“The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. Proficiency and results come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, or combining relaxation with activity.” – Aldous Huxley “From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is … Read more Stalling: Why Letting Go is the Key to Regaining Lift
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 … Read more Stuck in the Clouds: An Aviator’s Guide to Pointless Overthinking
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 harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. Proficiency and results come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, or combining relaxation with activity.”
– Aldous Huxley
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to the Earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”
– Jacques Cousteau
When it comes to our psychology what’s happened is this.
Our hands and arms have been bound together, and we’ve been thrown into the deep end. The more we struggle, the faster we sink. The more we panic, the more oxygen we burn, the quicker we drown.
As it happens, this is something navy SEALs do as part of their bat-shit-crazy survival training. It’s called drown-proofing.
The trick to surviving drown-proofing is to let go. You must surrender in the face of death and allow yourself to sink to the bottom of the pool. From there, you lightly push off the pool floor to rise back to the surface.
Finally, you take a big gulp of air before repeating the whole process over again.
The problem with drown-proofing (the reason so many cadets fail at it) is it’s completely counter-intuitive. It’s counter-intuitive for two major reasons.
First, are our deeply ingrained survival instincts screaming at us to do something. (This is what makes drown-proofing such a cruel training exercise: Your survival instincts are pitted against you.)
The second reason is our deeply ingrained belief that we must exert some kind of effort to exact any sort of result.
Diminishing Rates of Return
The logic goes the more I put into something, the more I get out of it.
When it comes to effort versus reward, we assume it’s one-for-one. Twice the effort garners twice the reward. But this is only true for certain menial tasks like washing the dishes or folding the laundry.
Obviously, 4 hours of work is better than none. 8 hours of work is better than 4, although those extra 4 hours will be less productive.
However, the difference between an 8 and a 12-hour workday is next to nothing. Whereas the difference between a 12-hour and a 16-hour workday is undoubtedly counterproductive. (Factoring sleep deprivation and the probability that the quality of work will have diminished significantly.)
At this point you’ve stalled. You need to let go and return to earth for the night before you make everything worse.
Of course, this is how an aeroplane works.
If I pitch up, I increase the amount of lift my wings generate. But I also increase the amount of drag I encounter. Depending on my performance (and what it is I hope to achieve), there is an optimum lift-to-drag ratio. If I exceed that ratio, I get a diminishing rate of return on my lift.
If I keep pitching up, eventually, I’ll reach a point where the air separates from the top of the wing resulting in a substantial loss of lift. This what’s known as the stall.
Understating where this point is important so I don’t exceed it. Of course, prevention is better than cure. However, understanding what to do once I have stalled is even more critical.
Not just because it constitutes an emergency, but because the way to recover is, you guessed it, counter intuitive.
Increasing Rates of Negative Return
This is the main point I want to make today.
The moment we stall in life, the exact opposite of what we believe is true. Effort no longer corresponds with an increase in reward – even on a diminishing rate of return.
Instead, we enter into an increasing rate of negative return.
That means the more effort we put into something – the more we try to exact a result – the worse everything becomes. The more we pitch up, the deeper the stall becomes.
The only way to recover is to let go.
We must then point our aircraft toward the ground to avoid hitting it. It’s completely counter-intuitive, just like drown-proofing. If you don’t want to drown you must sink to the bottom of the pool.
Here’s the mighty big thing.
When it comes to our psychology – when it’s something that exists purely within our mind – this is always the case. The more we try to control our emotional aeroplane – the more we try to fight the turbulence – the worse the ride becomes.
Happiness is the classic example here.
The more we desire happiness – the more we chase after it – the further the carrot moves. The more we wish we didn’t feel so anxious, or angry, or sad, the more gasoline we add to the fire.
The more we crave love and acceptance from others, the harder we find it to love and accept ourselves. The harder we try to fall asleep, the more we want to pull our hair out.
I could go on. So I will!
There’s one more example I want to bring up. The one I’ve been building to. One of the four forces of life known as meaning – the human equivalent of lift.
The more we crave a meaningful experience – the more we desperately try to find meaning – the more meaningless everything starts to feel. The more we wish our lives or experience didn’t mean something, the more we believe it does.
Meaning, like all of the above, requires a counter-intuitive approach.
The Psychology of Letting Go
As complex as our psychology is the reason for this is surprisingly simple. It’s because our mind is both the cause and the effect of the thing we desire.
We tend to treat our minds like a car we must drive to reach our destination. But the mind doesn’t work like that. This is because the mind is both the destination and the vehicle itself.
When Buddhist monks preach about already being free, this is what they mean. You can’t drive yourself out of the destination your mind is already in. You can’t swim when you’re arms and legs are bound together. Your only option is to let yourself sink.
You must sink into the uncertainty, pain, and fear.
When you learn to do that – as petrifying as it is – you’ll find something remarkable happens. As if by magic you’ll find the clarity and perspective you need. You’ll understand where your fear is genuinely rooted.
You’ll find the bottom of the pool.
From there, you won’t have to think about how you should act; you’ll know. You’ll push off the pool floor and launch yourself to salvation. You’ll realise that the only to fly upward from here is to point the nose down.
God willing, you will avoid the ground in the nick of time.
This is part five of a series of posts on the subject of stalling in life.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can find more of AP2’s writing at the following:
You’re thinking, ‘what do you mean the ONLY THING the world needs from me?! The world demands EVERYTHING from me!!!’
‘It expects me to be a teetotaling, super-ripped, enlightened, buddhist monk who lives in a mansion with 5 cars yet gives everything to the poor, can speak 6 languages, hold 3 full-time jobs with an additional 8 hobbies on the side while also caring for the elderly with the abundance of spare time one must have available.’
‘On top of which I must also find a cure for cancer, prevent global warming, travel the entire world, read 8 books a day, find the time to study for a 4th profession, have the perfect life partner, raise straight A children who never fart in public, cook the recommended 12 meals a day, eat only the finest imported wagyu beef, be a vegan, own the latest model of smartphone while also find a suitable replacement for plastics.’
‘Should I go on?!!!’
You could but I think we get the point.
Yes, unfortunately, this is but a modicum of what our fucked up society expects. That said, this is exactly why we need to be very clear.
What the world needs from you and what society expects are two very different things.
One you need to trust in. The other you need tell fuck off!
Society’s ridiculous expectations have flooded our brains with too much information. We’re constantly being pulled in a million different directions that’s left us paralysed in one. We can’t see through the sea of bullshit to understand what we’re supposed to do. We’re lost wondering which way we should paddle with no land in sight.
The problem isn’t what society thinks, of course. The major problem we have is making society’s expectations our own. In doing so we play a game we can’t possibly win. As a result of not being able to meet these impossible expectations – because none of us can – many of us simply give up.
What we need to do is set ourselves free. We need to cut through the noise and focus on our major purpose in life. We need to follow our calling. Then say ‘fuck it’ to the rest. I truly believe this will benefit the world far more than trying to meet society’s expectations. That’s provided you can shift through all the bullshit and follow what your calling in life actually is. As in, not society’s. Not your parent’s. Not Barrack Obama’s. Certainly not Donald Trump’s. Yours! Your own unique calling.
This is the only thing the world needs from you.
I think that you know this of course, the question is how?! And also what the fuck?
I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers but I’ll give you a few more thoughts you should probably ignore.
Fuck what society has to say about who it thinks you should be.
You and only you get to decide what success looks like. Don’t let society do that for you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your life has to look good on paper, so some top level exec can commend you on your perfect CV to only then give the job to the slightly less qualified white man because you’re black, or a woman, or a black woman…
To be clear I’m not saying give up. To not be a better person. To not go after what you want despite any disadvantages you may or may not have.
What I’m saying is to be clear about what success actually means to you, to be clear about what you actually want. Don’t go chasing someone else’s goals. If you want to wander the seven seas as a pirate – if that’s what makes you feel alive – then who the fuck am I, or anyone else for that matter, to judge you? At least if you fail as a pirate (highly probable) you’ll have loved life.
We spend far too much time thinking about how our life choices will be viewed by others. We need to wake up and follow what we know in our hearts will make us happy.
A stressful life chasing other people’s version of success is what has turned us all into robots. We’re simply going through the motions so we can reach our end goal. We say to ourselves, it’ll all be worth it after I have secured financial independence for the last 10 good years of my life. After I have broken my body, sold my soul and lost all sense of aliveness in the mean time.
Is your retirement really worth that much? To slave away so that one day you might get to live in the knowledge that money is no longer a problem for you, for the last 10 years of your life?
Let me tell you something that society doesn’t want you to work out. Money is but one problem.
When Jay-Z rapped about 99 problems I suspect they were all related to having money. Bitches weren’t one of them admittedly, because of the money, but even so. The point is be careful what you chase after in life.
The world really doesn’t need you to be rich and famous. It doesn’t need you to solve all its problems. Society has made this an obsession of yours but it’s bullshit.
The only thing the world needs from you is to come alive. That comes from chasing the dreams that you alone have defined. It comes from following your heart.
I’ve got a new rap song. It goes, I’ve got 99 problems but the dream ain’t one. (How white am I?) If you can sing that you’re winning my friend because you’ll always have 99 problems. Don’t make not following your dreams one of them.
Thanks for reading everyone! I’m acutely aware that talking about chasing your dreams can come across as somewhat rich (pun intended) as a privileged middle class white man, especially when survival is the only thing that millions can ever consider, but I also wonder if, for the same reason, I don’t have a responsibility to chase my dreams? After all, my worst case scenario is far better than most. What do you think? Is the idea of following your dreams overrated? Is it not better to follow our heart if we have the choice? Thoughts and comments very welcome below.
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. Which then got me thinking, ‘why I am feeling so anxious? I’m just thinking.’
Anyway, I placed my mind on that fear and I asked, ‘what do you want me to figure out?’ Then something clicked. The penny dropped and I thought, ‘holy shit, all fear is a fear of death. That’s what you’re feeling. That’s why it’s so intense. It’s simply a trick. An illusion played by the mind to keep you, and those you love, alive.’
Immediately I started thinking about the implications this simplicity of thought might have. How we could use it to see through and conquer our fears. But also help those consumed by theirs. So I got up and started hashing out my argument. (No, I didn’t sleep well that night!) And well, this post was the result.
Anyway, buckle up boys and girls, because I’m about to take your mind down a rabbit hole that will blow it wide open. But first let me explain my thinking with a quick biology lesson. (I’ll try to make it fun.)
The Biology Of Fear
From a biological perspective the purpose of life is life itself. That all our emotions – the full kaleidoscope of experience – can be explained, broadly speaking, by two things. The first is survival (protecting our life and those we love.) Enter fear. The second is procreation and the raising/nurturing of offspring. Enter love.
These two broad encompassing emotional forces drive everything. They represent the light and dark side of the force. Yin and Yang, Male and Female, Ross and Rachel, Bert and Ernie… you get the point. It’s a delicate tussle counter balancing one against the other. However we need both of them.
Now, to forget love for a second (Say what?), let’s talk amount the most important of these two emotional forces – fear (Oh no you didn’t!).
Inside your brain are two little nuggets called your amygdalas. These naughty little nuggets are, biologically speaking, responsible for all of your emotional suffering. This is because they activate something called your fight, flight or freeze response system. And this has everything to do with your survival. (They love you really.)
Now, what happens when those naughty nuggets detect what they believe is a serious threat to your life, is they shut off access to the rational part of your brain (your frontal lobes). When this happens the only thing your brain becomes interested in is your survival. And it uses the fear of death to drive your actions. Telling you to either run for the hills (fear under flight), tread carefully (anxiety under freeze), or fight for your life (anger or hate under fight). That is what fear is, in essence. Fear is a fear of death. I say that because these responses are based on keeping you alive.
This is why I believe fear, anxiety, anger and hate are such intense emotions. Why we have a million and one different addictions and mental illnesses in our attempts to deal with them. We are dealing with a fear of death under different guises. And that is no small thing. (Have I blown your mind yet?)
The Link To Death
One of the problems I believe we have is we don’t link our fear to death. We lack the awareness. This is partly because many of us live in denial and partly because our rational minds and ancient emotional response system aren’t of the same era (your naughty nuggets are part of the limbic system which comprises the oldest part of your brain); but mainly because the ego doesn’t want us to figure this out. It’s a deliberate illusion. After all it’s not terribly useful to psychoanalyse your fear when face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger!
But you’re not actually sacred of the tiger. No, you’re afraid of one thing and one thing alone: death. What your brain has done is attach the fear of death to that animal, thing or situation. That’s why everything scares us to death. Because weare. That’s what drives us at our core.
This is also why, in the pecking order of love and fear, fear comes first (why we have something called a negativity bias). Of course this sucks the big one, however the logic makes good sense. You must first survive before you can thrive. Before you can use your big one!
In the case of a sabre-toothed tiger the link is obvious, much like a fear of heights. However others things are much harder to link, like onomatophobia – a fear of names. (Yeah, for real Bob.). Most often they’re rooted in our unique childhood traumas as part of our attempt to win the love of our parents who weren’t forthcoming with it (which we needed for survival). Other things are less obvious on the surface but make good sense when you consider our ancestry basically roamed around as tribes for millions of years.
For example, we understand that standing up on stage and making a public speech won’t kill us, (rationally we understand it won’t matter one iota), yet many of us are still scared to death at the thought. Why? Your surface level rationale is probably saying something along the line of, “if I mess this presentation up I’ll make a fool of myself and my coworkers will no longer respect me.” But so what? That rationale doesn’t justify the level of emotion it evokes.
Well, consider this.
Imagine you’re living as part of a tight-knit tribal community. A small group of hunter gathers where your survival depends on you getting along with everyone else. Suddenly social anxiety – fear of sticking your neck out – starts to make more sense. If you stand up and talk to the tribe and the tribe rejects you, it’s possible they’ll make you an outcast and now you really are fucked. So tread carefully (anxiety). You do not want to piss off the alpha! In today’s world, rationally, we understand the stakes aren’t so high, however your ancient emotional response system doesn’t.
This is also why we care so much what other people think. This is why we get so worked up over nothing. This is why we hold our beliefs as absolute and why we cannot stand to be challenged. (Please don’t disagree with me on this.)
This is worth stressing.
When it comes to our emotions we are working with a Palaeolithic operating system. It’s millions of years in the making based on what the world was like for us for the vast majority of that time. It’s not well adapted to modern life.
How To Conquer Your Fear
So now you’re thinking, “Ok Sherlock, now that you’ve made me aware that my crippling anxiety is actually a fear of death underneath, how is this suppose to help me?”
Because now you can ask yourself a couple of important questions. The first is obvious. Is your life really at risk? To use my previous example, is getting up on stage really going to end your life? No, of course not. Then are your feelings rational or irrational? We know the answer to this of course. But now we have awareness on our side. Suddenly it’s clear as day. Now you can look through it because you understand why the feeling is so intense.
That is a good reason to show those feelings love and compassion. That is a good reason to tell yourself it’s ok. And now you can remind yourself what your higher purpose is. What your loving motives are for standing up on that stage. And suddenly that fear starts to loosen its grip.
This allows your naughty little nuggets to calm the fuck down, which allows your frontal lobes to come back online. What you’re doing is placing your emotions back in the passenger seat of your car as opposed to the drivers seat. Which is exactly where you want them to be (except when your life really is threatened.) And so you go ahead and make most passionate speech of your life (maybe).
What you’ve done is used love for the purpose it was intended, to overcome your own fear of death. Not only that, you’ve just told yourself you conquered a fear of death, not simply a fear of public speaking, which is massive.
Now, here’s where I address the rather large Woolly Mammoth in the cave. If fear – a fear of dying – comes first in the order of our emotional makeup, then perhaps all of our emotions are related to a fear of death, including love? And if you think that’s a rather dark hypothesis to end, I would counter by saying how beautifully poetic I believe that is.
Lovewas nature’s antidote to prevent our own fears from destroying ourselves. It was designed to give us the courage to overcome our fear of death to protect our offspring. To protect our tribe. To protect our larger self. In an increasingly interconnected world I believe we must use that love to cultivate and serve a higher purpose that includes all life on this planet. We must use that to overcome – quite literally- our own fear of death in order to do so. I fear if we don’t, that fear, will consume us all.
Thanks for reading everyone. So what do you think? Are our fears simply a fear of death underneath? And is love the antidote to those fears by design? Thoughts and opinions keenly anticipated. Warm regards, AP2 🙏
The vast majority of conversations consist of two people trying to have their egos validated by proving that one is right and the other is wrong. Often both will agree but even then, in most cases, what they agree is that others are wrong and they are right.
This is a special, saucy kind of conversation where two individuals stroke each others egos instead of their own. “Oh stop it.” “No you stop it.” “Reowww!”
It’s all based on the egos insatiable appetite to be right. To try to make sense of a world it can’t possibly make sense of. To place everything into neat little boxes. So we can get a tick with an A+ next to it.
Well done Timmy you passed the test! You’re 100 percent right! Any other option would have been wrong but you got it right! This is exactly how the world works!
The problem is so many of us have been raised to look at the world through this black and white lens where we’re taught that right equals good. Right equals success. Right equals smart and capable. Whereas wrong equals failure. Wrong equals incapable. Wrong equals dumb.
It’s this kind of thinking that has made being wrong so difficult for so many of us.
It either threatens our identity as being smart and capable or confirms it as being dumb and incapable. In both cases we find being wrong so incredibly painful we avoid putting ourselves out there at all costs.
The question is how do we protect ourselves against this form of thinking? How do we protect against having a fixed mindset?
Well one way is to consider that every single thought you’ve ever had, every thought that anyone has ever had, is in some way, shape or form, wrong. To consider that there is no black or white, only grey.
If you look deeply enough you’ll see this is true. That we are always wrong in someway, shape or form. This argument itself can be picked apart on so many levels.
The reason is there is no possible way you, or anyone else, can know everything there is to know about anything. The world is simply too complex.
The sooner we can see how deeply flawed the ways in which we think are, the sooner we can let go of our limiting beliefs and more forward to slightly less limiting beliefs.
Equally the sooner we can get to grips with the idea we know next to nothing – the more comfortable we can become in not knowing. This actually, paradoxically, promotes curiosity and learning.
It does this by helping us to understand that there is always something to learn. Always some area in which we can grow and get better. Equally it keeps our egos from feeling threatened by the idea that it’s wrong. As a result we become less afraid to learn and ask questions. We become less afraid to put our hands up and ask stupid questions.
This way of thinking promotes a growth mindset.
So next time you have a conversation with someone I suggest dropping all notions of, or attempts at, being right. Instead I invite you consider simply trying to be a little less wrong than you already are. Not only will this put you in a willing mindset to learn, it will allow you take whatever someone else has to say with a huge pinch of salt.
Thanks again for reading everyone. I’m curious what tactics you might have for cultivating a growth mindset? How do you keep an open mind? As always I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions. I will always take it with a pinch of salt.
“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.”
True freedom is a commitment to experiencing the very real limitations of our choices.
We will always have to live with some sort of, ‘what if I had…’ We will always have to mourn the limitless possibilities we didn’t pursue. If we had no choice about our life we’d simply get on with it, but because we do, we live in constant fear of making the wrong one.
That’s the price we pay for the freedom of choice.
We have to live with the consequences of our actions. We have to live in the knowledge we could have done things differently. To know we could have done things better.
I wonder if many of us don’t actually want the level of responsibility that comes with having to choose our own fate? Perhaps this is why so many of us prefer to be told what to do? Perhaps this is why so many of us choose not to think for ourselves?
It’s too uncomfortable.
We don’t want to take responsibility for our life. We didn’t have to as children so why should we now?
Many recent decisions we’ve made in the “free” parts of this world demonstrate an unwillingness to take on this fundamental aspect of freedom. We follow the herd because it’s easier. We follow the herd because that’s what our parents taught us to do.
I imagine that living in a society where your thoughts and actions are decided for you is in some ways easier. You don’t have to think about what to do. When your survival depends on the actions that the state has demanded, you just do. So you become another brain washed cog in the totalitarian machine. Just as your dictator ordered. There’s a nice little cog.
The sad truth about such a life is you still have responsibilities. They’re just not your own.
You cannot escape responsibility.
Many of us falsely belief that freedom comes with the freedom not to have any responsibilities. How we love to have our cake and eat it too! We say, ‘if only I choose the right leader then I’ll be able to achieve financial independence free from having to try at anything.’
Delusion is a word.
Delusion is what’s sold to you by populists who promise the world free of charge. They promise you the things that only you can deliver for yourself.
There’s a huge price that comes with freedom, incalculable in fact – millions have died for it – but I believe the rewards justify it. Yes the possibility of failure is real, but so is the possibility of achieving greatness. We should remember that humans don’t flourish under the conditions of compulsion – we flourish under the conditions of free co-operation.
It’s hard to shift through the noise of course. It’s extremely hard in fact. To do the research required to figure out what your own opinions are on matters that affect us all. The rewards are not that you’ll have a leader you want or a country that reflects the values you hold either.
You probably won’t.
The reward is actually greater than that. The reward is that you get to know who you truly are. This is something your country and the world needs more than your vote. What we need is a diversity of unique voices speaking for themselves. What we don’t need is a tribe of mindless people echoing only the thoughts of one man.
Don’t be so quick to throw your freedom under the bus for someone else.
It’s important to remember that no two voices are the same. Freedom respects that fact. We should be extremely wary of those who seek to limit the voices of others. We should take the time to listen to what our own heart has to say. We should put in the effort to form our own opinions. We should honour them with the choices we get to make.
“Freedom is not about shedding your responsibilities, it’s about choosing them.”
I would go a step further and say that freedom demands we choose our responsibilities. The same way that having a life demands we protect it. If you want freedom of choice then you have to choose to take responsibility for your life. If you don’t someone else will choose your responsibilities for you. The danger is they will use that for their own profit and power by forming a narrative you refused to take responsibility for forming yourself. In doing so they will shut your mind from your heart. The moment that happens, you’ve lost your freedom.
Thank you all for taking the time to read. As always I’m interested to get your thoughts. What do you think about the relationship between freedom and responsibility? Have we taken our freedoms for granted in the Western world? Is this why we find it under threat? Do you even believe it is under threat? Do you think that freedom has nothing to do with responsibility? As always I welcome ALL opinions and thoughts. This is very much a free state.