinse the expats to make that possible. She ain’t a cheap lady to please! The cost of a beer is enough to make any man cry themselves to sleep. Mainly because he can’t afford to have a beer.

But back to the positive. She’s feels far more relaxed – far more family friendly – in comparison to Hong Kong. That’s certainly something I’m looking for at this stage of my life.

Although it occurs to me that maybe Singapore feels more relaxed because I am? Now that I’ve settled down, not that I’m together with my family again – after a very busy, stressful divorce.

Perhaps I’m simply projecting my feelings onto the place? 

At any rate, I don’t care. I’m enjoying myself. The last thing I want to think about is whether or not I will (or should) be here in 5 to 10 years time. We can save that particular conversation for a later date.

For now, I just want sit back, relax and enjoy this fine Singapore fling.

I’ll finish by asking you one of my all time favourite questions: what is your favourite city in the world and why? 

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

The Elephant in the Cockpit

I’m going to stick my neck out today. I’m going to talk about something I’ve been avoiding for certain political and professional reasons for some time now. A topic that is close to my heart.

As it turns out, aircrew are extremely reluctant to talk about mental health. On the rare occasions I’ve brought it up, I’ve seen Captains visibly squirm in their seats. They will find any excuse to talk about something else.

Anything but the elephant in the cockpit.

Unfortunately, the problem isn’t simply an inability (or unwillingness) to talk about it. Aircrew are also more unlikely to get the help they need because of the stigma attached – because of what it might mean for their careers.

I recall talking to one Captain who was clearly distressed. It was evident that the last few years had taken its toll.

I asked him if he’d talked to a company doctor to get some time off. I told him I’d done so and was afforded 3 months stress leave. 

But he refused. He said that no airline would hire him if they found that on his record. He said it would be career suicide.

The hard reality is, if certain airlines get whiff that you have suffered from any kind of mental health issue in the past (regardless as to the whether that issue remains in the past) they will bring the shutters down hard. It seems only super humans will do. Preferably robots, in fact.

But here’s the thing that really gets me.

Many of these airlines appear to turn a blind eye within their own organisations. It’s as if they don’t want to know about it. As if they would rather their aircrew suffered in silence. Despite asking them, in some cases, to work under extremely demanding conditions. 

To give you a glaring example, I’m sure many of you will have read about the draconian covid measures the Hong Kong government has imposed over the past couple of years. In the story of animal farm, you can think of the aircrew as the rats. We were seen as the least equal of all the animals. Consequently our lives were placed on the frontline in government’s war to maintain zero covid.

What that has meant is hard to put into words. It’s been soul destroying. Collectively we have endured not years, but hundreds of years of quarantine. I’ve had more swabs shoved down my throat than I can count. Funnily enough one captain I flew with did. He was on PCR test number 234 and counting!

Yet, that wouldn’t have been as bad were it not for the severe punishment the government (and company) threatened if we failed to comply. The simple act of leavening our hotel room could mean 6 months in prison. We weren’t even allowed outside to get some exercise (a right, I might add, even prisoners are extended).

Needless to say these measures placed the company between a rock and an impossible place. The only way to keep the show on the road was to enact something known as closed loop patterns. This meant that crew who “signed up” would sometimes spend upwards of 8 weeks locked in a hotel room between flights. This was before doing their mandatory 2-3 weeks of quarantine.

Only then were they allowed to feel sunlight again.

What made this particular sinister was the new productivity based contract our company forced us to sign towards the end of 2020. It meant if we didn’t fly above a certain threshold each month our pay was significantly reduced. Of course, we don’t have any control over productivity. We can only fly the flights that are rostered. 

I was pregnant with my second child when I was forced onto this new contract. Part of the decision to have a second was based on the money I used to make. At any rate, spending anywhere between 5 to 10 weeks away from my family was out of the question. Thankfully we had money in the bank. We could and did take the finical hit.

But they were many who couldn’t. And what do you do when your choices are to sacrifice your own mental and physical wellbeing or provide for your family?

Of course, you sacrifice yourself.

That’s what the entire aircrew body have done to help maintain the government’s zero covid policy over the past two years. To provide for their families. To keep life going in Hong Kong.

I’m proud to say we did. We gave Hong Kong – effectively – a zero covid existence for over a year. But, eventually, the inevitable happened. A number of crew members broke their quarantine order and caught covid. On investigation it was found they had left their hotel room on a layover.

They were sacked, fined, prosecuted… Instead of simply punishing the offenders, they clamped down on whole crew body. At a time we’d desperately hoped our restrictions would ease. Not only that, we were vilified by many corners of the media. There were even reports of members of the public spitting on aircrew.

Many people have asked me why I left my job. Many people were surprised by the decision I made. Despite everything, despite all of the above, it was, without a doubt, the single hardest decision I’ve ever made. 

The job is deeply meaningful to me. I’m proud to say I’ve been part of a rich aviation heritage. To have flown for the same company my father flew for over 20 years. I’m more proud to say I flew as his first officer a number of times, including his last flight before retirement.

I desperately wanted to go the distance – to become a captain for the same airline. To come so close but turn away at the last minute is no small thing. Even after the decision was made, after months of torturing myself, I continued to have crippling doubts. I would get this feeling in the pit of my stomach like I’d been shot. It was awful.

But then, a few weeks ago, those doubts were shattered.

I learned a college of mine had committed suicide. He leapt from the balcony of his high rise apartment. A young British man, aged just 31 years. I didn’t know him well – I flew with him, I think, only a handful of times – but it hit me hard.

I felt angry, sad and ashamed.

Angry that it had got to this point. That the authorities and the media so shamelessly ignored the elephant in the cockpit. But also ashamed that maybe in my own silence – in my own avoidance of the elephant over the years – I had contributed to a culture that may have factored in his death.

In the days and weeks following I couldn’t help but wonder, could that have been me?

Just before the pandemic I sought help for own my long term issues with depression. I regard it as one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made. I believe it gave my the strength to get through the last couple years – even if I didn’t get through unscathed.

But what if I hadn’t?

Of course, there are different types and severities of depression. You can’t judge it with the stroke of one brush. But depression can spiral. I’ve never had suicidal thoughts but I appreciate, at least, how the mind could get there. How it could dig a torturous hole within itself. One it finds impossible to escape from.

This is why I believe the issue of asking for and getting help is so important. Making people feel they can – without judgement or repercussion – speak up and do so. Although most airlines offer programs that allow aircrew to seek help anonymously, so long crew as believe that getting help is a career ender, the industry has a significant problem.

While Hong Kong may be an extreme example, its illustrative of how far certain airlines/governing bodies are willing to neglect their duty of care.

The truth is aviators are some of the keenest people I know. They have a passion that most people only ever dream of finding. But that passion has been highjacked. It’s been used by the industry to move the goalposts repeatedly. Because they know that pilots will do just about anything to get their hands on the controls of a jet. 

To live the so-called dream.

We often joke about living that dream having been up all night. Once upon time that was mine. But I’ve come to realise there is only so much loss of sleep –  only so much soul crushing isolation – you can put up with before you lose the ability to dream altogether. 

If you ignore the elephant for too long, eventually it will crush you. 

It’s why I left the cockpit altogether.

I’m Back

When Micheal Jordan returned from the NBA after an extended hiatus his publicity manager was unsure how they should announce the news. So, he wrote a number of press releases for Micheal to choose from. 

But Jordan didn’t like any of them. He said, “I’ll do it myself.” before picking up a pen and writing down the following message,

“I’m back.”

That was it. The entire press release consisted of just those two words. Yet, everyone who was anyone knew exactly who and what. 

Of course, when you’re a legend like MJ you don’t need to say very much. In many respects, the less you say the better. You should let your actions do the talking.

Unfortunately most of us aren’t legends. Our actions usually don’t do the talking. That’s why we write! 

As much as I like to think of myself as the Micheal Jordan of the blogging world, I feel my press realise needs to be a wee bit longer. Mainly because my actions haven’t been talking at all.

Honestly, the last couple of months have been difficult for me. It’s felt like I’ve been stuck in the past. Desperately wishing to catch up with my family – my present – who had been waiting for me in Singapore while I saw out the remaining months of my contract in Hong Kong. 

Aside from failing to process some very difficult emotions, I’ve had a million and one things to do. I’m sure you can appreciate what a massive undertaking moving to a new country is.

For all of the above my motivation to write has gone begging. Instead, my muse has spent the last several weeks eating his emotions. I hesitate to point out he’s on a bit of weight..

This morning is the first time in a long time that I’ve sat down to really write and reflect. I quickly released how much I missed it. I released just how much I needed it. Even if my muse did struggle to get up from the couch!

I forget that writing helps me process my emotions. When I lose the motivation it may well be because I’m avoiding them. At any rate, I haven’t been. 

All things not said and not done, all I have are excuses. It comes back to actions versus words. There’s nothing wrong with having words, but they must align with action. That’s what makes them true.

As a writer, well, that means creating some words. 

I feel particularly guilty because I know how hard the rest of the team here at the new and vastly improved Wise and Shine have been working in my absence. 

Let me take this opportunity to say how extremely grateful I am to all of you for your efforts. Your actions do speak louder than words. They haven’t gone unnoticed. 

The good news is, I’m starting to feel like the seas are calming. Like I’ve finally caught up with my present self. 

I actually moved to Singapore last week. I managed to negotiate leaving a week early so I could arrive in time for my eldest son’s 4 year birthday. He’d been asking where daddy is for several weeks.

So, when I walked through the front door with suitcases in hand, his eyes lit up. He shouted “Daddy!’ before running across the living room and giving me a huge hug. As I struggle to hold back the tears, I said nothing. 

Not even the words, “I’m back.”

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

The Ghosts of My Past

My emotions come at me in waves. Often I’m strong enough to withstand them – to hold the ship steady – but every now and then they catch me with my shields down. I’m swept away. 

That happened the other day when the movers came in to pack everything up. Seeing my whole life packed into boxes. That was difficult. 

But the hardest moment came after they had gone. When I was left all alone in an empty apartment, the place we’d called home for the past four years. 

And I could see it all at once. I could see the first time we brought my eldest son home from the hospital. I could picture my youngest taking his first steps across the living room floor. All the heart to hearts with my wife, sat exhausted on the sofa after a long day. 

The ghosts of my past were everywhere to be seen.

Yet, my present had already packed up and left. Waiting for me in Singapore while I see out the remaining 3 months of my contract here in Hong Kong.

It was then that the sheer enormity of the decision we’d made hit me. It was then that the real ghosts of my past started screaming. Telling me I’ve made a huge mistake, that I don’t what I’m doing, that I’m weak for not having put up with everything.

Here we go again, I thought. The voices in my head that never let up. The voices that have haunted me for so long.

Part of me worried that maybe, underneath it all – behind the politics, the toxic work culture, the endless days of quarantine – the real reason for leaving is a futile attempt to try and outrun these ghosts. Hoping I would somehow be able to leave them behind when I leave myself.

For the longest time I thought the voices telling me to leave were those ghosts. So, I figured the path to salvation was staying put. I figured I had to stay the course.

But I know that’s not true. I know it was my ghosts that kept me frozen in fear for so long.

The funny thing is, now that the decision is made, it seems, in some strange sense, the louder they scream the surer I am. Yet, they still scream, they still kick. 

Thankfully I know my ghosts well. l know, more often than not, they appear in a desperate attempt to mask some deeper pain beneath the surface. I also know that trying to outrun them is a mistake.

So, I believe, a better question isn’t how to stop your ghosts from appearing, but how to see through them when they do. To do that, you have to hold them in your heart. 

To see through the ghosts of your past you have to accept them as they are.

After torturing myself for a while that day I sat down in middle of that empty apartment and took some time to let my ghosts be. Slowly but surely the voices started to quell. 

Slowly but surely the real pain my ghosts were masking began to surface: Grief. 

Of course, the only way to process grief is to let your shields downs. The only way to process grief is to let your emotions sweep you away. So, that’s what I did.

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot or @PointlessOverT

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

The Hand We’ve Been Dealt

I want to finish this series of posts on personality I’ve put together over the past couple of months by giving you an analogy.

To first recap, there are five major personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, openness and agreeableness.

Wherever you lie on the spectrum of each trait – whatever the circumstances that shaped you – this is the hand you’ve been dealt in this game we call life. 

If you’re lucky you may have a couple of aces up your sleeve. Maybe, if you’re not so fortunate, you have a couple of 2’s and 3’s to contend with. 

Maybe, just maybe, you have a royal flush!

However lucky you may or may not be, what matters is less the hand you’ve been dealt but how well you play it.

So I want you to take a long objective look at that hand and think about two things. The first is what game you should be playing. What game is your personality hand best suited to? 

A royal flush may be helpful in a poker game, but different games suit different hands. You might not want a royal flush.

If you’re high in extraversion you’ll feel energised working with lots of people. However, if you’re highly introverted it will exhaust you. You’ll be far better off working alone or with a small group of people.

If you’re high in agreeableness you’ll want to work for people – you’ll gain a huge amount from looking after others. If you’re low in agreeableness you’ll want to channel that competitive nature. 

If you’re highly open you’ll be well suited to entrepreneurship or creative endeavours. If you’re high in conscientiousness you’ll be well suited to managerial or administrative positions. 

Wherever your strengths lie, you want to think long and hard about your intrinsic motivations. If your personality hand doesn’t match your job you will be miserable – if not unsuccessful.

This applies to life partners as well. 

Except for those who are highly neurotic, you want someone with a similar temperament. Opposites may attract but they make for terrible life partners. Major personality differences are flash points in any relationship. 

But life isn’t perfect. Finding a job or life partner that matches your hand perfectly is impossible. There will inevitably be differences. There will be parts of your nature that you will have to shift to make things work. 

So the second thing I want you to do is to take a long hard look at the aspects of your personality that are holding you back. What cards in your hand need strengthening?

For someone high in agreeableness the danger is an inability to stand up for oneself and say no. Learning to be more assertive is an excellent way to combat this.

Those low in agreeableness would do well to work on their listening skills. Someone who is highly introverted should consciously work on their social skills.

Those high in neuroticism should think about the things they are avoiding that they ought to be doing, then practise facing them. 

If you’re low in conscientiousness it’s worth making a detailed plan and then breaking it down. If you’re low in openness you should make reading and writing a habit. 

If you’re extremely high in openness, think about the most essential things in your life and then ruthlessly commit to them. 

Wherever you weakness lie, what you want to do is push yourself outside of your personality comfort zone. That’s how you build character.

The strange paradox here is that by practising what you aren’t, you become more comfortable with who you are.

This is because your identity is self-regulating. Much like the thermostat on you’re air conditioner.

To change the setting of your personality thermostat you have to challenge your identity. The primary benefit comes not from shifting the setting but from expanding the zone – the temperature range – around your innate setting. 

What you’re doing is broadening your personality by breaking down the limiting parts of yourself, the narrative about who you are (or aren’t) that keeps you tightly bound within a narrow temperature range. 

By expanding the limits of that temperature range the real you has the space to breathe and shine through. Because you know you can be who you need to be when the occasion calls for it.

That’s the real trick. When you can change the cards in your hand to suit the game at play, there’s no telling what you can achieve. 

I believe it’s the difference between winning and losing in this game we call life.


Thank you for taking the time to read my series on personality. You can find a link to the other posts below. At some point I’ll attempt to package everything into a small ebook to give away. For now, I wouldn’t mind some feedback if you have any? Did you enjoy this series on personality? Would you like me to do more of the same? Let us know in the comments below.

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot or @PointlessOverT

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

Agreeableness: The Sacrifice of Self

Agreeableness breaks down into Compassion and Politeness. 

Compassionate people are the caring, loving types. They are sympathetic towards other people’s feelings and take an active interest in their friends and families lives. 

Polite people are very careful with their words. They have a deep respect for authority and hate to seem pushy or impose their will on others. 

On the surface agreeableness appears to be largely good, but we need to be alert to the costs that exist at any end of any personality trait spectrum. 

In this case the word costs can be taken literally. There’s a reason why assholes make more money…

Let’s start by talking about what drives agreeableness, before examining those costs and why it is you might want to practise being less agreeable. 

The Maternal Link

One of the biggest differences between men and women among the Big Five personality traits is in agreeableness. Women are a fair bit higher, on average, than men.

For fear of being lynched by the social constructionists, my feeling is biology is the overwhelming factor here.

Pregnancy has, especially historically, placed women in a far more vulnerable position. Even after childbirth, an infant didn’t have access to things like formula. The baby was firmly tied to the mother.

If you hadn’t noticed, infants are quite disagreeable little bastards. What’s particularly annoying is they have every right to be. They are completely and hopelessly dependant.

As a parent you must sacrifice yourself completely.

In the modern age the man can take on that role more and more, but as a tribal hunter-gatherer there really was only one woman for the job. 

But someone had to be the one to go and hunt for dinner. Someone had to to go out and negotiate on behalf of the tribe. 

Disposable Men

I believe these self-evident biological underpinnings manifest themselves in perhaps the biggest difference personality psychologists have found between men and women. The interest in things versus people. 

Male dominated industries include engineering and aviation. Female dominated industries (of which there are many) include teaching, nursing and childcare. 

Now, none of this is to say that social conditioning has nothing to do with the difference, but to deny the role of biology seems to me to be at the other end of ideological extreme. 

It’s worth noting that sex differences in personality have been shown to be larger in more gender equal countries.

Still, it would be remiss not to point that there is far more commonality – far more overlap – between men’s and women’s personalities than differences. I have quite an effeminate set of personality traits, on paper at least. That’s not uncommon. 

If you picked a man and woman off the street at random 4 times out of 10 the women would less agreeable than the man. That’s not insignificant either. 

But these slight trends play out prominently at the extreme ends of the spectrum. 

The vast majority of extremely disagreeable people are men. Extremely low agreeableness is a high predictor of incarceration. There are 15 times as many men in prison as women. 

We tend to look up at those who hold all the power and wealth, of course, but men also dominate the lowest positions in society. 

Disagreeableness cuts both ways.

One theory for this – called the greater male variability hypothesis – argues men are more disposable as they are less likely to reproduce successfully. 

This theory also makes sense when you consider why women are more neurotic on average. Sensitivity to negative emotion is what keeps you alive, even if it does kill your quality of life.

And that’s what an infant needs from its mother most of all: to survive.

The Sacrifice of Self

Placing the gender debate aside, collectively we are much more agreeable than our ancestors among the primatesOne assumes that as we evolved we realised there was far more to be gained from sacrificing on behalf of the tribe.

Of course, the more agreeable you are the more friends you’re likely to have, the more likely those friends will repay your kindness in turn. 

In this sense compassion can be thought of as a negotiating strategy. I’ll share my spoils today so that you’ll share yours tomorrow. That way none of us have to go hungry.

The benefits here are obvious. 

So a far more interesting question is to ask whether you can be too compassionate or too polite? Often it depends towards whom that compassion/politeness is directed, but the answer is most definatey yes!

One pathology associated with high agreeableness is dependant personality disorder – when someone develops a child-like dependance on authority figures because their unable to establish any autonomy of their own. 

In any relationship you want a partner who is similar in temperament when it comes to agreeableness, otherwise it may be a very one-sided affair. 

However, two highly agreeable people need to watch out! If you avoid conflict at all costs, you end up stewing in your own resentment. It builds over time. 

Ultimately a relationship without conflict is doomed. 

Then there’s the tricky issue of determining how much you should sacrifice for your kids. At some point the bird has to leave the nest. The only way a kid can learn to fly is by going solo

If you over-coddle them, or over-structure their lives, they may fail to develop the necessary autonomy to stand on their own two feet. 

This is a story that’s as old as time. Like the child who fights his or her nature to please the parents.

To some extent this is a struggle we all have. Our need to meet the approval of others at the expense of our own identity. 

A Competitive Edge

Disagreeableness correlates strongly with competitiveness.

One way to foster mediocracy among kids is to hand out participation medals at sporting events so no-one has to feel bad.

It defeats the point. So you ask, what’s the point of competition? Well, to get what’s best. Fundamentally, we compete so that we can eat. (When you consider that most games involve hitting some kind of target, it’s quite possible that sport derived from hunting. )

But competition works in reverse. It gets the best (and worst) out of us. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. 

Competition does drive better results but so does working as a team. So, you might conclude, the very best results come from competing as groups. 

This is why I believe sports is so important, especially for children/adolescents. It teaches you to both work as a team and how to negotiate on your group’s behalf. 

If it’s in your nature to sacrifice yourself for others, finding a cause or a group that you’re willing to stand and fight for is a good way to teach you to be more disagreeable.

There’s always a way to stack the personality cards in your favour. 

The other thing sport teaches you is how to lose, how to “take it on the chin.” We undermine that process by doing things like handing out participation medals. But we also undermine that process by instilling a cutthroat win-at-all-costs mentality. 

The most important thing isn’t winning, it’s being allowed to compete again next time. In the game of life that’s what gives you the best chance of success.

The Dark Knight

Let’s finish this post by talking about those who don’t play fair. The so-called assholes who end up ruling the world. Many of them are, of course, but to lie the blame squarely at their feet is to miss the lesson. 

One of the main reasons disagreeable people make more money is because they don’t take things so personally. Of course they might not have many friends, but who cares when you live on a luxury yacht!

Jokes aside, just because someone isn’t personable doesn’t mean they’re bad. And just because someone is nice doesn’t mean they’re good. 

Perhaps it’s us agreeable types that need to develop a bit more backbone?

If you ask me, the world’s isn’t short of nice people. We don’t need more fake niceness in the world. What need are more good people willing to act like assholes. 

What I mean by that is a willingness to upset/be disliked by other people. (Not actually be an asshole.)

The reason we avoid that difficult conversation is because we fear upsetting the other person. That’s what we tell ourselves, at least.

But the brutal and honest truth is – the real reason we don’t want to make other people feel bad – is because that would make us feel bad.

Yet, by avoiding that difficult conversation we become less resilient. We all feel worse (and are worse off) in the long run. 

And none of us are awake.

As a society it seems we’ve forgotten that being offended is actually a choice. It’s not one that should be taken lightly. 

Sticks and stones remember? 

Being offended has little to do with the horrible things someone else has said, but what you believe. It has to do with the expectations you’ve placed on others.

I’ll finish with this thought.

I once heard the remark that success can be measured by the number of difficult conversations one has had. In an increasingly polarised world I believe the success or failure of democracy will be measured by the same yard stick. 

The way to fight the forces of evil – both within and out – is through understanding. To do that we must be willing to have the difficult conversations.

Ultimately this is what the freedom of speech was designed to both protect and promote. It’s the one thing we should all agree on. 

The complete freedom to disagree. 


This is part of a series of posts on the Big Five Personality Traits. Please find previous post below:

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot or @PointlessOverT

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

Openness: The Gates of Mind

“Openness is seen in the breadth, depth and permeability of consciousness, and in the recurrent need to enlarge and examine experience.”

McCrae & Costa, 1997, p. 826

Openness (which is actually Openness to experience) breaks down into Intellect and Openness. 

Intellects like grappling with ideas. They love to solve complex problems and debate philosophical matters. They have a rich vocabulary and can formulate ideas clearly.

Those high in Openness enjoy the beauty found in nature and art. They see patterns that others don’t. They tend to be very reflective – the so-called daydreamers who always have their heads stuck in the clouds.

Open types love to experience new things, of course. Having a creative outlet isn’t so much a hobby as it is a need. Like oxygen!

In simple terms, we can say that straight Openness is associated with creativity, imaginativeness, and interest in aesthetics, whereas Intellect is related to an interest in ideas.

Both are strongly correlated with IQ. 

Let’s start with creativity and Openness before moving on to Intellect, and the link both have to intelligence.

What Is Creativity?

To quote the dictionary, “creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas to create something.” Inventiveness is a good word. What’s going to help facilitate a creative mind is exposure to many different things, movies, experiences, books, art, theatre, etc, etc.

One way researchers have measured creativity is through divergent thinking tests. These require individuals to come up with as many ideas or solutions to a simple problem.

For example, how many uses can you think up for a brick? 

Less open people typically generate fewer and more obvious answers to this question, like building a wall or a house. Whereas an open person will think weapon, paperweight, doorstop, or putting it on the gas pedal of a car in case you want to drive it off a cliff without anyone in it. (Naturally.)

You can measure creativity by the sheer number of ideas or in terms of originality.

What differentiates an open person’s brain has something to do with latent inhibition, a process also known as learned irrelevance. 

Of course, it’s impossible to take in every detail the world throws our way. Learning what to ignore is critical, otherwise we would become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data presented.

So what our clever little minds do is cull irrelevant information. The cost here is this information may be helpful later on. When later on arrives, we may fail to recognise its significance, to unlearn its irrelevance. 

Researchers have tested latent inhibition by “exposing participants to seemingly unimportant stimuli that later form the basis of a learning task.”

For the average person, this information – having been rendered irrelevant – gets filtered out. So it fails to penetrate awareness. Open people, on the other hand, are far more likely to bring that information to mind.

This is what, in part, makes Open people great problem solvers. The ability to connect seemingly unrelated dots, to see things that others don’t. 

The Costs of Openness

So, you can think of latent inhibition as the brain’s filter. Open-minded people have a leakier consciousness that lets more information in.

You might think that’s great because you notice more. That must be an advantage. This is true, but it also means you’re more likely to struggle with distraction. Focusing on the task at hand can be tough if you’re always off in the clouds. 

That’s the price you pay for a creative mind, of course. A wandering mind is a creative one. But it’s also one prone to overthinking and anxiety.

Those who are excessively high in Openness and low in Conscientiousness (in particular) may be so drawn by new ideas/beliefs – so susceptible to changing winds – that they struggle to form a coherent life structure.

Put another way, they have trouble defining themselves. 

It can be a curse for someone high in neuroticism too. 

Openness is, in some sense, a drive to explore the unknown. To buck conventions and take a step out into chaos. It’s a risker mode of existence. That nature can be hard to reconcile if you’re highly neurotic. 

The danger for a closed-minded individual is ignoring what is pertinent. The warning signs that what you are doing or thinking is wrong.

We shouldn’t always follow the standard operating procedures (as we say in aviation). Often we need to think laterally to overcome a problem. To adapt to an ever-changing world.

If you have a belief – if you only ever look for/accept what confirms that belief – your idea of the world may crash violently with reality. This can be hard to reconcile if you don’t learn to open your mind – if not for you, then for those on who you enforce your particular worldview. 

The Link to Intelligence.

It’s difficult to talk about Openness without mentioning intelligence.

I should say, a straight IQ test is still the best way to measure intelligence, although you’re unlikely to be low in IQ if you score high in either Intellect or Openness. However, it’s not uncommon to be low in Intellect but high in IQ. 

This is because Intellect is a measure of interest in abstract ideas, essentially, whereas an IQ test is a measure of processing speed, verbal ability, working memory, and problem-solving capacity.

You can, broadly speaking, break general intelligence into Fluid intelligence and Crystallised intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is like your brain’s processing speed. Provided you are given the proper nutrition in childhood, it’s pretty much set from birth. It slowly declines with age.

Crystallised intelligence is a measure of what you know. It’s the knowledge you’ve accumulated from prior learning and past experiences. It increases with age.

There’s an interesting split here.

Straight Openness is more closely linked to verbal or Crystallised intelligence, whereas Intellect is more closely related to non-verbal/general or Fluid intelligence. 

How to Broaden Your Mind

Now, one question that often arises – something that has created a lot of heated debate – is whether or not one’s intelligence can be increased. The answer is both yes and no.

For the most part your Fluid intelligence is fixed but you can increase your Crystallised intelligence. But here’s the thing. Crystallised intelligence and Fluid intelligence are intertwined.

You increase Crystallised intelligence by using your Fluid intelligence to reason and think about abstract problems.

So here’s a suggestion. 

Find an idea that really grabs you. Something that is difficult to wrap your head around, that you can grapple with. Then read as much as you can about it. Listen to all sides of the argument.

Really seek to understand. 

Finally, consolidate your learning by writing about it in your own words. It is one of the best ways to do so.

Trying to learn something new is a habit that’s worth developing for life. It turns out that increased Crystallised intelligence actually compensates for the decline in other cognitive abilities as you age.

It’s like an old chessplayer competing against a younger apprentice. The younger kid may be able to think quicker, but the more senior player has a considerable breadth of knowledge to draw on. 

Some Closing Thoughts

I want to finish this post by bringing up a final point about intelligence. 

Sometimes, something of a superiority complex is found in naturally intelligent people. If you have an IQ of 115 or greater, that puts you in the top 15 % of the population. What’s more, most people you know are probably just as smart as you are. 

You’re not seeing the whole picture. 

There are just as many people at the other end of the IQ spectrum. Those who score less than 83 are not eligible to be inducted into the United States army. They really struggle to look after themselves in a modern complex industrial society. 

What that means is (I’m taking an educated guess here that I’m talking to the top 15%) you’re really fucking lucky. If you have a high IQ that is something to be extremely grateful for. 

Not to belittle any hard work for whatever successes you may have accomplished, but IQ is the most significant determinant of success. Nothing else comes close.  

You’re not better than someone just because you’re smarter than them. And there’s a reason why researchers have often found an inverse correlation between intelligence and conscientiousness. 

Those who struggled more at school often had to work much harder to pass the bar. In the process of learning to work hard, many of these kids often end up outpacing everyone else later in life. 

There is something significant to be said about that. Of course there are many things that make up one’s character. Intelligence is but one.

I want to stress that all of us are closed-minded to a large degree. Nature didn’t intend for everyone to open natured for good reason. It is a rare trait to be highly open in nature.

If we didn’t compartmentalise the world – if we didn’t attach labels, draw lines or make assumptions – we wouldn’t have a psychological grounding to stand on.

We have to close our minds to a large extent in this world. If you remain open to absolutely everything, you will never become anything. 

That means make some tough choices. That means coming to terms with the world we have closed ourselves off from and the one we have locked ourselves into. 

I believe that not only is that ok, it’s necessary.

Because we don’t, can’t, and never will be able to see the whole picture. But that idea, paradoxically, is the one we must always remain open to.

This is part of a series of posts on the Big Five Personality Traits. Please find previous post below:

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot or @PointlessOverT

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

Conscientiousness: The Ruthless Pursuit of Order.

Of all the interplay between character traits, I find the relationship between conscientiousness and openness the most interesting.

The lines are blurred, of course, especially when you break these traits down into their respective aspects, but it appears there is an inverse correlation.

This makes sense when you consider that lateral thinking requires taking an idea from one domain and applying it to another. It involves exposure to lots of different things.

The jack-of-all-trade types.

When you ruthlessly chase a goal, you have to compartmentalise the world. You’re less concerned with out-of-the-box thinking. Dedication to the task at hand means excluding everything else.

This is what it takes to be a very successful master of one.

The Benefits of Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness can be broken down into the following two aspects: Industriousness and Orderliness. 

Those who score high in Industriousness are driven, focused and determined. They finish what they start. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the buzzword known as Grit? 

Well, it’s the same thing.

Those high is Orderliness want everything to be in its place, every detail taken care of. They hate mess (and messy people). They believe in following the rules and dislike having their routine disrupted. 

So, to summarise, conscientious people may be described as careful, reliable, well organised, self-disciplined, and persevering.

Well sign me up batman! 

No wonder our results-obsessed society makes a song and dance about this character trait. It’s easy to see why you would want to be more conscientious. 

What’s less easy to see are the costs associated with higher conscientiousness.

And let’s be clear, conscientious is the highest predictor of success after IQ. 

To quote this paper from the American Psychological Association, “It is one of the most reliable predictors of work outcomes, including job performance, leadership, income, and occupational attainment. 

It also predicts marital stability and, conversely, a tendency not to experience divorce. Finally, conscientiousness is an independent predictor of major depression above and beyond other personality traits, such as neuroticism

It seems that if one is interested in either living or promoting the possibility of a long, healthy, successful, and happy life, one should be interested in conscientiousness.”

Wowza! Like I said…

But this begs the question, since the benefits are so obvious, what are the costs of being highly conscientious? What are the benefits of being unconscientious?

The Ruthless Pursuit of Order

Now, here’s where shit gets really interesting.

It turns out that orderliness is one of the strongest predictors of conservatism. Of course, conservatism is part of the process by which we establish borders and barriers between things. 

It’s resistance to change. Why? Because change often brings a certain amount of chaos along with it. And too much chaos can be a dangerous thing.

I find this infinitely fascinating because guess what the highest predictor of liberal beliefs in character traits are? That’s right, openness.

Open people like to think laterally. They want information and ideas to flow freely because it opens up new possibilities. They want to flatten borders and tear down walls. Open people hate being boxed in.

What is the definition of creativity if not to think outside the box?

But those who aren’t creative couldn’t care less. They crave order to a much higher degree. They want to remain dutifully within the damn box.

Of course, there are pros and cons at either end of the liberal/conservative divide here. Boxes are both good and bad. They provide protection but also restrict the free flow of information and ideas. 

Now, one of the biggest killers historically has been pathogens. You’re probably wondering what that has to do with anything?

Well, high orderliness is linked to heightened disgust sensitivity. One prominent example of this, sitting at the extreme end of the spectrum, is obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Another theory (called the parasite stress hypothesis) found a very high correlation between the prevalence of pathogens in authoritarian regimes

The reason for this, in part, is because diseases historically weren’t well understood, if at all. Its control often depended on the adherence to ritualised behavioural practises. 

But of course, people didn’t know which ritualised behavioural practices reduced the risk of infection. So, to be sure, best to conform across the board.

It was foreigners, non-conformers, dissenters, and other “dirty liberals” who often posed the most significant health threat. 

Herein lies the biggest danger of being too conscientious. I think the word tolerance fits the bill very nicely – or rather, intolerance

Most authoritarian regimes are driven by their need for order at the expense of everything else. It takes over. 

To use an extreme example, Hitler was one conscientious motherfucker. The man went from failed artist (perhaps, unsurprisingly, now that I think about it) to commandeering the most powerful military in the world in the matter of two decades. 

He was incredibly focused and determined in the pursuit of his goals. Do we think that was a good thing? No. Why? Because his values were fucked, and so, as a result, was the rest of Europe. 

Here is where the idea of pathogens will raise hairs on the back of your neck. Hitler often used the metaphor that the Aryan race was a body threatened by pathogens. 

Of course, the Nazi party enacted many twisted policies in the name of “racial hygiene.” And how do you deal with pathogens? You sterilise them, of course. You destroy them. 

You set fire to them.

This brings up a point I want to make about “success.” The ability to implement an idea isn’t nearly as important as the idea itself. If you’re driven by terrible values, we may all suffer the consequences. 

How to Become More Conscientious

On the flip side – to come back to the benefits of conscientiousness – a good idea isn’t worth a damn if you’re unable or unwilling to implement it. 

This is where open types can struggle. They come up with a myriad of excellent ideas that they often fail to put into practice. 

Part of the problem is their nature. They shrug their shoulders at mess. They are the laid-back, happy-go-lucky, Big Lebowski types. 

Unconscientious people are much more interested in seeing where the wind takes them.

This makes them more adaptable, of course. It means they are more accepting of change, but it can come at a significant longer-term cost if they never commit to anything. 

I think it’s crucial for those sitting on the lower side of the spectrum to recognise this. 

Contrary to many a liberal’s belief, success isn’t all down to dumb luck or natural talent (unless you believe that free will is an illusion). Hard work most definitely does pay off. Talent is wasted without it. 

The question is, then, how do we become more conscientious? 

To take a leaf out of the conservative’s book, I think the idea of setting clearly defined boundaries is a good one. Learn to set and follow a schedule. (Punctuality is heavily linked to conscientiousness.) 

When you commit to working, learn to block out the outside world. Focus has much more to do with eliminating distractions than it does to do with applying effort. 

Literally put up a wall by locking yourself in a room. Don’t allowing yourself to check your phone till you’ve finished writing that goddamn blog post about conscientiousness, you open-headed dope!

You know all this, of course. So you also know it’s much easier said than done. A significant part of the problem is not knowing what we want our lives to be about. What we want to make of ourselves. 

So, you want to create a vision for yourself – to have a clearly defined philosophy that helps you to stay on track. 

Warren Buffet recommends the following 3-step process: 

  1. Write down a list of 25 career and/or life goals. 
  2. Circle the five highest. Just five.
  3. Take a hard look at the other 20 and avoid them at all costs. 

It’s also worth asking to what extent these five goals serve a common purpose? The more they’re part of the same value hierarchy, the more focused your passion, the better. 

Ironically, it’s when we define the parameters this way our creativity starts to flourish.

To finish with an analogy, music follows a specific set of rules. They are a limited number of notes one can play. But within those rules, the possible number of melodies are almost infinite. 

Open people need not look at a box as limiting. Defining your own limitations might just be the very thing that sets you free.


This is part of a series of posts on the Big Five Personality Traits. Please find previous post below:

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot or @PointlessOverT

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

Neuroticism: The Cost of Consciousness

Neuroticism is the trait associated with negative emotions. Of course, it’s probably the one trait you don’t want to score high on because it sucks to feel bad.

Naturally, I score moderately high in neuroticism…

It’s worth pointing out that all of us are more sensitive to negative emotions. Human beings are neurotic creatures. 

This is often illustrated by the fact people will hurt more by a loss of a given magnitude than feel rewarded by a gain of the same amount.

What this means is that someone who’s described as a neurotic will be particularly risk-averse

What’s the long-term cost of never taking risks? Of always being afraid of negative consequences? Well, you retreat from life itself. You spend your days never venturing out of the bat cave.

Of course, those high in neuroticism are far more likely to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression. I can painfully attest to this.

The Cost of Consciousness

Neuroticism can be broken down into the following two aspects: Volatility and Withdrawal. 

I think it’s helpful to liken them to the fight or flight or freeze response system, where volatility represents fight (think anger, irritability, unstable etc.), and withdrawal represents flight or freeze (think anxiety, fear, depression etc.).

I score moderately high in withdrawal but lower in volatility. This has something to do with past trauma. As a result, I tend to shrink into my shell. 

Interestingly enough, high withdrawal is associated with self-consciousness. I say that’s interesting because self-consciousness is often touted as a cardinal human trait. 

We see it as a good thing!

Remember what I said about our weaknesses being attached to our strengths? Self-consciousness is perhaps the best example of that. 

Becoming self-aware was one of the most significant milestones in our evolution. It has allowed us to do extraordinary things. 

Yet it’s also meant living in the shadow of our own mortality. Knowing that death is coming to each and every one of us. That has proved a high cost to bear. Arguably it’s this uncomfortable truth that drives most of our actions.

Another high cost to consciousness is shame. Having to come to terms with our very real limitations. Knowing that we will always fall short of what we could be. 

Shame is very different from guilt. One could argue that guilt is good, whereas shame isn’t. 

To highlight the difference, someone who feels guilty might say, “I messed that up,” whereas someone who who feels shame might say, “I messed that up.” 

Shame places the focus on the self as opposed to the behaviour. More to the point, the mistake is seen as a reflection that the self is fundamentally flawed. 

So, “Instead of a desire to confess, apologies and repair, shame causes a desire to vanish, escape or strike back.” 

The Surprising Benefits of High Neuroticism

Now, you might be wondering what the upshot is for those higher in neuroticism. After all, the trait wouldn’t exist if it didn’t come with benefits. 

To answer this question, it helps to ask why we all tend to feel negative emotions more intensely in the first place. Why do we all have an inbuilt negativity bias, for example?

The answer is survival.

Anxiety is a horrible emotion, but better that than being badly hurt in an accident or being outcast by the Alpha of your tribe. It’s best to tread carefully rather than be dead as the dodo.

The truth is feeling bad has done more to ensure the survival of our species than feeling good ever has, yet fear is dragged through the mud. 

Do you see a problem here?

We demonise fear. We make it out to mean that something must be wrong with us. We say there is nothing to fear but fear itself. But do you really want to live without fear? Do you want the pilots in front of your aeroplane to be fearless? 

Nothing would scare me more.

There are only two kinds of people who don’t feel fear: psychopaths and the dead. If you’re wondering what the costs at either end of the neuroticism scale are, this is an excellent way to think about it. Too high, and it kills your quality of life. Too low, and it kills you.

Something we could all do well to work on is changing our relationship to fear. Fear is our friend – our ally. 

Really!

He’s just not a terribly intelligent one. He was made during a very different time in a very different environment. So you have to remain kind but objective.

But you can reframe your relationship to fear. You can befriend it. Often it is a powerful indicator – telling us exactly what we should do. 

Something you can do is zoom the lens out and imagine how much worse your life will become if you continue to let fear dictate all your decisions. 

Now that really is frightening! 

If you can paint a very vivid picture then that fear becomes greater than your stage fright or that awkward conversation you’re putting off. 

What you’ve done is put that fear behind you. It’s no longer a headwind. It’s a fucking tailwind. 

Now here’s something interesting. 

Neurotic types who work hard on becoming more conscientious have a surprising health advantage. The self-discipline of being conscientious counteracts unhealthy neurotic behaviour. 

A survey of 1,054 adults found that those who were both neurotic and conscientious had lower levels of inflammation. Of course, inflammation is heavily linked to depression

Dr. Nicholes A. Turman, the study’s first author, speculated that this is because conscientious or “healthy” neurotics may be hyper-vigilant about their lifestyle.

I come bearing more good news for the overly neurotic. 

Higher levels of neuroticism are often linked with higher levels of creativity “because the brain which is linked to creativity also has the tendency to overthink and worry.”

Remember what I said? 

The gifts that God gave you often come with the devil attached. What matters is how you relate to the devil. 

How to Lower Neuroticism

So, you soothe a baby by picking it up and holding it. Babies may die without human touch, even if given enough food, water, and shelter. Those who receive minimal human contact growing up are significantly compromised in their future development.

This is because human touch is palliative. When we feel down it’s imperatvie that we talk to someone. If your friend or family member is grieving, you should hug them – IT HELPS!

You can tell if a child is well adjusted by how willingly they play. If your household is well structured, your child will be comfortable knowing that all their needs are taken care of. 

The reason a child may not be comfortable is because of some perceived threat. Anxiety disrupts a child’s willingness to play. 

An American psychologist named Jerome Kagan studied temperament in toddlers and found that the more reactive children took longer to warm up to new individuals. He found those same toddlers were equally high in neuroticism years later.

The good news is, he also found that voluntarily active exploration normalised anxious children’s behaviour.​ To the greatest extent possible, a parent should encourage this in a child. You want to set boundaries but you want to let them explore and push the edges of those boundaries. That’s a healthy thing.

An adult is no different.

With that in mind, I’ll finish this post with a three-step plan for those who suffer from anxiety. 

First: Make a plan. 

Not having a plan is another primary source of anxiety – of course, it is! We need a why otherwise, why get out of bed? 

Having and implementing a plan reduces the anxiety that something terrible might happen. But we need a plan that has a reasonable probability of success. So you should make it simple.

Baby steps are essential. 

It’s worth asking yourself what task you are willing to do? Even if it’s something as small as tidying your room or putting on a load of laundry. Just start with that.

Taking action is no small thing for someone in the throes of depression. In fact, I would argue, it is everything. 

When you move toward a goal, the positive emotion system in your brain releases dopamine – the feel-good hormone. This encourages you to do more of the same. The same emotion causes you to binge-watch NETFLIX or obsessively check your social media feed. You want to use this feedback mechanism to chase positive rewards instead of negative ones.

Something as seemingly minor as tidying your room is an excellent mental health exercise. It can have cascading effects leading to improvements in other areas of your life.

Second: Build a routine. 

A critical aspect of implementing a plan is having a routine. Concentrating less on the outcome so much as showing up and doing something – anything – pushes you toward positive change. 

I suggest you start with sleep. Go to bed and wake up at the same time. Try to meditate, exercise, and eat at the same time too. Make it so small you can’t fail to begin with. 5 minutes of meditation – 5 pushups, etc.

You want to place some scaffolding into your day – some predictability – from which to build and explore. 

Third: Confront the dragon.

You want to voluntarily seek out the dragon and take it on. You want to push yourself into uncomfortable situations willingly.

This part should come last. Build towards it slowly – simply sharpen your sword, to begin with. Don’t tell yourself to take on the whole dragon in one go. 

You must negotiate with your anxiety – find the task that scares you but that you are willing to do – and encourage yourself to do it. Then really praise yourself for having done it.

Only by exposing yourself to a threat or obstacle will you break down the belief that you can’t overcome it. By facing the thing and approaching it – however minor the step – you start to indicate to your anxiety system that you’re more competent than the thing is dangerous.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a wrap. Next up: Conscientiousness.

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot or @PointlessOverT

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

3-2-1 Flying Fridays

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to 3-2-1 Flying Fridays! The only weekly post that never gives up – even when all hope is lost!

Following a 3-2-1 approach, it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 joke that’s so bad, it’s good!

Let’s begin!


3 x Thoughts:

1) We’re taught to do things to please our parents for survival. When we eventually grow up we realise we don’t have to do things to please others anymore. Only what we know is right in our hearts. Often that means saving yourself because we’re the only ones that can.

2) It’s important to maintain both a sense of control and a sense of change in our lives. Too much predictability the more meaningless our existence begins to feel. But too much change can throw us into chaos. We start to feel out of control. We need to pursue meaningful but manageable change over time. To do that we need to imagine the person we want to become and then take baby steps through steady, controlled self-discipline.

3) When a pilot flies an aeroplane the last thing they aim at is the obstacle they don’t want to hit. If a plane is on fire the pilots only have one goal: The nearest piece of tarmac. They will think of nothing else. They sure as hell won’t give up, even if the odds are truly stacked against them. How could they? Why would they? And why would you?


2 x Quotes:

“My conclusion as a clinical psychologist has been that as paralyzing and terrible as our propensity for negative emotion is, and as grounded in reality as that propensity might be, it’s more the case that our ability to overcome it is actually stronger than it’s grip on us.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson 

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Charles Darwin

1 x Joke:

It’s been raining a lot here recently. When we went outside yesterday I asked my wife is she wanted to hear a joke about umbrellas.

She said, “No, it’ll probably go straight over my head.”


PREVIOUS NEWSLETTER:

3-2-1 Flying Fridays – 20/05/22

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot