The seeds of doubt were planted at a young age. I can’t tell you exactly when, but I know it started in childhood. I was lead to believe I wasn’t capable, that I would struggle in this life. In particular, concerns surrounded my abilities in English. At first, my parents worried that I had a … Read more Why I Write
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman (Source: The Living Wisdom of Howard Thurman: A Visionary for Our Time) I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘what do you mean the ONLY … Read more The Only Thing The World Needs From You
The other night, while I was trying to sleep, I started thinking about the post I wrote last week where I stated that hatred is driven – at its core – by a fear of death. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something fundamental. Naturally this started to make me feel a little anxious. … Read more Why Everything Scares You To Death
That’s the most liberating, wonderful thing in the world, when you openly admit you’re an ass. It’s wonderful. When people tell me, “You’re wrong.” I say, “What can you expect of an ass?” S.J. Anthony de mello – SOURCE: AWARENESS “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent … Read more The Secret Ingredient Missing From Every Conversation
“The principle of freedom must be our first commitment, for without this no one is immune against the virus of aggrandizement – the impulse to grab power, wealth, position, or reputation at the expense of others.” – Herbert Douglass – SourCE:The Cost Of Freedom True freedom is a commitment to experiencing the very real limitations … Read more Why Freedom Demands Responsibility
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!
“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 Ironically it’s often an outdated belief that we’re unable (or refuse) to let go of.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.”
“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.”
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.
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!
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
I recently completed a course on personality theory that I found infinitely fascinating. Today I want to share some thoughts about how this understanding can help us better navigate in the world.
You can think of personality as the lens through which we view the world. It functions by filtering the world so we only pay attention to certain things. This then influences the way we think, feel, and act.
Part of what colours our lens has to do with the environment in which we have been raised. But another significant part has to do with the innate personality traits that we were born with.
Not only for knowing who we should become but for helping us understand that other people are fundamentally different. They will never be able to look at the world like you do – neither will you they. It’s this understanding that helps foster greater compassion and tolerance for “the other side.”
This is also why we should pick things like our profession based on our personality. Some are of us are naturally creative while others look at art and simply don’t get it. Conversely, some of us are highly conscientious while others couldn’t care less if they put odd socks on in the morning.
Most organisations need a combination of both vertical (in-the-box) type thinkers and lateral (out-of-the-box) type thinkers. Indeed, the world needs various personality types because there isn’t a single answer to all of the world’s problems.
Does this mean we can’t adjust the colour of our lens? Does it mean we can’t become something we’re not? No, not entirely. Our personalities change naturally as we age. They are malleable. And we should try to expand the limits of our own personality.
That said, there are limits. After a certain point, you get diminishing rates of return. We all have a proclivity to learn specific skills more quickly than others. We all struggle to understand certain things more than others too.
This is because all of us have limited cognitive abilities. We’re simply incapable of processing all of the objective facts in the unknowable universe. Different personalities are nature’s way of covering all bases.
This is important for understanding different political persuasions, which is heavily influenced by personality. Sometimes liberals have the answer; at other times conservatives do. But, at the end of the day, to quote some Indian dude, “the left-wing and right-wing are part of the same bird.”
We need diversity of thought. And we desperately need to work together despite our differences. This is how we cover each other’s blind spots.
Ultimately this understanding can help us find that goldilocks position in life we’re all looking for. The one that suits us best (and this, I firmly believe, best suits the world too). But it also helps to adjust the parts of ourselves that on occasion need adjusting to fit the circumstances.
Ideally, you want to wear the hat most suited to who you are as much as possible. But you also want the ability to put on a different hat when the circumstances require it. Because life is unpredictable so we must be adaptable.
The trick is to specialise at what you are but practise what you aren’t.
But to do that, we must first become clear about who we really are at our core. We must first understand the hand we have been dealt before we try to play it – before we match the game to our particular set of cards.
In the following weeks I mean to break these five traits down while placing my own personality under the microscope. In the process I hope to shine a brighter light on who you are too, so we may all deepen our understanding about ourselves and the world we live in.
We’re all looking for that Goldilocks position in life. That ultimate purpose specifically suited to our own unique talents and values.
Of course, we want to maximise our potential to do the most possible good. This is why many of us have this gnawing sense that the job we’re in isn’t quite right.
We feel like we are meant for something else, something more.
I didn’t pay much attention to my nature during adolescence, that critical life period when we are supposed to decide what we want to do forever and always. I simply did what I was told I should. Which was anything but the creative subjects I truly loved.
So I took a random collection of other subjects that left me increasingly confused about my future. Then I studied history for reasons I honestly couldn’t tell you, and then I decided to become an airline pilot.
Becoming a pilot was, at least, based on something I was passionate about. Traveling the world. Nothing satisfies my soul more. Still – and this is important – I didn’t become a pilot to fly aeroplanes.
In a sense, this has been a blessing. It’s placed a spotlight on the person I am.
And the person I’m not.
I believe this is why so many of us have joined the great resignation. And why many others feel incredibly burnt out.
We settle into a job. We get comfortable with it – we know we can do it and do it well – so we preserve with it even though we know it isn’t quite right. We keep pushing the boulder uphill.
But you can only fight your nature for so long before it catches up with you. At some point, you have to make a choice: You can either take a chance on the person you are or kill the person you are.
If you let that inner spark go out it can be very difficult to find the strength to fly again.
As I embark on the next chapter of my life, I mean to take a chance on the person I am. I mean to honour my inner child in the hope that I may do the most possible good with the gifts I have been given.
To inspire others through creativity.
As I embark on this journey, I want to take you along for the ride. I want to show you how to increase your self-understanding. I want to help you specialise in who you are so you don’t feel out of place anymore.
So that together, we may fly free in the knowledge we are exactly where we are meant to be.
“There’s no difference between a pessimist who says, ‘Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything,’ and an optimist who says, ‘Don’t bother doing anything, it’s going to turn out fine any way.’ Either way, nothing happens.”
— Yvon Chouinard
Most of us don’t call fear out for what it is. We often dress it up as something else. Many of us will even rationalise our fear as optimism.
We entertain thoughts that our situation will magically improve over time. This is common for someone working a job they dislike.
But the truth is – if you feel the same way you did several months or years ago – things probably won’t get better by themselves. Unless you do something about it, the chances are you’ll remain just as unhappy as you are now.
This is what’s happened to me.
Right now I’m standing at the edge of the precipice about to take a leap of faith. All of my gremlins have come crawling out of the woodwork.
They’re whispering in my ear. Telling me this is a massive mistake, that it will end in disaster, that I have no idea what I’m doing…
Of course fear wants us to play it safe. It wants us to choose certainty over happiness. That’s because the ego isn’t interested happiness. It’s only interested in survival.
But that’s why it’s important to understand just how dangerous that leap of faith really is.
But to do that, you first have to embrace your demons. You have to give them the time and space to air out their concerns. So that you can really examine them. So you can hold them up in the light and see that fear for what it is:
This helps us understand where our fears are really coming from. It helps us see what we can do to mitigate those concerns. Which fears are worth listening to and which really aren’t.
This in turn can give us the strength we need to take that leap of faith.
Fear-Setting: A powerful exercise for making major life decisions.
“You have comfort. You don’t have luxury. And don’t tell me that money plays a part. The luxury I advocate has nothing to do with money. It cannot be bought. It is the reward of those who have no fear of discomfort.”
First, you write down the major life change you’re considering.
Second, define the worst case scenario in pain staking detail. Ask yourself if it really would be the end of your life? How permanent would it be? How likely is the worst case scenario?
Third, ask yourself what steps could you take to repair the damage/deal with worst. Would you be able to get another job? What if you were fired from your job today? What would you do? How would you cope?
Forth, ask yourself what the outcomes/benefits of a more probable scenario are. What are the definite positive outcomes (including for your self-esteem, mental and physical health etc)? What would the impact of these more likely outcomes be?
Fifth, ask what the cost will be if you do nothing? What is the cost of inaction? What will it cost you financially, emotionally & physically if you postpone this difficult choice?
Finally, ask yourself what you’re so afraid of? What are currently putting off out of fear?
Perhaps It’s Better the Devil You Don’t Know?
“It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That’s what you fear.”
– SJ Anthony de Mello
After running through this exercise the other night I came to a number of important insights.
I realised the nightmare scenario I’d been envisioning was one in a million. And the benefits – the positive outcomes – were much more likely. Even if the worst did come to pass, I realised that much of what I felt I was giving up was reversible.
But I also considered what the longer term costs of inaction might be. This presented me with another picture. One that was every bit as scary as the one that had been causing me to hesitate.
So I asked myself, ‘what I am really afraid of here?’
After giving it some thought it occurred to me that I what fear most – isn’t what the future might hold – but losing what I know.
I fear losing the gremlins that have kept safe for so long.
People often say it’s better the devil you know. But what if the devil you don’t know isn’t a devil after all?
After all, you don’t know.
What if it’s not an angel sent to save you? If only you had the courage to reach out to it – if only you had the strength to take that leap of faith and leave the shoreline behind.
The truth is, change is the only inevitability in this life. To cling to what we know only provides us with a false sense of security.
I would argue, to embrace change – to embrace the unknown – is to embrace life 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 something special (maybe).
As a bonus I’ve finished with one joke that’s so bad, it’s good!
3 x Thoughts:
1)A relationship without conflict is doomed. We must challenge each other if we want to grow together. We need a person who will contend with us, not someone who will only worship us. We need someone who is courageous enough to tell us the truth, even if it hurts.
2)If you want to conquer fear you have to define it in pain-staking detail first. You have to hold it up in the light and examine it to see it for what it really is:
3) Change is the only certainty in life. To cling to what you know only provides you with a false sense of security. To embrace change – to embrace the unknown – is to embrace life itself.
2 x Quotes:
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?””
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
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.
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.”
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.
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!
3 x Thoughts:
1) Our lives hold as much meaning as we give them. Which is why we must give ours as much meaning as we can. In our relationships and our work. We must fill every corner of our precious existence with it. If we do, we won’t be concerned with what the meaning of life is. We will understand that the question doesn’t matter. We will understand – that when it comes to the meaning of life – our own unique, unrepeatable lives – that we aren’t meant to ask the question. We are meant to answer it in the only way that we can.
2) The real fear isn’t that we’re going to die or that soon after we will be quickly forgotten. The real fear is getting to that point and realising we didn’t really live in the first place – that we didn’t live a life we felt was truly meaningful. This is why a fear of death is so heavily associated with a fear of life. Why we often feel like we’re “racing against the clock.” It’s when we don’t feel that our lives are currently meaningful that the worm at the core starts to eat us alive.
3) Why it’s helpful to think you’re not a good person: A good person implies something black or white. You either are or you aren’t. This fixes your mindset. You believe you’re a good person and go at lengths to avoid being proven otherwise. You also become defensive about that belief. You feel threatened whenever this comes into question and so avoid the very conversations you need to hear so you may become a better person. That’s the way you should think. Not in terms of being a good person, but in terms of being a better one. Of course, you always can be.
2 x Quotes:
“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the centre of it all.”
– Robert Pirsig
“In their fear of death, those living fear life itself, a life that is doomed to die… The mode in which life knows and perceives itself is worry. Thus the object of fear comes to be fear itself. Even if we should assume that there is nothing to fear, that death is no evil, the fact of fear (that all living things shun death) remains… Fearlessness is what love seeks. Love as craving is determined by its goal, and this goal is freedom from fear… Such fearlessness exists only in the complete calm that can no longer be shaken by events expected of the future… Hence the only valid tense is the present, the Now.”
– Hannah Arendt
1 x Thing:
This Mark Manson article: The Meaning of Life Is a Ham Sandwich. As he explains, “Meaning is not something that exists outside of ourselves. It is not some cosmic universal truth waiting to be discovered. It is not some grand ‘eureka’ moment that will change our lives forever. Meaning requires action. Meaning is something that we must continually find and nurture. Consistently.” I particularly liked the two ways he suggests doing that: Either by solving problems or helping others. Well worth the quick read!
1 x Joke:
I had my haircut the other day.
When I got home my 3 year old asked, “Dad, did you get a haircut?”
Nihilism is a dangerous belief. The inability to make sense of it all leads many to conclude that life is entirely pointless. This, in turn, can lead to the belief that there is little point in trying at anything.
Now, I’m not here to debate the existence of a grand creator. (Thank God, I hear you say.) I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with believing in or not believing in a God or Gods. I can see many good reasons for. But I sympathise with those who find it hard to accept the idea.
Truthfully, I would like to believe in God. I would like to take solace in the idea that I will go somewhere after death, along with all who I love. I appreciate and understand how this can provide psychological security.
But I also struggle with the idea of a meaningless existence. Why should anything exist if there is no God? Just because? That answer has never satisfied my soul. And for all of science’s ability to explain the how, it will never be capable of answering the why.
I’ve had these thoughts long enough to understand at least one thing that’s for sure. You can waste your life asking such questions. Asking what it all means. Why me? Why this kind of insanity?
I’ve come to realise that this is definitely the wrong approach.
Many people wish to live in a world free from suffering, of course – one that only has abundant love. But they fail to see that compassion cannot exist without suffering. In the same way, high cannot exist without low or light without darkness.
Even love without hate.
What if that’s the point? What if the meaninglessness of existence is a blank canvas that you’re supposed to paint meaning onto? Does the backdrop of meaning not haveto be meaninglessness?
I don’t know if that’s true.
But I am sure, at least, when it comes to the meaning of life – our own unique, unrepeatable lives – that we aren’t meant to ask the question. We are meant to answer it in the only way we can.
Perhaps – just perhaps – this really was by design.
When I was about 8 years old, my family and I went over to our next-door neighbour’s house for dinner. After dinner, their daughter offered me a sweet for dessert. So, she led me into her room and opened up her “sweetie draw.”
What she had done was save her sweets over months and months to fill up this draw with all of her favourite goodies. It was a big draw. Skittles, liquorice allsorts, gummy bears, gobstoppers… you name it, she had it.
The thought of it now makes me salivate.
It made such an impression, I decided to build my own. So, while we were out shopping the next day, I pleaded with my mum to buy me some sweets. I remember getting a packet of chewy fruit mentos. I vowed not to eat it but to save it for my very own sweetie draw.
On the way home, however, I couldn’t help myself. I bargained with myself, “It’s ok if I eat a few. I can save the rest of the packet for my sweetie draw!” By the car ride home, I’d eaten most of the packet.
After we got home, I placed this mostly eaten mentos packet in my bedside drawer. Of course, it didn’t last long. The thought of it continued to eat away at me. Eventually, I gave in and consumed the rest.
But do you know what? Do you know how I felt after this crushing defeat? Well, nothing really. I didn’t care. I simply moved on with my life.
Now, I’m sure you’ve most of you have heard of the famous marshmallow experiment. For those who haven’t, it was a study conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel, where children were offered a choice between one marshmallow now or two marshmallows if they waited for a period of time.
Years later, researchers found that the children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards “tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.”
I bring it up because every time I read about it, it always made me feel kinda bad. Because I know I would have been one of the kids who “failed” that experiment. Just like I failed to build that sweetie draw.
Still, I realize something is up because, by most of those metrics, I am “successful.” Not as successful as some, but I could have done worse. How much of this “success” has to do with my skin colour, sex, or other advantages I take for granted, is up for debate. I feel it would be remiss not to mention that.
Either way, I know I’m still that kid inside.
My wife has no problem eating in moderation. On the other hand, given half the chance, I will consume an entire box of Oreos in one sitting. This is why I ask my wife not to buy treaty things when she goes shopping. She once asked, “What if I hide them?” I told her in my best Liam Neeson impression, “That I will find them, and I will eat them.”
None of this is to say I haven’t learned to delay gratification. I believe I have. My finances are in good order. I eat a balanced diet (at home). I’m fit and healthy. It’s just, none of this is really achieved through willpower. I’m not sitting on my hands, trying to distract myself from eating the marshmallow in front of me.
I’ve learned that designing my environment is a FAR more effective way to control my impulsivity. I’m better off with no marshmallows than I am trying to get two. And this, I’ve figured out, is my superpower. It’s not the ability to delay gratification so I can get what I want. It’s not wanting it in the first place.
I can’t help but wonder, what if, many of those kids – the ones who weren’t “capable” of delaying gratification – were misunderstood. What if they were happy being who they were until society placed a spotlight on the “successful” people of this world and told them this is who you should be and what you should have? Until society showed them the sweetie draw and said, “look at this!”
Of course, that same society also teaches us that our wants and desire “are the root of all evil.” That may well be true, but what happens when you hate on your own wants and desires? What happens when you hate yourself for being human? What happens when you resist or hate anything? Of course, you give those parts of yourself control. You give those things strength. (That applies to the political party and leader you hate too!)
But people don’t build sweetie draws because of their ability to delay gratification. They find the act of building a sweetie draw gratifying. They love collecting. They love saving up. Similarly, people don’t get up at 5 am to exercise because of their incredible willpower. People obsessed with health and fitness are simply obsessed with health and wellness.
They have made those things part of their identity. It’s who they are.
Of course, we can learn to make those things part of our identity too. We can put the habits in place that reinforce the identity we wish to build. We can learn to visualise our goals and “surf the urge” whenever we find ourselves tempted to dig into the packet of mentos.
These things are worth working on.
But if you’re going about it to make up for the fact that you don’t currently have a sweetie draw. If you’re trying to make up for feelings of inadequacy, it’s going to be hard, if not impossible. If you ask me, self-discipline is an illusion. The real secret to self-improvement is self-acceptance. It’s when you learn to understand, love and work with the person you are, that things become easier.
And you should take the time to ask yourself who you are and what it is you really want.. Maybe you want the second marshmallow, or, maybe you don’t one in the first place?
Personally, I love going with the flow. I don’t care so much for stuff. I tend to think that security is overrated. If I’m being brutally honest, I’ve found having three mortgages, keeping up with several different investment portfolios, etc., somewhat imprisoning. I’m looking to drastically simplify my finances over the next couple of years for that reason.
The older I get, the more I realise how much happier I am giving away my marshmallow than I am trying to save for a second. I realise there will never be a sweetie draw in my household and do you know what?
Hello lovely readers and welcome back to the Flying Fridays newsletter! The only weekly newsletter that laughs when you fall over before helping you back up…
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!
3 x Thoughts:
1)Treat your emotions like you would a child. They’re equally irrational. It’s non judgemental compassion that gets them on side. Getting angry at a child who is throwing a tantrum doesn’t work. So it is with you.
2) The belief that something is wrong with us is central to the issue of feeling bad about feeling bad because that belief brings up more negative emotions (go figure), which we then see as confirmation that something is wrong with us.
3)Attempts to control negative thoughts and emotions makes them worse. Better to concentrate on forming desirable habits instead. Mood follows action.
2 x Quotes:
“For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts and that the world is not so ill with you and me as it might have been is half owing to those who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.”
― George Eliot, MiddleMarch
“Most people die at 25… we just don’t bury them until they are 70.”
1 x Thing:
This excerpt from The Practice of Groundedness by Brad Stulberg on perception of vulnerability:
Researchers at the University of Mannheim, in Germany, conducted a series of seven experiments in which they had adult participants share information about themselves with one another at varying levels of vulnerability. They repeatedly found that the individual doing the sharing felt that their vulnerability would be perceived as weak, as a negative. But the person on the other end of the conversation, the listener, felt the exact opposite: the more vulnerable the sharer was, the more courageous they perceived him or her to be. The listener viewed vulnerability as an unambiguously positive trait. “Confessing romantic feelings, asking for help, or taking responsibility for a mistake constitute just a few examples of situations that require showing one’s vulnerability,” write the researchers from the University of Mannheim. “Out of fear, many individuals decide against it.” But this, the researchers conclude, is a mistake. “Even when examples of showing vulnerability might sometimes feel more like weakness from the inside, our findings indicate that, to others, these acts might look more like courage from the outside. Given the positive consequences [increased trust and connection, improved learning from others, and forgiveness after making a mistake] of showing vulnerability for relationship quality, health, or job performance, it might, indeed, be beneficial to try to overcome one’s fears and to choose to see the beauty in the mess of vulnerable situations.” The University of Mannheim researchers aptly coined their finding “the beautiful mess effect.”
– Brad Stulberg
1 x Joke:
What did the left eyebrow say to the right eyebrow?
According to the Buddha, any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way. The first arrow is the bad event itself, which certainly can (and often does) cause pain. The second arrow is our reaction to the bad event, the suffering we attach to our pain. This secondary pain, he tells us, is always self-inflicted.
What you might not have been told, however, is that there’s often a third arrow in response to that second arrow! And, sometimes, even, a fourth arrow in response to that one. In fact, every now and then, hundreds of them start raining down. So much so that you end up feeling like this:
To give you an example, let’s say I step on my son’s toy lego (first arrow), but instead of accepting this pain, I react by getting angry (second arrow). But then, I get mad about the fact that I’m angry (third arrow). So now I’m really angry. As a result, I lash out at my children for failing to put their toys away, and also my wife, who I decide (because I’m über pissed) is too nice to our kids (fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh arrow).
Eventually, in a moment of ever-so-brief clarity, I realised that I was being unfair and regret shouting at my family (eighth arrow). But then, guess what? This makes me angry (ninth arrow). So now I’m mad about feeling guilty because I got angry, about my anger, because of my pain, and then taking it out on my family. I think I got that right. Anyway, you get the point.
You see, there is suffering, and then there is suffering. The first kind of suffering, as Buddha taught us, is equal to pain times resistance. The second kind of suffering is equal to pain times resistance to the power of arrows fired. (That’s real maths!)
Of course, the emotion doesn’t have to be anger. To use a real-life example (I swear I made the last one up) earlier this year, I started to feel sad because of the pandemic. As a result of not being able to get home to see my family, I began to feel isolated.
But I didn’t just feel sad; I felt bad that I felt sad. I did this by painting a picture of what I thought life should be like. Then, eventually, I felt bad about doing that. So, I told myself I shouldn’t feel sad because other people have it much worse. Then it occurred to me that I should be happy even though I’m not. Therefore, I concluded, something must be wrong with me.
And this sent me down the emotional rabbit hole.
Secondary Emotions = Suffering
Now, there’s a psychological name for these kinds of secondary emotions, and that’s, well, secondary emotions. These are the feelings we have about our feelings. Naturally, we’re the only animal on the planet who has these, and, naturally, they have a tendency to mess everything up (thanks consciousness). Basically, there are four major ones. Those are:
Feeling bad about feeling bad (think self-loathing)
Feeling good about feeling bad (think self-righteous)
Feeling bad about feeling good (think excessive guilt)
Feeling good about feeling good (think narcissism/ego)
Of course, many complex reasons contribute to these secondary emotions, including our upbringing, cultural beliefs, past traumas, etc. However, to give you a simplified answer, I believe the essence of the problem stems from a belief that because an emotion feels good or bad, it must mean it/us/the world is good or bad, instead of seeing the feeling as just, well, a feeling.
Now, how much of this has to do with what, exactly, is up for debate, but (to give you a few examples) one suspects telling boys things like, “men don’t cry” has something to do with it. One also suspects certain helicopter parents who worship their children’s feelings (instead of allowing them to struggle and fail in order to grow) might have something to do with it. The role of social media broadcasting everyone’s perfect airbrushed lives 24/7 can’t help either.
“How come everyone else is so happy? Why am I not happy? Something must be wrong!“
Feeling Bad About Feeling Bad Makes You Feel Bad
At any rate, this belief that something is wrong with us, in particular, is central to the issue of feeling bad about feeling bad. This is because that belief brings up more negative emotions (go figure), which we then see as confirmation that something is wrong with us. So, we end up in this emotional rabbit hole where we fire arrow after arrow after arrow – feeling bad about feeling bad – and on and on until, well, we have depression, or anger management issues, or an anxiety disorder.
Aside from forming a habit that becomes very hard to break, that first arrow pain is still there. So long as we keep firing second arrows, it will continue to do all manner of push-ups, pull-ups, and sits ups in an attempt to get out. That mother is getting ripped! Unless you give it the space it needs, eventually, it will break free and tear you (or someone else) apart.
Unfortunately, if you’ve been firing these secondary arrows for a long time, you may be unclear what your first arrow pain is really about. If standing on a piece of toy Lego turns you into the Hulk, for example, you can bet your bottom dollar that your primary pain has little to do with that piece of toy Lego, or your kids failing to put their toys away, or your wife being too nice.
On the surface, we may believe our suffering is because of these things, but it’s rarely true. That’s simply the narrative we’ve written over the top of our emotional pain because we believe we shouldn’t (or should) feel the way we do. Of course, we need to drop this false narrative to escape the emotional rabbit hole and process our pain.
To come back to my previous example, I felt sad for some very understandable reasons earlier this year. However, my belief that something must be wrong compounded my misery. The truth is these difficult emotions brought up secondary emotions related to low self-worth. This is a common reaction that has to do with past trauma rearing its ugly head. I wasn’t resisting my sadness so much as I was resisting my habitual response to that sadness.
It’s at this point things started to unravel.
Escaping the Emotional Rabbit Hole
Having a clear understanding of the false beliefs/traumas driving our secondary arrow of choice is important for this reason. Not because it will stop that second arrow, necessarily – unless you’re a Buddhist monk, it probably won’t – but because it will, at least, prevent you from firing a third arrow. If not a third, then a fourth, fifth, or, in my case, twenty-seventh arrow. This awareness gives you an out. It allows you to transcend the false beliefs masking your real pain.
Baruch Spinoza once said, “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.”
If you’re still suffering – if you’re still firing arrow after arrow – then you don’t have a clear picture of it, despite what you might be telling yourself. For some, it might require therapy to untangle the web of secondary arrows and see that picture clearly. For others, it might simply need a period of quiet introspection. Happily, there is a well-touted meditation that I’ve used to great effect on many occasions called RAIN. I like to think of it like this – when it’s raining arrows, I need to:
Recognise it (become aware that you are firing arrows or experiencing difficult emotions)
Accept it (allow your pain to be as it is/don’t judge it)
Investigate it (look into it with curiosity)
Notidentify/Nurture it (understand you are not your pain/practice universal compassion)
After torturing myself for longer than I care to admit, I sat down and did this meditation. I soon understood what I was resisting (it’s always the same). Of course, it had nothing to do with my pain about the pandemic, but what I believed those emotions said about me. When I saw through this false belief – when I could see my demons in the light – the whole web of arrows I’d been firing crumbled to the floor.
Hello lovely readers and welcome back to my weekly newsletter! The only newsletter that can’t decide what to call itself… (Please let us know if you prefer Friday Flyer, Flying Fridays, or Mindset Mondays. If any other ideas I’d be glad to hear them too!)
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!
3 x Thoughts:
1)We only do things for one of two reasons, because it makes us feel good or we believe it is good. This is where our consciousness becomes our friend. We have the ability to determine what is right despite how it makes us feel.
2) You can’t sprint a marathon. The bigger the project or goal the steadier the pace should be. You need to zoom the lens way out to keep that perspective. You were never meant to build Rome in a day.
3) Acceptance places responsibility and hope where it belongs: in you. It gives you clarity to then take meaningful action based on your values in the present moment. It’s rarely a question of whether you should act or accept, but a question of order. Accept and then act.
2 x Quotes:
“Remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
“Excitement is contracting; it narrows your world. Your focus is on what comes next, always a few steps ahead of where you are. Excitement temporarily feels good. And there is no doubt that bursts of excitement add texture to your life. But if you are obsessively trying to generate the feeling, you may miss out on what is in front of you because you are already moving ahead. Ease, on the other hand, is expansive. Time slows and space widens.”
The wonderful thing about what the Stoics called “the dichotomy of control” — that is, separating the things we can control from the things we can’t — is the resource allocation it promotes. When you stop worrying about what’s not in your control, you have more time and energy to put toward the things you can influence.
– Ryan Holiday
1 x Joke:
My youngest son was eating egg the other day.
I said to my wife, “It looks like he’s having an egg-cellent time.”
She rolled her eyes.
Then my son threw his egg on the floor. I said, “Oops, looks like he’s had a little egg-cidnet!”
At this point, while I was laughing to myself, I managed to spill my own drink.
My wife looked at me and said, “Who has egg on their face now?”
Hello lovely readers and welcome back to the first edition of my new and improved weekly newsletter! The only weekly newsletter that disappears for a month only to return on a different day of the week with a completely different name… (Let me know what you think in the comments.)
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 extra special (maybe).
3 x Thoughts:
1) When you stop giving a fuck about the end result, you start having a lot more fun.
2) Your plant won’t grow if you only feed water to the leaves. You have to feed the roots in order to grow. That means taking care of your fundamentals first (think health, relationships, security, etc.), before you start chasing your goals.
3) The more you believe in yourself, the more willing you are to accept your current reality. Preparing for the worst helps you build the confidence needed to deal with it. When the worst happens and the fruits of your labour are rewarded, this becomes the difference between failure or, if you’re lucky, feeling relieved, and gaining an unstoppable sense of self-belief. Preparing for the worst in life – both mentally and physically – helps you accept life on its terms. It prevents from placing hope externally, for circumstances out of your control to go your way, and instead places it internally, for your ability to deal with anything and everything that comes your way.
2 x Quotes:
“Groundedness does not eliminate passion, productivity, or all forms of striving and ambition. Instead, it is about ditching an omnipresent and frantic anxiety to begin living in alignment with your innermost values, pursuing your interests, and expressing your authentic self in the here and now. 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. Your success, and the way in which you pursue it, becomes more enduring and robust. You gain the confidence to opt out of the consumer-driven rat-race that leaves you feeling like you are never enough.”
In aviation we have a term called AOG that means Aircraft on Ground. It refers to a plane that can’t fly because of a technical issue. We might also say a pilot is grounded because of a disciplinary issue, or that passengers are grounded because of weather.
In all cases, the term indicates an inability to fly.
We might also use examples in real life. We can say we have been grounded by the pandemic, or personally because of health issues (or because we misbehaved). I could say my current reality has left me grounded here in Hong Kong. Extremely strict quarantine restrictions means I can’t leave, even though I’m currently on holiday.
Once again this idea of being grounded is seen as bad.
Of course we desperately want to fly in life. It’s in our nature. But I question whether being physically grounded is the real problem. In fact, when we’re physically grounded in life, it’s our inability to stay mentally grounded – that’s the real problem. This is when we lose our footing. This is when we find ourselves off balance.
When we desperately wish we could fly, even though we can’t.
But being grounded is a matter of safety. When an aircraft is AOG, it’s for very good reasons – whether that’s extreme weather conditions or a technical issue. We should wait for the right conditions. We should wait until we are at full strength before we attempt to get airborne. Otherwise, the results may be catastrophic.
Keeping that perspective is important.
It also worth noting that an aircraft (or person) should always remain grounded, at least in some sense. Not only must we begin and end our journey on the ground, once airborne, it’s imperative that we retain contact with it. Especially when we fly over remote expanses, thousands of miles from home. Let me tell you, it’s a lonely place to be flying halfway across the Pacific. That connection is crucial. I need only mention the mystery surrounding MH370 to tell what losing contact with the ground can mean.
This is what I believe being grounded is really about: connection. It’s about being connected with your current reality, with those around you. It’s about being planted in the present. When we think of a person we describe as grounded this is what we think of. Someone who is level-headed and balanced, someone who understands what is important here and now. Grounded in this respect is undeniably a good thing. It prevents you from getting caught up in regret or worrying about the future.
It’s easy to get ahead of yourself in this life. We can relax well before we arrive at our destination. We can assume that the journey will go according to plan. We can switch off as a result. Equally, we can get hung up on past mistakes. We can let an error we made distract us from the task at hand. This usually leads to more mistakes. If we fail to put those mistakes behind us, we can quickly find ourselves in a hole.
We may also wish we were at our destination long before we’ve arrived. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tortured myself while working the graveyard shift, wishing for it to end so I could get some sleep. It’s a classic example of Buddha’s second arrow. The first arrow is the fact that I have to work through the night. This pain is unavoidable. The second arrow – wishing for something different. Desperately hoping I had arrived. That pain is entirely self-inflicted.
This is what I’ve been doing recently. I’ve been getting ahead of myself. Putting too much emphasis on my future plans at the expense of my present-day responsibilities. As a result of my relentless pursuits, I can feel myself stalling. And I know what that means. I need to point the nose down. I need to spend some time playing and being with my gorgeous family. Being grateful for everything I have today. For my perfectly imperfect life.
I need to regain my footing in the present. I need to find that secure base again before I attempt to climb higher. And so, ladies and gentlemen, that is what I’m going to do. I’m going to take a break. I’m gonna come back to earth for a while. Although I can’t physically fly anywhere, I fully intend to let go and enjoy this time off. I realise that being on holiday, like most things, is a mindset. I don’t need to travel halfway across the world. I just need to stay grounded in the present.
That really is the best way to fly anyway.
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The seeds of doubt were planted at a young age. I can’t tell you exactly when, but I know it started in childhood. I was lead to believe I wasn’t capable, that I would struggle in this life.
In particular, concerns surrounded my abilities in English. At first, my parents worried that I had a hearing problem. They believed this stunted my development. Later they had me tested for dyslexia.
I’m not, of course. It just happened to be one of my weaknesses. And I just happened to be different. I’ve always been a daydreamer, a wanderer by nature.
Languages, the English language – spelling, grammar – has never come naturally to me. But that has never been the problem. The problem was I didn’t believe, and because I didn’t believe, I didn’t try. I internalised that belief and thought, “What’s the point?”
“I’m no good, so why bother?”
Unfortunately, that belief took root at a much deeper level than my English proficiency.
Problems really started in adolescence – at the age of 13 – when I was first offered drugs. I didn’t say yes because I was curious. I didn’t say yes because I thought it was cool. I didn’t say yes as a form of rebellion. I said yes because I was afraid.
I took drugs because I was too scared to say no.
So began some of the most challenging years of my life. At first, it was fun, but I soon felt trapped. At one point, I was smoking pot every single day. I suffered from intense bouts of anxiety that I hid from everyone. Depression soon followed.
I sank deep into my shell.
I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know how to ask for it. I was too afraid to speak up. So I drowned silently. It came to a head when a friend of mine was caught in possession of my drugs.
I was made to make a choice that day. When the deputy headmaster sat us down in his office, he asked me if I had also been using. He said I can’t help you if you’re not honest.
I was so scared at that moment. I wanted to tell the truth, but I was afraid of the repercussions. The thought of breaking my parent’s hearts broke my own. Yet, I also feared what would happen if I didn’t tell the truth.
While fighting back the tears, I admitted the truth.
It proved to be one of the most pivotal moments of my life. I was suspended, but the deputy headmaster held true to his word. No permanent record was kept. He honoured my honesty by protecting my future. How different my life would look now had I lied.
During those years, I sat my GCSEs. I didn’t care about my grades. I didn’t care about what future I had. I simply wanted to escape the hell I found myself in. As a result, I didn’t put much effort in.
My results came as a surprise.
I landed 4 A’s, 6 B’s and an E (in German). I was far more competent than I gave myself credit. English language and English literature were the biggest surprises. Had it not been for one teacher, in particular, my grades would have been very different.
She taught the class with the top peers in our age group. Except she did something a little different. She took several students who were really struggling from the lowest level and placed us in hers. She had me sit in the front row.
She was petrifying, which helped. I was made to apply myself. I remember she believed I had a voice. She pushed me to do a lot of public speaking – which also scared the bejesus out of me!
My coursework marks steadily improved over the two years she taught me. Still, my coursework barely averaged a C. This made the final results even more surprising. Following our final examinations, I ended up with B’s in English language and English literature. I must have aced those exams to achieve those grades.
They’re my proudest grades from secondary school.
What she proved was more important, even if it didn’t fully register until years later. She showed that if I chose to apply myself, I was more than capable. She planted the seeds of self-belief that would bear fruit many years later.
To my English teacher, wherever you are, thank you.
I didn’t pursue English for A levels. It wasn’t for me. I also lacked clarity. As a result, I took a random collection of subjects. Art (the one subject I truly loved), Biology, History, and Geography.
I dropped Art halfway through my A levels despite getting an A. I dropped it for the wrong reasons – because no one else took it seriously. It would be an entire decade before I started drawing again.
Somewhere along the way, I forgot.
Doing something simply because you love it is enough. More than enough.
History was the subject I went on to take at University. I took it because my parents were adamant that I should go to University and get a degree. I took it out of preference, not because I truly loved it. The truth is I only enjoyed aspects of it.
I later realised that what I really enjoyed was applying lessons from what history has to teach us about living life. What I was really interested in was philosophy.
During University, I fell in love with a French lady. In the second year, she asked me to edit much of her coursework. She studied media and communications. I didn’t just edit her work; I rewrote large chunks of it.
I loved it.
I found I had a knack for drawing conclusions. I loved finishing with the right words. I realised there was an art to it. Between her coursework and my own, these skills developed.
Then she broke my heart. I finished my degree and forgot about this.
After University, I was clear about one thing. One thing I had always been clear about. A deep longing in my heart to travel the world.
So I applied for a cadetship offered by the airline I now work for. For the airline my father used to work for. He was keen, provided I was serious about it. So he took me flying. I didn’t look back.
And so followed the last 12 years of my life.
There was a big break where I didn’t write. Several years passed while learning to fly and traveling the world before I decided to pick up a pen again.
One of my hobbies is traveling through cuisine. Anthony Bourdain has long been a personal hero of mine. Inspired by him, I put together a blog documenting my travels.
I enjoyed it for a while, but that passion started to wane as depression and anxiety took a firmer grip.
Added to the list of depression and anxiety, I had PTSD to contend with too. I remember flying approaches for years afterwards where my heart would beat so hard, it felt like it was going to break through my chest.
So many times, I wanted to quit. I wanted to throw in the towel. Those demons screamed at me. “GET OUT! YOU CAN’T! YOU’RE A FRAUD! YOU’RE NOT CAPABLE!”
I kept going.
Part of me refused to give in. I was so sick of those voices. Overcoming and passing my Junior First Officer upgrade was something I felt I had to do. So, I worked harder than I ever have in my entire life.
My demons started to drive me.
9 months on from that day, I was upgraded to First Officer. It meant everything to me at the time. I thought that was it. I thought that would be enough to finally put those voices to bed.
I was wrong.
It wasn’t until the birth of my first child 3 years ago that I finally sought professional help. At a low moment, I broke down. Once again, my demons were screaming at me. Telling me I couldn’t parent. That my boy deserved better. The guilt overwhelmed me, and I cried and cried.
Afterward, I felt a deep peace I’d not known in years. I knew exactly what I had to do. I picked up the phone and called for help.
This time I was ready.
The following 4 months of therapy were difficult, emotional, and liberating all at the same time, but I didn’t hold back. In doing so, I finally gained the clarity I needed. In seeing my demons in the light, they lost their power.
And because I was feeling particularly creative – BECAUSE THAT’S WHO I AM – I started writing again. I put together a children’s book. I went to a publisher who loved it. Last summer, I became a published author.
How do you like them apples?
At the same time, I started blogging. This time I had a different motivation. I spoke from my core. It felt like a spark had ignited something inside. I felt possessed. My intuition kept telling me to keep going. It’s leading somewhere. I don’t where yet, but it is.
My writing has given me clarity about what I want to do next. I will be starting an online degree in psychology next year with a long-term view of changing careers. I also have an idea for a number of books I plan to write.
Once again, I hear my demons screaming. Telling me not to do it. That I can’t. That I’m making a big mistake.
There’s a difference this time.
My relationship has changed. I know those voices will be with me till the day I die. It that doesn’t phase me anymore. Honestly, I smile. I realise I don’t want those voices to go away. You see, they’re a guide. A powerful one telling me which direction to go in. What obstacles I must take on.
Those voices also remind me of all the pain and suffering I’ve gone through. They keep it close to my heart. That’s want I want. To use that to help others who are suffering as I have. To give meaning to my pain by helping others with theirs.
And so, as I sit at another crossroads in my life – as I build towards my second career – I keep writing. This time I won’t ever stop. Even though it continues to scare me – every single time I hit that publish button.
I see it now.
I now know why it has to be this way. I was meant to write my way out. It’s poetry in motion.
You see the seeds of doubt that were planted at such a young age. The demons that have plagued me my whole life. They all stemmed from a lack of faith in my ability to overcome one of my biggest weaknesses.
That’s why I write.
For the boy inside who was lead to doubt himself. Who was told he couldn’t. Who was told he would struggle.
I write for every child who suffered under the weight of their fears, for everyone whose fears have been used against them in the cruelest possible way.
I write because I can. I write because I know that you can too.
I write to call myself a writer and be called a writer, because that means more to me than words could ever convey.
When you throw a paper aeroplane you give it thrust. On a conventional aeroplane thrust is generated by a propeller or jet engine that pulls air in and pushes it out in the opposite direction.
The forward motion of the aeroplane causes air to pass over the wings. Because of the camber of the wing, this creates a pressure differential that sucks the wings upward. This force – namely lift – is what holds an aeroplane in the air.
Counter to these forces are drag and weight.
Drag is the resistance the aeroplane meets as it flies through the air. Weight is the force caused by gravity that pulls the aeroplane toward the earth. Thrust counteracts drag, whereas lift counteracts weight.
Now, if lift and thrust are greater than weight and drag, your aeroplane will climb. If they are less, it will descend. If they are balanced, your aeroplane will remain in level flight.
Here’s an awesome diagram:
The Four Forces of Living
To rename the four forces of flight, we can say that the four forces of living are Health, Purpose, Life & Responsibility.
Just like an aeroplane, these forces counteract one another. Health (Thrust) counteracts Life (Drag), whereas Purpose (Lift) counteracts Responsibility (Weight).
Instead of an aeroplane, of course, it’s you that’s stuck in the middle.
Here’s another awesome diagram:
Now, we can say that we’re out of balance when the forces of life and responsibility are much greater than the other two.
This usually happens for one of two reasons.
The first comes from trying to avoid drag and weight altogether, preventing you from getting airborne in the first place (or out of bed). At the other end of the balance scales are those who carry far more than they’re capable of, causing them to stall.
From experience, I believe the latter is a far better place to be. The way I see it, having too much on your plate is a good thing. It means your life is already filled with purpose and meaning.
That’s half the battle.
Once you’re off the ground (which is the hardest part) balance becomes a question of priorities. Understanding exactly what we should pay attention to and what we should let go of.
With that in mind, let’s tackle these issues from the ground up by looking at what it takes to get airborne in the first place.
Thrust vs Drag
Life is drag.
Getting out of bed in the morning is drag. Making your breakfast, brushing your teeth, taking your dog for a walk, Donald Trump… all of these things are drag.
What I mean is, anything and everything you do will always involve a certain amount of energy to overcome. It is unavoidable. No matter how streamlined your aeroplane is, you will always encounter resistance.
The problem with attempts to avoid drag is it makes us weaker. Of course, this makes everything much harder. We need to test ourselves – to actively meet the resistance of life – to gain strength from it.
Just like lifting weights in the gym causes us to gain muscle mass. By meeting the resistance of life, we gain strength from it. As we gain strength, over time, we’re able to climb higher. The higher we climb in life, the less resistance there is, the easier it becomes.
Badda bing badda boom.
So, how do we meet the resistance of life?
We meet the resistance of life by targeting the very thing that creates the most drag: your health.
The better your health is, the more energy you will have, the greater your ability to face and overcome life’s obstacles.
Thrust is more critical than lift.
Theoretically, with enough thrust, you can climb without generating any lift – like a rocketship. It’s impossible to get off the ground without it. That isn’t true of lift. Lift needs thrust to get off the ground. That’s why, as everyone likes to say, there is nothing more important than your health.
Health is thrust.
This is where we must start if we want to maintain balance.
How to Increase Thrust
The four pillars of health are rest (sleep), fuel (diet), movement (exercise) and mental health.
Let me break each of those down for you.
Prioritise your sleep.
The most productive thing you can do is prioritise your sleep and then build your life around it. Here are a few top tips from yours truly.
An aeroplane needs to fly the same way a car needs to be driven. If you leave your car in the garage for too long, it’s going to create problems. We are designed to move. I suggest a mixture of weight lifting, core exercises, cardio, and yoga.
Of course, if you hate going to the gym, then don’t. Find something you enjoy. I love to swim and play tennis. I also love to go for long walks in my local park. I find few things calm my mind as well.
The most important thing is that you make exercise a habit.
If you really find yourself struggling for motivation, consider following along to an online exercise video from the comfort of your living room floor.
All of the above are intrinsically linked to your mental health; however, there are other tools worth implementing.
The main forms of personal therapy I use are meditation, yoga, and journaling. I also earmark a half-hour to talk to my wife about any concerns or feelings I have every evening without fail.
Having someone you can talk to who you can trust when shit gets serious is SO DAMN IMPORTANT.
Lift vs Weight
Responsibility is weight.
You cannot avoid it. You didn’t ask for this life, but here you are anyway. Now you have a fundamental responsibility to love, honour, and protect that one life.
So many struggle against their responsibilities – desperately wishing they didn’t have to deal with them. Yet, our responsibilities indirectly generate lift. The same way an aeroplane takes cargo and passengers onboard. That “weight” pays for the fuel which generates thrust and then, consequently, lift.
Now, you might think the fewer responsibilities you have, the lighter you will feel, the more able you’ll be to climb. To a certain extent, this is true. We need to be careful about how many responsibilities we choose to take on – depending on our capacity – for that reason.
It’s important to stress that if you make all of the world’s problems your own, you’ll never take off.
However, an absence of responsibility isn’t freedom. An absence of responsibility isn’t anything. It’s like an absence of weight. There’s no aeroplane in the first place. To avoid responsibility is to avoid life itself. To try to live in its absence will leave you feeling void.
The major difference between responsibility and purpose is perspective. You will always have responsibilities. Understanding how they serve your greater purpose helps you find the motivation to take them on. This is what turns your responsibilities into a source of lift.
Of course, purpose is the thing that gets you up and moving in the morning. It’s the things in your life that give you both joy and hope.
Purpose is lift.
How to Generate Lift
Wherever you are in life, it’s essential to remain grounded. The only place we live is here and now. To constantly wish you had arrived at your destination is to miss the part we call life – that would be a far greater tragedy than not making your destination. That’s why, as a mantra for life, one should always start with radical acceptance.
I like to think of radical acceptance in terms of three pillars:
The first is present moment awareness.
The second is universal compassion.
The third is gratitude.
Meditation is an excellent tool for all of the above. I also use several mindful hacks throughout the day to keep my monkey mind from getting lost in the clouds. Writing in a gratitude journal is another habit that’s worth implementing.
Without harping on for too long, I can highly recommend the following book: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
Build a Moral Compass
This is something you should prioritise long before you start setting goals. I suggest you design your own moral compass by listing out a set of values that mean the most to you and then listing those in order of personal significance.
I then suggest you think about the identity you want to form based on your set of particular values. Following that, you want to build habits that reinforce this identity. (i.e., a loving father and husband who makes time for his family every day, a person who prioritises his own health by meditating and exercising every day, a person who writes every day).
Once you’ve done that, you can start thinking more about the destination by setting some short and long-term goals. Just keep in mind that it’s far more important to embody the person you wish to be today than it is to achieve anything in the long run.
After all, shit happens, and rarely if ever, in this life, we end up at the destination we had in mind.
If your battle is with mental health, then make that part of your purpose in your life. If you have suffered a major affliction, draw on that pain to help others who have suffered/are suffering similarly. I believe this is one of the most powerful ways to generate lift in life. You can apply this idea to almost all areas of your life.
Take having children as an example. They are a significant source of lift in my life, but they are also a considerable weight. I can either look at them as a weight or actively choose to take them on board – to make it my mission to help raise a generation of resilient, responsible, and virtuous children.
Need I say anymore?
Remove Unnecessary Baggage
Many of us carry baggage we really shouldn’t. Usually, that baggage is other people’s bullshit that has found its way into our minds. Once again, becoming clear about your values will help here. Know what is truly important to you and then not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks.
I also recommend living a simple life. Be happier with less. Spend the money on a few high-quality products/hobbies that give you a considerable amount of joy instead of mindlessly consuming things you don’t need because it’s a “good deal.”
This applies to people too. Form close relationships instead of lots of superficial ones. Find the people you love and trust. Cut out the toxic individuals that aren’t serving you.
Make time for the things and people you love.
Doing the things you have to do but don’t want to makes you feel less guilty about doing what you love. To turn that on its head, doing what you love gives you the energy to do the things you have to but don’t want to.
As part of harmonious life, you must make time for the things you love. Whether that’s reading, playing video games, or socialising… Don’t neglect fun. Don’t neglect joy. Don’t neglect being silly and spontaneous. Don’t neglect your sense of adventure. Try new restaurants, dance in the rain, fart and laugh about it.
Occasionally say fuck it to all of the above and just go with the flow.
You definitely need that.
Maintaining Straight and Level
Your day-to-day journey, just like life itself, should follow a similar pattern. At first, you should apply more thrust to overcome the forces of drag and weight. You should reduce the thrust and glide gently back to earth towards the end of the day.
As for maintaining straight and level flight, the rest of the time, I don’t believe it should feel like this almighty struggle – like everything has a threat level response attached to it.
When you encounter turbulence, you shouldn’t fight it. You should take a seat, ride it out, and then gently fly your bird back to your desired track and level.
If you really do feel like you’re stalling, there is only one thing for it. You must push the nose down to regain lift. Don’t, whatever you do, keep pitching up in desperation. Heed the warning signs and let go of the controls.
The truth is maintaining balance is a state of mind. One that is firmly grounded in the present moment. It is about going with the flow and dissolving the boundaries that separate work from play, life from death, purpose from responsibility…
It’s important to have a destination in mind, but it’s equally important we don’t get hung up on it. As cliche as it is to say, life is about the journey, not the destination.
Take care of yourself today. Tackle your most pressing responsibilities today. Get rid of any unnecessary baggage. After that, learn to go with the flow and enjoy the journey.
If you can, then you really will fly free.
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