The Three Areas of Self-Awareness: What On Earth Are You Thinking?

What On Earth Are You Thinking?

“A person’s success in life can be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”

– Tim Ferris

What is External Self-Awareness?

Most people think about self-awareness the same way they do sex. They believe they’re great at it when, in reality, no-one knows where on God’s green earth the G spot is (or that there even is one).

One of the major components for building self-awareness is understanding what other people honestly think about us (including our ability to have sex). 

This is what’s known as external self-awareness. Researchers have concluded it’s every bit as important as internal self-awareness (how well we know ourselves)

Here’s a pretty little table outlining the 4 major Self-Awareness Archetypes:

Why We Suck at Giving and Receiving (Feedback)

Now, the major issue we have with external self-awareness is ascertaining honest feedback from others. This is a major issue for two obvious reasons.

  1. First, people usually avoid telling us what they really think. In fact, most people fake certain feedback making us think we’re much better than we really are!
  2. Second, we avoid asking for feedback in the first place. We’d rather remain under the covers than be told about our own, um, shortcomings…

This a brutal truth to remember during your never-ending self-awareness journey: Not only do you not want to tell people the truth, you don’t want to know the truth yourself.

But of course, knowing the truth is the only way we can become slightly less terrible human beings. So, a crucial life skill at home, work, or in the bedroom is learning to both give and receive (feedback).

The question, as always, is how?

How to Both Give and Receive (Feedback)

The first thing to remember is that you’re a human aeroplane. One that is governed by all sorts of internal biases/faulty mechanisms. 

For example:

What I’m trying to say is we’re all a bunch of stupid apes who think way too highly of ourselves. You know what? 

That’s OK. 

The point of becoming aware of our flaws is to gain some control over them. But this doesn’t work if we don’t learn to accept those flaws at the same time.  

So, here are a few ideas.

1. Hold weak opinions.

Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one. They also tend to stink up the room. 

It’s worth remembering you’re the only person who loves the smell of your farts. That’s not to say you shouldn’t. But when you do fart, don’t take it so seriously. 

THEY ARE JUST THOUGHTS!

Thoughts are simply echoes of all the crap you’ve been fed. (Helpful tip: eat a wholesome diet of long-from content such as books or documentaries.) 

Here’s a thought to chew on? Are your opinions really your own? Think about that for a second.

2. Consider you’re wrong.

Something you can do before you open that smelly mouth of yours is tell yourself the following: “I might be wrong about this.” 

This immediately places you in a state of openness and curiosity. When you do this, your thoughts aren’t shared to be validated but discussed. This is a better position for everyone. 

Just ask your spouse! 

3. Laugh at yourself.

All your thoughts and behaviours are simply reactions to your emotions. As you should know by now, your feelings be crazy. You shouldn’t take them so seriously. 

Something you can do is openly mock yourself for all your shortcomings. This has the paradoxical effect of making you more endearing in the eyes of others.

4. Remember your strengths.

All of us have this thing called a negativity bias. It’s worth being aware of. This is why we tend to fixate on and obsess over all our flaws.

What we fail to realise is that our weaknesses are often intimately linked to our strengths. For example, I’m not the grittiest person in the world. I’m easily distracted. I frequently have my head stuck in the clouds.

But you know what? 

I’m also incredibly thoughtful, creative, silly, and funny. These qualities aren’t separate. By reminding myself of my strengths, and seeing how they’re related to my weakness, I’m more accepting of my flaws. 

I’m better able to work on them as a result.

5. Start with the positives.

Criticism hurts like your first time! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but most of us aren’t terribly receptive to it. 

The danger is we shut down. This is especially so if we receive feedback that confirms a negative view we already have about ourselves. 

That’s why it’s a wise strategy to start with the positives. Talk about what went well before you mention the negatives. 

You can think of it as feedback foreplay. It helps to soften everything up! 

6. Learn your patterns. 

Learn to recognise all the ways you’re a deeply flawed human being. 

Recognise how you’re not a morning person. Recognise how you’re quick to anger when you’re tired or when your children start to open their mouths. 

Learn to recognise what your triggers are. What sends you down the emotional rabbit hole? At what times? With who? What causes you to reach for the phone or the bottle? 

This will help you recognise which emotions you’re avoiding that need to be acknowledged and surrendered.

7. Practise with a trusted co-pilot.

Both my wife and I avoid confrontation. This is because we are both very agreeable by nature. This a big problem mainly because I’m a massive idiot. I need my wife to confront me. 

To ensure this happens we make a point of talking to each other every evening without fail. We have a series of questions we ask:

  • What are you grateful for today? What are you proud of? What went well? 
  • What didn’t go well? What could you do better?
  • What do you want me to know? What can I do better? 
  • Finally, what can we do better? How can we improve as a couple/parents? 

This is what I suggest you do as a final point. 

Find a trusted copilot you can confide in. Make a habit of talking to that trusted copilot every day. Make a habit of telling them something difficult – of being vulnerable. 

Make a point of asking for feedback and giving some advice in return. Put your phone away and really listen.

What you might find is, it ends in sex. There will be no need to fake anything.

Summary

  • One of the major components for building self-awareness is understanding what other people honestly think about us. This is what’s known as external self-awareness.
  • Most of us avoid giving people honest feedback. Most of us avoid asking for it too.
  • To help give and receive honest feedback it’s useful to: 
    • hold weak opinions/consider the possibility we’re wrong
    • remember our strengths when we receive feedback
    • start with the positives when we give feedback
    • practise asking for and giving feedback with someone we trust

This is part 4 of a series of posts on the topic of Self-Awareness:

Part 1: The Automation Paradox

Part 2: The Three Areas of Self-Awareness: What on Earth Am I Doing?

Part 3: The Three Areas of Self-Awareness: What on Earth Am I Feeling?

Part 4: The Three Areas of Self-Awareness: What On Earth Are You Thinking?

***

For a weekly collection of tips and tricks designed to help you navigate your fears and take command of life – join my Stuck in the Clouds newsletter here. 

The Three Areas of Self-Awareness: What on Earth Am I Feeling?

What on Earth Am I Feeling?

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal 

Disconnecting the autopilot is the practise of noticing when you’re distracted and then actively bringing your attention back to the present. 

But there’s a problem. It’s called turbulence. (Namely, your emotions.)

This is what happens when a pilot takes the autopilot out. For reasons only known to God, the ride gets much worse. (I swear it has nothing to do with my skills.)

The same thing happens when we remove all the distractions from our lives. The ride gets rather bumpy!

This is why meditation – which is essentially the practice of staying present with your immediate experience – freaks many people out. Why some people would rather electrocute themselves!

Because we are forced to deal with all the icky sticky emotions we’ve been bottling up for most of our lives.

Therapy achieves the same thing. 

You sit in a room – sans distractions – with someone who gets you to talk about the painful experiences you don’t want to talk about, while guiding you back to all the emotions you don’t want to feel until you capitulate into a big blubbering mess. (It’s a barrel of laughs.)

The Benefits of Disconnecting Your Autopilot

So what’s the benefit of doing this? 

Well, when we repress one emotion, we kind of repress them all. Acknowledging and letting them go enables us to feel the full kaleidoscope of experience. 

Of course, what we feel about things = who we are. 

This is what people mean when they prattle on about finding themselves or going on a spiritual journey. They’ve allowed themselves to start feeling again.

For those who have been bottling up their emotions for a long time this can be eye-opening. 

Maybe you realise, “Holy shit! I’ve been pretending I’m some badass macho man when, in reality, I’m really sensitive.” Or that you’re really competitive, but that was beat out of you during childhood.

A surprising emotion that came up for me in the wake of my depression was anger.

Now, I’d never thought of myself as an angry person. Indeed, I’m not. However, I almost never used to get angry. What I’d been doing was bottling the emotion up. I didn’t even realise I was doing it.

This was partly because I was taught not to get angry as a child. But also because I was bullied for over two years during my adolescence. 

Instead of expressing that anger as I should have, I turned it inward. 

As you can imagine, this created something of a fire-breathing dragon beneath the surface. It just laid dormant for years.

It wasn’t until I had my first child – whenever he started crying bloody murder – that I found I would get really, really angry. It was intense. 

Often I wanted to throw my kid out the window. Luckily I never did this! But I did have to go into another room and cool off. 

It wasn’t until I allowed myself to acknowledge said anger (and become clear that it had nothing to do with my child crying) that I was able to manage it more effectively. 

The Purpose of Self-Awarness

This is a good example of self-awareness doing me a massive favour – helping prevent me from passing on my own neurosis to my children (or at least limiting the damage).

But it also highlights why flying manually is so damn tricky. We have to reckon with who we really are.

It means acknowledging all the things about ourselves we wish weren’t true – all the ugly unsavory parts of our personality or nature – all our demons lurking deep beneath the surface (that we all have).

Coming to terms with these things can be very difficult – especially if you’re personality is as fucked up as yours truly. The desire is to judge ourselves or blame the world for all our problems.

Of course, this defeats the whole point of self-awareness – that is, self-acceptance.

We only feed the dragon if we refuse to accept it. 

Only by bringing these parts of ourselves into the light with compassion and understanding do we stand a chance of integrating the darker elements of our nature in a healthy way.

The Trap of Introspection

While these insights are extremely beneficial for helping us cope when we’re acting like a giant asshat, there is a bit of a trap when trying to understand why we are the way we are.

As it turns out, asking why we are the way we are is a surprisingly ineffective Self-Awareness question. It’s so ineffective, in fact, you really ought to stop asking it!

Research has shown we don’t have access to many of the unconscious thoughts, feelings, and motives we’re searching for. And because so much sits outside our conscious awareness, we often invent the reason why. 

Aside from being wrong the bigger issue with asking why is that it never stops. It’s like peeling an onion. Underneath the first layer may be an important insight. But after that, it’s just more onion. 

You have to be very careful not to keep peeling in a desperate attempt to try and find the grand cosmic truth for your existence (because there isn’t one).

Most of my issues are rooted in low self-worth. The reason for this is multi-fold based on a series of shit sandwiches I was served in my younger years. The temptation for me is to keep asking why. 

Was it because my parents doubted me? Was it because I was bullied? Was it because?.. 

It’s irrelevant! I understand the false belief that regularly causes my autopilot to fly me inverted straight toward a mountain. I know where it comes from, broadly speaking. 

That’s good enough. 

If I keep peeling the onion it indicates that I’m not accepting the truth about who I am. As a result, I end up trapped in unproductive thought patterns about the past – trying to unearth some grand cosmic truth that will set me free. 

(FYI, this is why frequent self-analyzers are more depressed and anxious and experience poorer well-being.)

The Ultimate Self-Awareness Hack.

None of this is to say you shouldn’t practice a little introspection. However, there is a far far better question to ask than why.

This really is a massive self-awareness hack. It’s so huge, in fact, I will bold it for you. (Mainly because I wish someone had told me this about a decade ago.) 

Ask what, not why. 

Asking what helps you frame the context of who you are regarding the situation you’re in much better. Put another way, what is solutions focused. 

In one study, psychologists J. Gregory Hixon and William Swann gave a bunch of undergraduates negative feedback on a test of their “likability and interest­ingness.” 

Some were given time to think about why they were the way they were, while others were asked to think about what kind of person they were. 

When the researchers had them evaluate the feedback, the “why” students spent their energy rationalising and denying what they’d learned, whereas the “what” students were more open to learning. 

Hixon and Swann concluded that “Thinking about why one is the way one is may be no better than not thinking about one’s self at all.”

To use a personal example, being fatigued is a major trigger for me. Following a long-haul flight, I would often turn into something of a giant asshat. Asking why only compounded my misery.

It wasn’t until I was brutally honest about how depressed I became for days following a long-haul trip that I realized I couldn’t keep doing it.

My body was telling me things my heart didn’t want to hear. Eventually this reached a tipping point where I felt the pain no longer justified the reward. 

It was a major reason why I quit my job. 

This, ultimately, is the whole point of asking what we are: To figure out what we should do about it. 

Summary:

  • Disconnecting the autopilot is the practise of noticing when you’re distracted and then actively bringing your attention back to the present. 
  • Flying manually (practising mindfulness) helps us understand how we feel about everything.
  • Asking why we are the way we are keep us trapped in unproductive thoughts about the past.
  • Asking what kind of person we are is solutions focused. It frames the context of who we are regarding our situation much better.

This is part 3 of a series of posts on the topic of Self-Awareness:

Part 1: The Automation Paradox

Part 2: The Three Areas of Self-Awareness: What on Earth Am I Doing?

***

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The Three Areas of Self-Awareness: What On Earth Am I Doing?

The Three Areas of Self-Awareness

According to Tasah Eurich – author of Insight: The Surprising Truth about How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think – there are 3 major blindspots to self-awareness. 

Those are:

  1. Behaviour blindness.
  2. Emotional blindness.
  3. Knowledge blindness.

Behaviour blindness is being oblivious to your own actions. Not noticing when you are getting distracted or why. 

Emotional blindness is being oblivious to your own feelings. Not understanding how you actually feel – what situations trigger specific emotional responses or why.

Knowledge blindness is being oblivious to what others think about you. Where they believe your strengths and weaknesses lie.

To help place a spotlight on each, I’ve come up with 3 stupendous questions:

  1. What on earth am I doing?
  2. What on earth am I feeling?
  3. What on earth are you thinking (of me)?

It works like this. 

We first learn to manage our autopilot before we practice hand-flying. Finally, we ask our trusted co-pilot for some much-needed feedback. 

We then use that information to fly our aircraft toward a more desirable destination – so we don’t act like a giant asshat the next time round!

Today, to avoid overloading your minimal attention span (no offence), I will tackle question #1, What on earth am I doing? and teach you how to first manage your autopilot. 

Let’s jump right in.

What on Earth Am I Doing?

Why you engage your autopilot.

A pilot engages the autopilot because it makes life easier. With the autopilot engaged, we can put out feet up, flirt with the hostess, stare at the clouds, or even read a newspaper. (What’s a newspaper?)

When we take the autopilot out, however, we start to sweat. This is because we must constantly scan our instrumentations – our speed, heading, altitude, etc. 

This is on top of all the other stuff we usually do when the autopilot is engaged, such as monitoring the radar for weather, looking out for other aircraft, or flirting with the hostess. 

So our work is cut out for us.

Now, you’d think the predominant emotion of a pilot taking the autopilot out would be confidence – “My, what big cojones you have el capitan!” – but I can tell you from personal experience the predominant emotion is fear. 

That’s why most pilots engage the autopilot approximately 4 to 5 seconds after take off. (Phew!)

As it turns out, we engage our mental autopilot for the same reason. We do it to avoid feeling pain or fear, or crippling self-doubt. 

How you engage the autopilot.

How exactly do we avoid these difficult emotions? Through distraction. 

“Distraction is the mental equivalent of engaging your autopilot.”

So we reach for our phones, mentally check out, wander over to the fridge, grab the bottle of tequila, binge-eat Ben and Jerry’s, or binge-watch NETFLIX. 

Basically anything and everything to numb ourselves from the intensity of existence. 

A big part of the problem is our repetitive thought patterns – which are themselves a form of distraction. Of course, these pesky thoughts tend to ruminate about how we’re deeply flawed human beings or worry about an apocalyptic tomorrow (thanks, Putin). 

This manifests itself as pain in the present, which we seek to avoid at all costs by either keeping our heads stuck in the clouds or, if that’s too much, reaching for the bottle or our phone.

“Click.” Autopilot in. (Phew!)

Contrary to popular belief, distraction isn’t the root of all evil. Sometimes it’s needed. We should schedule a time to let our minds wander and otherwise fuck around. 

But the key word here is awareness

We want to remain aware of when and why we’re engaging the autopilot. We want to stay conscious in case we need to reign it in. We want to make sure we are choosing our distractions instead of having our distractions choose us.

Put another way – we want to manage our autopilot – not get rid of it. 

Trying to get rid of it is the mental equivalent of going to the supermarket and buying a lifetimes supply of toilet paper whenever someone mentions the word pandemic. It’s overkill. All you’ll end up doing is pissing everyone off. 

What we really want to get rid of are our compulsions. 

How to manage your autopilot.

If distraction costs us time, then time management is pain management.– Nir Eyal

One of the best ways to manage your autopilot is to schedule time for your distractions. 

That is, you should allow yourself to check out occasionally. But you want to do so in a way that is both healthy and satisfying. 

So don’t stop watching NETFLIX or playing video games. No, no, no! Schedule time for it – but set a hard limit – make sure you have allocated the time for that purpose and nothing else.

Nir Eyal – author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life – calls this time-boxing. 

You’d think you’re supposed to time-box your work first and then allocate whatever time left over for your family or the hobbies you wish to pursue, but Nir recommends you take the opposite approach. 

He suggests you time-box play quality time for yourself first. 

The reasoning behind this is straightforward: if you are not caring for yourself, everything else, from your work to your marriage, will suffer. 

So, you will want to kick things off by setting aside enough time for sit-down meals, a good night’s sleep, and some of your favourite hobbies. Follow this by scheduling quality time with your friends and family. 

Finally, fit work around all of that. 

(Who would have thought that work was supposed to support life, not the other way around?)

Once these boundaries are firmly established, you can start to note when your autopilot takes you away from your intended flight path in a given moment. When you find yourself wandering off to some alternative head-space universe. When you are deviating from your planned activities, pursuits, or conversations. 

Here are some questions to think about.

Look for the patterns and note them down. I suggest you reflect on these questions every day as part of a journalling routine.

A final point. 

Whatever you do, don’t judge yourself. The goal with all of this is self-acceptance. Remember, you’re human. Learning to manage the human autopilot is hard fucking work. Perhaps the hardest – so stay kind. 

Step 1 is to simply understand where your autopilot goes and when. Once you have a clearer picture, we can consider why. 

That brings us to the next week’s question: What on earth am I feeling? 

Summary:

  • Distraction is the mental equivalent of engaging the autopilot
  • We use distraction to avoid feelings of pain or fear.
  • The best way to manage our autopilot is to schedule time for distraction.
  • We want to take note of when we’re getting distracted throughout the day.

This is part 2 of a series of posts on the topic of Self-Awareness:

Part 1: The Automation Paradox


For a collection of meditations designed to help you navigate your fears, generate lift and take command of life – join my weekly Stuck in the Clouds newsletter here. 

The Automation Paradox

If there’s one aviation disaster that darkens my knickers more than most, it’s AirFrance 447 – the scheduled passenger flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1st, 2009. 

In a very simplified nutshell, this is what happened.

Approximately 2 hours after takeoff, AirFrance 447 entered a storm system that caused the instrumentation that measures the aircraft’s airspeed to ice over. 

As a result, a few things happened:

  • First, they lost their airspeed indications (rather, they became unreliable).
  • Second, the autopilot said, “Here you go,” and dropped out. 
  • Finally, several of the aircraft’s protections were lost, including the ability to prevent the plane from stalling (as this required accurate airspeed indications).

Now the pilot flying, who was clearly spooked at the time, reacted by pulling back on the sidestick, pitching the aircraft into a steep climb. 

(Many experts are unsure as to why he did this. It’s possible he was trying to fly above the weather or thought they were going too fast. At any rate – at high altitude and heavy weight – this isn’t advisable.)

This caused the airspeed to decay and the angle of attack (the wing’s angle relative to the airflow) to increase. 

Shortly afterward, the stall alarm went off. 

At this point, the crew recognised that they had lost their airspeed. Although the pilot flying had reacted incorrectly initially, this should have been enough to correct his mistake.

All he had to do was point the nose back down.

Instead, the pilot flying continued to pitch up – the exact opposite of what we are taught to do to recover from a stall in flight. 

Eventually, the plane did stall. 

Despite repeated stall warnings, neither pilot ever acknowledged or even mentioned this as a possibility. 

In the ensuing confusion, it seemed they stopped trusting the aircraft’s indications altogether. (Clearly unaware that stalling the plane was even possible.)

Yet, despite not knowing what was happening or why, the pilot flying continued to pull back on the sidestick. He did this almost continuously till impact. 

As Popular Mechanics explains, “The reason that AF447 crashed wasn’t because of weather, or any malfunction, nor even a complex chain of events, but a single & persistent mistake on the part of one of the pilots.” 

The Automation Paradox

“It requires much more training and experience, not less, to fly highly automated planes.”– Sully Sullenberg.

There are many lessons to come from this disaster, but the most pertinent one highlights the dangers of placing too much faith in automation. 

Because of the massive technological advances in aviation, the chances of a pilot encountering a crisis in flight have significantly reduced. However, over – for the same reason – it has meant that pilots are often less able to cope when an emergency does occur. 

Many experts in the field have dubbed this the automation paradox. The very thing that has significantly improved airline safety over the past 60 years has made us worse at flying an aircraft. 

The hard truth is this: that minor glitch – a temporary loss of airspeed indication – overwhelmed the pilots that day. If they had sat on their hands and done nothing, they would have all lived to fly another day. 

Now, I don’t tell you all of this to darken your knickers or to make you think worse of the exemplary professionals sitting at the front of your aeroplane. (There are several extenuating factors I haven’t mentioned here.)

But to highlight the dangers an overreliance on automation poses to you in everyday life. 

The automation paradox is a threat to all of us. 

I’m not just talking about your car’s inbuilt GPS or your smartphones (although they don’t help). More specifically, I’m referring to the mode under which most of us operate for the vast majority of our lives: on autopilot.

The Dangers of Living on Autopilot

Contrary to popular belief, living on autopilot isn’t a bad thing. We were designed to automate the majority of our actions. This is what allows us to walk down the street without having to think about it. This allows us to stare at our smartphones at the same time. That is, until we face-plant a lamppost!

This is when living on autopilot creates problems. When we get too comfortable doing so – when we hide behind it or operate on it without even realising we are. 

Have you ever started walking in the wrong direction – say towards work instead of the shops – out of habit? Only to wake up after a few minutes?

This is what I mean.

It’s not operating on autopilot that’s the problem, but losing awareness of when we are and, consequently, what our autopilot is doing and why.

Much is made about the dangers of the automation paradox in aviation for this reason. 

A pilot who places too much faith in automation is more liable to stop paying attention, failing to understand what the aircraft’s systems are doing and why. Or, crucially, how they should respond on the rare occasion that the aircraft’s systems do fail.

A technically proficient pilot, on the other hand, who is paying attention is better equipped to first recognise and then handle any non-normal scenario when they may be forced to (or should) take over manually. 

This is something we like to call having good situational awareness. 

The 3 Levels of Situational Awareness

There are 3 levels to situational awareness:

  • Level 1 is the perception of what is happening.
  • Level 2 is the understanding of what has been perceived. 
  • Level 3 is using that knowledge to think ahead.

Priority number one, therefore, is to pay attention – to keep scanning your instruments – to make sure the aircraft is flying at the speed, level, and direction you want. 

If you’re not paying attention it becomes more challenging to understand what is happening and why – let alone formulate a plan to deal with it. 

But perception alone isn’t enough. We also need understanding. We need to be technically proficient. We need to understand our ships intimately. 

One of the best ways to do this is to practice hand flying. To prepare for the worst by thinking ahead and having a plan in place. But also taking the time to reflect – to learn from your mistakes – to spot your weakness and understand your strengths. 

Basically, know thyself.

Of course, what I’m really talking about here is self-awareness. Carefully monitoring your impulses, reactions, thoughts, and emotions gives you the best chance to work with them more skilfully – to understand whether they’re grounded in reality or not (probably not).

If you’re overly reliant on your autopilot, on the other hand, you lose this awareness. When you fail to understand where your thoughts, reactions, or emotions are coming from, you’re more liable to let your autopilot take you on an inverted joyride till 5am on a Saturday morning… Or worse.

Perception + Understanding = Awareness. 

To return to the story of AF447, the pilots both perceived what had happened that day. Indeed, they accurately diagnosed the problem. But they never understood what that meant or how to respond.

The pilot flying reacted before he had a clear understanding of what was going on. Then both of them failed to understand the situation they had created for themselves. Despite never gaining clarity, the pilot flying kept pitching up in desperation. 

He kept beating his head against a brick wall.

This might be the most significant everyday issue we have. We act without awareness. We don’t sit on our hands long enough to gain the clarity we need before taking action. We don’t spend enough time living with the autopilot out – to understand how we should respond when faced with a challenging situation or emotion. 

To know that when we stall you must push the nose down.

We have a motto in aviation for this reason. It says, “Use it or lose it.” We say this because flying is a skill. And like any skill, it must be practiced to develop and maintain. 

Living on autopilot isn’t a big deal on most days when the weather is calm and visibility clear. But on a dark and stormy night, when the shit hits the fan blades, it isn’t your autopilot that will save you, but your ability to fly manually. 

How we do this, exactly. will be the subject of my upcoming series of posts.


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 Nurturing Your Roots and Pride Versus Love.

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to my high-flying newsletter! The only newsletter that takes no pride in itself…

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) “A plant can’t grow if you water the leaves. It’s the roots you must nurture. The deeper your roots the more stability you have, the more able you are to weather life’s storms. Our roots don’t just help us reach for the sky, they prevent us from getting swept away.” – click to tweet

2) “Most people fixate on why they are the way they are, instead of asking what kind of person they are and what they should do about it. This is a massive self-awareness hack: ask what not why. What is solutions focused. Why keeps us trapped in unproductive thoughts about the past.” – click to tweet

3)  “Is pride a good thing? Is it good to be proud of your country or your job or your kids? What if you simply loved them? Perhaps pride is the reason you’re angry? Your pride has been hurt because someone didn’t say thank you. If you do something out of love what does it matter? Pride is ego. Love is egoless.” – click to tweet

2 Quotes:

When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.”

Paul Virilio

If distraction costs us time, then time management is pain management.

Nir Eyal

1 Joke 

My bike fell over after a long ride the other day.

I told my wife it must have two-tired!


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

***

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How To Gain a Clear Picture of Your Future Self

I haven’t been myself lately. 

The unrelenting madness at work over the past couple of years has taken a toll. I decided I needed some time to clear the storm clouds that had gathered inside my mind. I realised I’d been too close to everything at work. 

So, I called the doc and went on long-term stress leave.

After a few weeks of playing with my children and otherwise ignoring the news and anything work-related, I deiced to sit down and address these clouds – the repeated thoughts about leaving my profession and Hong Kong – and map out a flight plan for my diversion. 

When I did, two uncomfortable questions kept popping up. Those were:

  • Who am I? 
  • Who do I want to become?

As fate would have it – after stewing on those questions for a while – I read a BBC article about the importance of imaging your future self. It noted, “a large number of psychological studies over the past decade have shown those who struggle to imagine their future selves as a continuation of the person that they are today, tend to be less responsible.” 

This caused me to spill my morning coffee. I thought, “That’s it! The picture of my future self has become blurry. So long as my future self remains a stranger to me – so long as I think of him as someone different to the person I am today – I will remain rudderless in the present.”

After reflecting on this, I decided to follow the same article’s advice. Which was to write a letter to my future self 20 years from now describing what is most important to me today and my plans for the coming decades. 

So, I thought long and hard about my values and wrote this letter. And then, I wrote a second one. A reply from my future self. I found it to be a powerful exercise. One that brought that picture back into sharp focus. That has allowed me to find my bearings again in the present. 

Aside from clarifying my values, it helped me look at everything happening from a longer-term perspective – helping to understand another mistake I’d been making. 

Everything that has led me to this significant crossroads in my life, I’ve been telling myself that it represents a diversion from the person I thought I was supposed to become.

But that’s not true. As my future self put it, 

“The values that are causing you to reconsider your future aren’t taking you away from the person you thought you were meant to be. They are driving you back towards the person you already are – the person you’ve always been at heart. If you place faith in him, I promise that he will take you exactly where you want to go. 

That’s because – if you do – you’ll see there is nowhere you have to go, no place you have to be, nothing you have to do. You’ve already arrived. You’re already exactly where you’re meant to be. You’re already the person you’re meant to become.

Your only problem is that you’re fighting him – you’re fighting who you already are. But he will win this fight. And you must let him. You must place your faith in the person you already are.”

After writing this out, I felt this wave of calm wash over me. I saw my future self smiling back at me. As if he knows this is the moment I’ve finally come to understand something vital for both his sake and mine. 

It’s this thought – this insight – that I want to leave you with to reflect on:

If you want to gain a clear picture of the person you are meant to become, you have to stop fighting who you already are.


***

You can find AP2’s personal blog here at: https://clear-air-turbulence.com

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

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot

3-2-1 Flying Fridays

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to 3-2-1 Flying Fridays! The only weekly post that is completely unaware of how awesome it is.

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 something special (maybe). 

As a bonus I’ve finished with one joke that’s so bad, it’s good!

Let’s begin!


3 x Thoughts:

1) The only way to gain a clear picture of the person you are meant to become is to stop fighting who you already are(Click to tweet

2) The most important psychological trait you can develop is self-awareness. The caveat is, it doesn’t work without self- acceptance. It’s the combination of the two that leads to genuine change/growth in an individual. Self-awareness without self-acceptance leads to self-absorption. (Click to tweet)

3) Anger is a useful cue to zoom the lens out and foster greater perspective. (Click to tweet)


2 x Quotes:

Friendship means we are willing to carry things for other people that they won’t carry for themselves. We hold in our packs a version of our friends at their brightest and most creative that can be shown to them when they are in a slump. We carry memories of the times we laughed, did silly things, failed and succeeded. We store all the depth of the ways we have walked side by side on the path as well as the times we waited at an intersection while they took a detour and vice versa. Then at just the right moment, we unpack the brownies we’ve carried so far and celebrate our friends… There are some things worth the extra weight and friendship is one of them.”

— Wynne Leon (Source: https://pointlessoverthinking.com/2022/02/09/backpacks/)

“We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.”

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Source: https://pointlessoverthinking.com/2022/02/05/marcus-aurelius-on-humility-and-duty/)

1 x Thing:

This article by John Salvatier: Reality has a surprising amount of detail. The article was recommended by Tim Ferris in his 5 bullet Friday newsletter. It details the detail in the seemingly simple, and why it’s important to look for the details you wouldn’t normally pay attention to. Well worth the 5-10 min read! Here are a few quotes from the piece:

This means it’s really easy to get stuck. Stuck in your current way of seeing and thinking about things. Frames are made out of the details that seem important to you. The important details you haven’t noticed are invisible to you, and the details you have noticed seem completely obvious and you see right through them. This all makes it difficult to imagine how you could be missing something important.

The direction for improvement is clear: seek detail you would not normally notice about the world. When you go for a walk, notice the unexpected detail in a flower or what the seams in the road imply about how the road was built. When you talk to someone who is smart but just seems so wrong, figure out what details seem important to them and why. In your work, notice how that meeting actually wouldn’t have accomplished much if Sarah hadn’t pointed out that one thing. As you learn, notice which details actually change how you think.

If you wish to not get stuck, seek to perceive what you have not yet perceived. 


1 x Joke:

When does a joke turn into a dad joke?


When it becomes apparent.



PREVIOUS NEWSLETTER:

3-2-1 Flying Fridays – 04/02/22

***

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

3-2-1 Flying Fridays

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to 3-2-1 Flying Fridays! The only weekly post that doesn’t know where it’s going.

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 something special (maybe). 

As a bonus I’ve finished with one joke that’s so bad, it’s good!

Let’s begin!


3 x Thoughts:

1) Increasing self awareness means taking the auto pilot out and hand flying the damn thing. It is a skill you must practise by actively bringing your focus back to the present moment over and over again. Not only to develop self awareness, but maintain it. (Click to tweet)

2) Before we act we must accept. Before we accept we must become aware. Step one, therefore, is the practise of presence moment awareness. Step two is the practice of universal compassion. Step three is taking action in alignment with your values. Awareness > Acceptance > Action. (Click to tweet)

3) Instead of trying to work out how you can get what you want, maybe you should seek to understand why you want it? Through understanding it’s possible you’ll drop your desire altogether. (Click to tweet)


2 x Quotes:

“The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens.”

– ARAB PROVERB

Self-observation—watching yourself—is important. It is not the same as self-absorption. Self-absorption is self-preoccupation, where you’re concerned about yourself, worried about yourself. I’m talking about self-observation. What’s that? It means to watch everything in you and around you as far as possible and watch it as if it were happening to someone else. What does that last sentence mean? It means that you do not personalize what is happening to you. It means that you look at things as if you have no connection with them whatsoever.

– ANTHONY DE MELLO

1 x Thing:

This article on Medium by Darius Foroux: Ask Yourself These 20 Questions to Improve Your Self-Awareness. A few of them include:

  1. What am I good at?
  2. What am I bad at?
  3. Who are the most important people in my life?
  4. How much sleep do I need?
  5. What’s my definition of success?
  6. What makes me sad?
  7. What makes me happy?
  8. What type of friend do I want to be?
  9. What do I think about myself?
  10. What things do I value in life?

His advice after answering these questions? “Double down on the advantageous stuff and start eliminating the harmful stuff, as much as you can. Do more things that make you happy or things you’re good at. Avoid things that make you unhappy or things you’re bad at. That’s it. That’s knowing yourself.”


1 x Joke:

As we walked into the elevator the other day I asked my wife is she wanted to hear a good elevator joke.

She replied, “Not really.”

I said, “Are you sure? This one works on so many levels.”


PREVIOUS NEWSLETTER:

3-2-1 Flying Fridays – 14/01/22


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***

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

Tuesday’s Top Tip

You know how we’re always doing one thing but thinking about something else?

Like ALWAYS.

You know how this is an example of mindlessness not mindfulness?

Well I have a little hack for you today.

And it’s going to sound silly but I swear it works. 

Here it is:

When you’re doing something articulate it.

You don’t have to say it out loud of course (unless you want other people to think you’re lunatic) – in your head is fine – but be clear about what it is you’re doing in any giving moment.

For example, I am sitting down to read. I am walking to the shop. I am drinking water. I am eating lunch. I am sitting on the toilet. I am writing. I am exercising. I am brushing my teeth. I am scrolling on Facebook. 

You get the point.

The beauty is, not only will this make you more mindful, it makes you more aware.

I am having another beer. I am having another chocolate. I am throwing away another piece of plastic.

The idea is not to stop you from indulging in negative habits but to simply make you more aware of them. This, in turn, makes you aware of what you should be doing. That’s often enough to steer you in a slightly better direction.

So that’s it.

Todays top tip is to simply say what you’re doing as you’re doing it.

It’s an awesome mindfulness hack.

You’re welcome.

Previous Top Tip

3-2-1 Mindset Mondays

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to Mindset Mondays! The only weekly post that minces its words while eating…

Following a 3-2-1 approach (this week), it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 things I’ve been reading, watching or listening to this week that has helped me grow.

As a bonus I’ve finished with 1 joke that’s so bad, it’s good.

Let’s begin!

(As a way to give credit and to say thank you, I’ve linked back to any posts that have inspired my thoughts. I’ve linked back to any quotes I’ve found as well.)


3 x Thoughts:

1) When you compare yourself to others you reject who you are.

2) Kindness is not avoiding conflict at all costs. Kindness is not telling white lies so you that never have to hurt someone else’s feeling. That’s not kindness, that’s cowardice

3) When you hold the door open for someone you shouldn’t do it expecting a thank you in return. Holding the door for someone so that you receive thanks is not a selfless act. It’s selfish. You’ve just made it about validation. So you can feel like a good person. That’s the wrong reason to the hold the door open for someone. You should hold the door for someone because you believe in kindness. Because you believe in upholding those standards for no other reason than you believe it’s right thing to do. When you expect thanks in return – when you place expectations on other people (strangers in particular) – you set yourself up to feel resentful if they don’t. Worse, you end up believing you’re better than they are. This is dangerous. True acts of kindness don’t come with expectations for something in return.


2 x Quotes:

“You must find the courage to leave the table if respect is no longer being served.”

– TENE EDWARDS

“The three most difficult things for a human being are not physical feats or intellectual achievements. They are, first, returning love for hate; second, including the excluded; third, admitting that you are wrong.” But these are the easiest things in the world if you haven’t identified with the “me.” 

– SJ ANTHONY DE MELLO


1 x Thing:

1) This Freakonomics Radio podcast episode: The Downside of Disgust with Stephen Dubner. “It’s a powerful biological response that has preserved our species for millennia. But now it may be keeping us from pursuing strategies that would improve the environment, the economy, even our own health. So is it time to dial down our disgust reflex?  You can help fix things — as Stephen Dubner does in this episode — by chowing down on some delicious insects.” Personal notes below.

  • The core of disgust evolved from a system to avoid pathogens. Something in our brains already knows not to eat poop or vomit (not the case for dogs). 
  • The word yuck is derived from the sound of vomiting. Like a pre vomit sound (retching)
  • Moral and social disgust has evolved from food disgust. 
  • Should we dial down or up our disgust (since it’s part of an ancient response system)?
  • One of the most effective hand washing campaigns ever used to teach people in Ghana – shows a women coming out of the toilet not washing her hands and then preparing and feeding her children food she had contaminated with her own faeces. It’s believed that eliciting disgust from viewers is a much more effective way to teach people about hand hygiene as opposed to simply relaying the science as to why it’s important. 
  • Example of where it would be useful to dial down our disgust response for various environmental/economics political reasons? Getting people to eat more insects. There are millions who could benefit from the protein that insects provide but are nonetheless disgusted by them. This would be useful because meat is much more resource intensive. 
  • You don’t eat insects? There are an average of eight insect fragments in a chocolate bar (this is acceptable as is a small amount) salads, tin tomatoes, peanut butter, beer, wine – yes all contain their fair share of insect fragments 
  • Of course not many people knowingly eat insects or are willing to eat them in toto 
  • How to get people to do so? With incentives to begin with? Then using Mirror exposure effect: the more exposure you have to something the more you like it (acquired taste). It’s proven to work.
  • The problem is getting over the “disgust hump” People don’t realise they will cease to be disgusted once they get used to something. It’s worth remembering that Sushi was once held with a similar position in Western society a few short decades ago. Now it’s loved by the western masses. Insects could end doing the same. 
  • We have made big changes in what we find disgusting regarding our beliefs – eg. slavery. Could it really be so hard to make insects appealing?


1 x Joke:

So my son was running around without a nappy on the other day when he came charging toward me.

He shouted, “Daddy! Daddy! Look at my balls!”

Sure enough, when I looked down, there they were.

Hanging out for all the world to see.

Them, along with a pair of massage balls he was holding in his hands…

(You really can’t make this stuff up).


Thanks ladies and gentlemen. I’m here all week! I sincerely hope you all have a great week ahead. As always I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions on this blog. Please let us know below.

One bonus question to finish:

What boundaries can you set with your Smartphone in order to live more mindfully?


PREVIOUS MONDAY POST:

Mindset Mondays – 01/02/21

Tuesday’s Top Tip

There are many people who believe that life is meaningless and argue, for that reason, what’s the point? Why bother?

I have two responses.

The first is why not?

If life is meaningless then you have no reason not to put yourself out there. No excuse not to be courageous. If it doesn’t matter then why wouldn’t you take risks? Why wouldn’t you want to see if you can achieve your dreams?

To simply say there is no point so why bother is a cop out. It’s a poor excuse and you know it.

Here’s the second more important thing I would say.

Life is meaningless because meaning implies understanding. Whatever life means. Whatever the why may or may not be. What it is… is beyond our comprehension. It is therefore beyond meaning. Ergo, it is meaningless.

However!

It’s preciously because life is meaningless that we must give it meaning. That’s how you guard against nihilism. That’s how you stop from falling down the rabbit hole.

Life is chaotic which is why we must strive to give it order, no matter how trying the circumstances.

To live is to suffer, it’s an unavoidable aspect of Being. Which is why we must suffer with purpose. It’s why we must seek to alleviate the suffering in others, however small, it whatever way we can.

That’s how we find balance. That’s how we stop from falling into the abyss.

The truth is your life holds as much meaning as you give it. The answer to this dilemma – whether it’s true or not – is to give your life as much meaning as you possible can. To fill every corner of your precious existence with it.

If you do, you will no longer be concerned with what the meaning of life is. You will understand that the question doesn’t matter. You will understand that your life does and that this is enough.

Previous Top Tip

Tuesday’s Top Tip

Is life really so bad?

Is life really so fucked up?

Ok, yes, it is quite fucked up.

Still.

Is it not also rather pleasant?

Is it not also incredibly beautiful?

Is it not also extremely miraculous?

When you stop regurgitating the bullshit narratives fed to you by society over and over again in your mind.

When you consider that we live in one of the freest, safest and richest periods in human history.

When you simply put down your phone and look.

Do we not, in fact, have a great deal more to be grateful for given the odds of our very existence are so infinitesimally small?

You know the answer to this question of course.

The problem is you keep forgetting don’t you?

Which is why you’ve got to keep reminding yourself of how truly fortunate you really are.

It’s why you have to practise gratitude every opportunity you can.

It’s why you have to make being thankful a way of life.

Previous Top Tip

Ripples In The Pond

I dropped a pebble in a pond the other day and watched as the ripples reverberated outwards. 

Then I started thinking. 

When the water is calm the ripples travel unobstructed. It’s clear as day.

Yet when the waters are rough it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for us to see them. 

Yet they do.

They must.

The same way the water in your bathtub must rise if you place an object in it.

This made me realise – even the smallest acts of kindness and compassion have ripples that travel further than any of us know. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that small acts of love can have. And just because we can’t see the impact, it doesn’t mean there hasn’t been one.

There has to be.

If you drop a small pebble in turbulent waters you will still make a splash. It will make a difference. Small acts of kindness will move more water than meets the eye.

We‘d do well to remember that all water in a pond must move to accommodate the smallest pebble.

We’d do well to remember that if all of us place enough pebbles in the water, we might just move the ocean.

In Honour Of A Boy I Never Knew

I found out today what you did.

I never knew you and yet you were so close.

Just four floors above and yet you might as well have lived on the other side of the world.

We must have passed many times, side by side in the elevator and yet, I never noticed.

Did I smile?

Did I show you kindness?

Or did my preoccupations blind me from seeing you?

I’m sorry if you thought the world didn’t care. If the world didn’t pay attention.

I shed a tear for you today.

I never knew you, but I’ll never forget you. I’ll never forget how you must have suffered.

I want you to know your life was not in vain.

In your honour, I will be better.

In your honour, I will strive to keep my eyes and my heart open.

To really see the people I pass. To see the people I don’t know but are every bit a part of this shared world.

In your honour, I will be kinder.

In your honour, I will strive to be the best version of myself.

In your honour, I will love my life to fullest extent possible.

In your honour, the boy I never knew.

May you rest now in peace.


Those who have never experienced the darkest corners of their mind, will never be able to understand why someone would contemplate suicide. 

I myself can’t, but from experience I believe I can, at least, appreciate how it might lead there. 

To those who might label them as selfish – who are quick to judge – I would ask you to think for a second and consider this. 

If a man were burning alive and you handed him a loaded gun, would you judge him for shooting himself?

Living with a depression that drives people to take their own lives is something very few of us will ever be able to comprehend.

What I can say with some degree of certainty, however, is judgement won’t help those in the battle to save their own lives.  

They need our love, compassion and understanding. 

They need our help.

Be kind and if you think someone might be suffering, reach out. 

Something as seemingly simple as asking for help is anything but easy when you’re drowning. 

You never know just how powerful a lifeline you might be offering.

To those who are suffering, who don’t know how to ask, who can’t seem to find the strength, please know there are people waiting to embrace you when you do.

There are people who still love you and know you have what it takes to come back from the brink. 

If you can find the courage, I’ve left a list of links below where you can seek help.


HELPLINES, SUICIDE HOTLINES, AND CRISIS-LINES FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Local Websites And Emergency Contact Numbers

https://www.befrienders.org

https://www.samaritans.org

https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/international/global-mental-health

(FYI I wrote this back in May after finding out that a young boy, just 16 years old, committed suicide by jumping from the balcony of his apartment in the high rise above where we live. I wanted to share it again in an effort to spread awareness and remind myself why mental health is such an important issue – especially this year. We need to make sure we are looking after ourselves and each other now more than ever. Wishing you all peace and love on this years World Mental Health Day. AP2 X)