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

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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

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

Is This the Meaning of a Meaningless Existence?

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. 

I have a theory that we are theists by nature. Becoming self-aware came at a massive price. I believe we were meant to place our faith in something bigger than ourselves – that this is the antidote to one’s fear of death that resides at the core. Still, I can’t help but struggle with the idea. 

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 have to 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.

***

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

Stuck in the Clouds: An Aviator’s Guide to Pointless Overthinking

I have a love-hate relationship with thinking. Sometimes, I get in these kinds of flow states where I follow my train of thought – connecting the dots along the way – to an exciting, unexpected destination. When I follow my thoughts in this way, I find it euphoric. I often derive my best writing doing so.  

This is all well and good when my thought train takes me on a such journey; however, it’s not so great when my train of thought – as it likes to do – takes me down some dark tunnels. I’ve come to realise that the problem isn’t negative thinking per se, but an inability to get off the train and determine the clouds from the sky. 

Thoughts are a lot like clouds. When viewed from the outside, we can see them clearly and the air is calm. When you’re stuck inside, however, the air becomes turbulent. Seeing things clearly becomes much more difficult as a result. 

That’s why it’s essential to know how to get off the train – especially when our thoughts aren’t serving us. It’s in the space outside our thoughts that we can view them objectively. It’s in this space that we can then choose which thoughts to engage with and which/when we shouldn’t. 

The question is, how do we get off the train to distinguish the clouds from the sky in the first place?

What Is Pointless Overthinking?

Before we work out how, it’s important to define what and why. 

There’s a fine line between thoughtful, thorough consideration surrounding a problem or idea versus worrying about certain should haves or could haves or events over which we have no control. 

The first type of thinking – let’s call it deep-thinking – is about figuring something out or coming to a deeper understanding. That’s to say, it serves a purpose. Either helping us grow as individuals or take more meaningful action. Engaging in this kind of deep-thinking is necessary when we have a difficult life decision to make. 

The danger comes from engaging with an idea or problem to such an extent that it actually prevents us from taking any kind of action or deepening our understanding on a topic. Not only does this type of thinking – let’s call it pointless overthinking – fail to achieve anything, it’s actually counter-productive.

It usually involves dwelling on how bad we feel or worrying about events we have no control over.

Why Do We Pointlessly Overthink?

Many perfectionists and overachievers are prone to this kind of overthinking. According to Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York, this is because “the fear of failing and the need to be perfect take over, which leads to replaying or criticizing decisions and mistakes.”

For others, overthinking is rooted in mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Which comes first – mental illness or overthinking – is a bit like asking if it’s the chicken or the egg. At any rate, those who overthink are more prone to neuroses and vice versa.

It can also lead to a host of other problems affecting everything from your work and relationships to your sleep and health. One Harvard study found that excessive brain activity depletes an essential protein, which may shorten the human lifespan

Clearly then, learning to tame the overthinking mind is important. So how do we curb overthinking?

How To Curb Pointless Overthinking

  1. Understand what triggers overthinking

Ideally, you want to spot the storm on your radar so you can go around it or, at least, prepare yourself in advance. This is why it’s useful to have a clear understanding of what your triggers are

One tip is to write down specific moments that caused you to overthink or worry during the day. One of my major triggers is fatigue. It often sends me into a spiral where I tell myself that I shouldn’t feel tired all the time. So I end up feeling bad about feeling bad, which makes me feel, well, bad. This, of course, sends me down the emotional rabbit hole.

The good news is I’m now much quicker to spot it now. This has allowed my to better implement a number of different coping strategies.

  1. Observe your thoughts without judgment.

“Pure attention without judgement is not only the highest form of human intelligence, but also the expression of love.” – JIDDU KRISHNAMURT

It’s best to go around the storm clouds if you can help it. However, we need a plan for the times we inevitably find ourselves enveloped. 

Just like flying an aircraft – the best course of action isn’t to try and control the plane when we encounter turbulence but to sit on our hands and ride it out. Similarly, when it comes to the mind, the best solution is often not to look for one. 

What I’m getting at here is the practice of observing your thoughts without judgement. The more we do this, the better we become at letting them go. 

Eckhart Tolle is his famous book “The Power of Now,” suggests asking yourself the following question, “What will my next thought be?” This works by creating a gap in the mind that allows you to dis-identify with your thoughts. 

If you keep asking, “What next?” you will soon start to see the thought clouds begin to dissipate. 

  1. Redirect your attention to the present.

This is the equivalent of exiting the clouds by coming back to earth. Meditation is a handy tool here.

One acronym I like to use in the real world (when I don’t have the time to sit and meditate) is STOP. It stands for: 

  • Stop for a moment
  • Take a deep breath 
  • Observe without judgement
  • Proceed 
  1. Move your body/Engage in flow. 

“No problem is so formidable that you can’t walk away from it.” – Charles M. Schulz.

One of the best ways to get out of your head is to get into your body. Practicing yoga or going for a walk outside can be a big help.

A great deal of research demonstrates exercise can improve depression and other mental illnesses such as related to chronic overthinking. It can also help shift your nervous system out of the fight or flight mode. This can be particularly beneficial for those suffering from any trauma-related rumination

Other activities where you can focus your attention – that generates a flow-like state – are also good. 

For example, recently I bought a lego fire engine for my 3-year old that I thought we could build together. It turned out to be too advanced for him, so I made it myself. I was surprised by how much enjoyment I got from it. It took me a little over two hours to build, but I hardly noticed the time go by. I was completely immersed.

  1. Challenge your thoughts objectively.

Our attempts to analyse our thoughts are often futile precisely because we are stuck inside them. That’s why it’s vital to first exit the clouds before attempting to understand them. Of course, many meditations work by bringing your attention to the present before attempting to understand any thought or emotion that may arise.

One meditation I like to use – useful on those particularly stormy days – is called RAIN. It stands for:

  • Recognise the emotion or thought pattern
  • Accept it (practice compassion towards it)
  • Investigate it (question it objectively)
  • Not identify with it (zoom the lens out)

Another way to examine your thoughts is by journaling. 

Every morning as part of my routine, I ask and answer the following questions: What is worrying me most today? What can I do about it? What can’t I do about it? 

This helps me determine whether I’m engaging in thoughtful, deep-thinking or pointless overthinking. It also helps me concentrate on what I can control and formulate a plan to commit to meaningful action.

  1. Talk to someone/Get professional help.

Talking to someone – whether a close friend or health care professional – can go a long way. We all need a support network. Often the courageous act of articulating our thoughts helps to see them clearly. I liken it to placing your thought clouds out in the open. 

In clinical psychology, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is one of the most effective methods to improve anxiety, mood, and self-confidence.

Brad Stulberg, in his book, “The Practise of Groundedness,” notes the most powerful teachings of ACT – which happen to fit into the acronym – are to “Accept what is happening without fusing your identity to it. Zoom out to a larger perspective or awareness from which you can observe your situation without feeling like you are trapped in it. Choose how you want to move forward in a way that aligns with your innermost values. Take action, even if doing so feels scary or uncomfortable.”

Ultimately that last part – taking action – is what matters most. We are not defined by our thoughts but our actions. But, of course, our thoughts are what lead to action or inaction as the case may be.

If you find yourself paralysed by your own thoughts, then the first action you should take is to reach out for help.


I hope you enjoyed my guide to pointless overthinking. I’m curious to know if overthinking is something you have trouble with? What techniques, if any, do you use to help? I look forward to hearing your deep thoughts on the matter.

***

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

Escaping the Emotional Rabbit Hole

The Parable of the Second Arrow

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:

(That feeling when someone criticises your blog post)

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:

  1. Feeling bad about feeling bad (think self-loathing)
  2. Feeling good about feeling bad (think self-righteous)
  3. Feeling bad about feeling good (think excessive guilt)
  4. 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:

  1. Recognise it (become aware that you are firing arrows or experiencing difficult emotions)
  2. Accept it (allow your pain to be as it is/don’t judge it)
  3. Investigate it (look into it with curiosity)
  4. Not identify/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. 


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

A 3-Step Guide For Cultivating Extreme Gratitude

“Prepare to die, motherfucker!”

Sorry! Sorry! That was a bit harsh. It sounded cooler in my head. Let me try again.

“Hasta la vista, baby”, “Yippie ki yay, motherfucker!”

Damn it! Sorry! I did it again. One more time.

“Prepare yourself for death… motherfucker!”

I’m sorry, I just… I can’t help myself. I have a problem.

Anyway, what I actually want to say is, come to terms with your own mortality. 

Imagine it. Embrace it even. Picture your loved ones dying. Picture yourself slowly turning into dust. Become acutely aware of the fact that you, and everything you hold dear, are going to die.

Now, you might think I’m one crazy motherfucker for suggesting something so morbid – you might think that contemplating death will make you unhappy, however, studies have shown the opposite to be true. Those who deliberately stare into the abyss actually foster a “non-conscious orientation toward happy thoughts.” 

The Bhutansese, for example, considered to be some of the happiest people on earth, think about death, on average, five times a day. Five times! It turns out that death meditation is a very common Buddhist practise. You know those peaceful chaps with no hair and orange robes? Yeah, they even have a name for it called Maranasati.

Personally I’ve found it to be a very powerful tool. It’s something I practise every morning now. I find few things sober me up to my present reality more. Few things give me as much clarity for doing and saying what I should – for aligning my actions with my values. Few things make me feel so incredibly grateful for the fact that I’m still alive – for the things and the people in my life as it stands today.

Now, I should say there’s like 1 percent of the population who probably shouldn’t meditate on death (disclaimer/suggestion thingy), so if you have some sort of trauma or psychological instability then please consult a mental heath care professional first. For the rest of you, however, I suggest implementing the following 3 steps, like, now!

Here they are:

  1. Meditate on the death of your loved ones.
  2. Meditate on your own death. 
  3. Reflect on and revaluate your priorities, today

Here’s the exercise in full:

  1. While sitting up straight, bring your attention to your breathe for a few minutes. However long it takes to stop the monkey mind from dancing around, then bring to mind someone you love. Now, consider the reality that they will die. Imagine it happening. Imagining being by their side during their final moments. Allow yourself to feel any emotions that arise. Next, notice any thoughts you have – like what you would say to them.
  1. Next, spend a few minutes coming back to your breathe before considering the reality that you yourself will die. Make it clear that you don’t know when or how it will happen. As you inhale you can say to yourself, “This could be my last inhale.” As you exhale you say to yourself, “This could be my last exhale.” Next, allow yourself to feel any emotions that arise. Notice any thoughts you have – like what you wish you would have done or said during your life. 
  1. Next, let your eyes open and stop meditating. Take a few minutes to reflect on your response to the reality of death. Did you feel scared? Did any regrets pop up? What seems important to you now? Consider how can you use this knowledge to inform your decisions today. Ask yourself whether your priorities are aligned. Finally, take out your journal and write down any thoughts you have. Make a list of the 3 most important values/things in your life, then ask yourself how you can prioritise them today. Finally, get on it! 

The People Mirror Effect

“Your perception of me, is a reflection of you. My reaction to you is an awareness of me.” Unknown.

What do you do when you look at yourself in the mirror?

Maybe you comb your hair or have a shave. Maybe you brush and floss your teeth. Maybe you correct your posture. Maybe you examine the look in your eyes and evaluate your mood. Perhaps you decide to put on a smile. Either way I’m guessing you pay attention. I’m guessing you take the moment to show yourself some love. 

When you smile in the mirror what do you see? Your radiant self of course, but is that all? 

Can you see your mum and dad? Your brothers and sisters? Your children and grandchildren? Maybe you can see your friends or strangers you’ve never met. Maybe you can see the eyes of millions, generations long since passed, staring back at you. 

Look deeply enough and you’ll see far more than meets the eye.

If we look deeply at others we can also see they reflect the world around them. If you smile at them, they often smile back. And if they don’t, we often drop our own. In this case we become their mirror. 

This is something to be aware of. 

When we are mindless we become the mirrors of others. When others shout and harden their defences, we often do the same in response. Like a mirror image. So often in arguments you hear two people shouting with neither party listening. They might as well be shouting into a mirror.

It’s worth bearing in mind that people don’t just act like mirrors to other people, they often reflect the way the world has treated them. If the world stopped paying attention to them, they may reflect a lack of interest. If it treated them harshly they might act out in kind. The behaviours of someone often mirror something well beyond the person they’re interacting with. 

This is something else to be aware of. 

This is one reason why we shouldn’t take what others have to say so personally. Why we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. It’s also worth remembering that other people’s behaviour doesn’t reflect in you unless you let it. Unless you act mindlessly.

On the flip side when we are mindful, we can influence what others reflect back at us and the wider world. When we are mindful we can disarm the anger thrown at us. When we are mindful we can stand firm and make sure all that is reflected is love and kindness. It is when others are feeling the most pain and at their most vulnerable, that we have the best opportunity to act as mirrors to the good that exists in all of us. 

I believe we should pay the same care and attention we do ourselves in the mirror, to all those we encounter. Show them the same level of love. Maybe don’t start flossing their teeth, of course, but show them kindness all the same. The kindness and love they need. That we all do. 

Ultimately showing love and kindness to others is one of the greatest acts of self love. This is because, if you look deeply enough, you’ll see that person is you. And you are them. As one. 

It’s nice when we see ourselves smiling isn’t it?


(Thanks for reading everyone. I’m curious, do you believe our inner world is reflected back at us? Do you believe the outer world reflects our inner turmoil? Are our perceptions of others merely a reflection of ourselves? Please let us know below.)

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


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

Table(t) Manners

Growing up my dad always made a point about having good table manners. He made sure we never chewed food with our mouths open. That we always sat up straight. That we we set the table properly and cleared away and washed the dishes afterwards. 

One of the rules was if you didn’t cook, you clean! 

Now that I have kids of my own, I really see the value in what he strived to teach us. Good table manners says something important about who you are. More to the point, you are saying something important by having them. 

It shows respect to those around you. It expresses gratitude for both the food you are consuming and the people you are sharing it with. It demonstrates mindfulness, discipline, love, care… 

The list goes on. 

It’s not uncommon for us to sit down and eat a meal made with ingredients from all four corners of the globe. First grown and tendered to by farmers in remote regions. Then picked, processed and eventually shipped, or flown, thousands of miles to your local super market. 

Have ever stopped to think about the multitude of people involved in creating your dinner? 

When you look deeply there is a great deal to be grateful for. I’m not religious but I love the tradition of expressing gratitude before a meal for that reason. It’s a tradition I mean to instil in my own children. 

Anyway I bring this up because, when I look around at the table manners of today, there’s something that breaks my heart. And I’m guessing that you can all guess what I’m about to talk about. If you can’t, then maybe you should get off your phone (hint hint) and have a good look around. 

What do you see? Are we paying attention? Are we mindful of our surroundings? Are we expressing gratitude? And I mean really expressing it and really meaning it?

Let me get to the point. 

What do you think it says when you take out your phone to check something at the dinner table? How do you feel when someone else does it? Do you feel anything? Are you even bothered? Or is it just me?

Because to me it feels like this modern exception to the centuries old tradition of having good table etiquette. It feels like everyone has quietly decided that having phones at the table is an acceptable social norm in modern society. 

“I won’t say anything if you don’t.” [wink wink]

I wonder if this is because we’ve only been living with smartphones for the last 15 years? Because the parents of today weren’t raised in a world with smartphones? 

Or because parents don’t want to acknowledge they might have an addiction themselves? Because they haven’t worked out how to have a healthy relationship with them? 

I wonder how many parents are even aware of the damage they’re doing by letting their children look at screens every time they sit down for a meal? 

I see it with some of my friends and I find it alarming. And let me tell you, it’s very awkward when I have to explain to my two year old son, while eating over at our friend’s house, why he can’t look at a screen while sitting at the table but their kids can (true story).

I genuinely fear the screens we are bringing to the table are doing untold harm to our relationships. 

There are many times I’ve sat at dinner while having a great conversation when someone has decided to “check something” on their phone. Sometimes that something is related to the conversation but even so. Rarely have I found that person checks just one thing. No they get sucked in. The temptation to check several other social media and/or news apps is simply too great. 

And so they click click click, getting one dopamine hit after the next, until they finally “return” to the table where, not only has the conversation stalled, their head is scattered across the stratosphere. Completely frazzled from all the dopamine and cortisol surging around their system while ruminating about events over which they have no control. Or emails they checked but can’t reply to. (You know, because that really would be rude.)

Let’s be honest here. We have an addiction problem. I would be very surprised if it isn’t all of us who have, at some point, found ourselves unconsciously scrolling on our mobile phones. Perhaps it’s not outlandish to claim that maybe we pick up phones, more often than not, for no other reason than we simply want that hit? Because we crave it so much?

You might think these small moments here and there aren’t a big deal but I believe they add up. All the interactions we miss as a result – when we fail to look up and see the people at our table or elsewhere. These conversations that get interrupted all the time…

The mobile phone has become something to hide behind. A shield from having to face one’s actual reality. I believe this is, in no small part, why we have seen such a rise in rates of depression and anxiety among our adolescents.

As I draw this post to a close it occurs to me that I’m not really upset about the fact that our collective addictions are ruining our interactions at the dinner table (although I am), but that they are ruining our interactions everywhere. Our interactions even, simply, with the present moment.

It’s for this reason I feel the dining table should be the place where we all lay down a marker. Where we make it our last bastion in the household free from smartphones. A place where we make a stand for our children’s sake, so their lives aren’t completely ruled by the devices in their pockets. The place from which we make a fight back against the infringement of technology in everyday life. Where we stake a claim to be seen – at the very least – by our loved ones during this very precious period of the day.

Ladies and gentleman I believe it’s high time we brought our manners back to the table. That must mean leaving our phones off them.

Is that really asking for too much? 


Thanks for reading everyone. I’m aware that technology has been a blessing over the last year or so. Allowing us to connect with our loved ones from isolation. However that doesn’t detract from my feeling that our face to face interactions have been significantly harmed over the past decade by the smartphones we carry around. As a parent it’s our children I worry about the most. I am, of course, keen to get your thoughts and opinions on the matter. Let us know below. Warm regards, AP2 🙏

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You can see find more of AP2’s nonsensical world views and poor self-help advice here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

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

I Am The Fly

As I went for my walk around the park today I paused to observe a tree.

I started imagining what it must look like from the perspective of a fly. How each leaf – seemingly soo small – must be the size of an entire house.

How the whole tree is its neighbourhood. How the park is its city. The neighbourhood its country. The whole city its world. The whole world its galaxy…

At this point I realised the world is well beyond what the fly could ever comprehend. The fly has no idea just how small it really is.

Not. A. Clue.

Then it occurred to me.

I’m no different.

It occurred to me.

I am the fly.