How To Develop More Intelligent Self-Interest

“One should never do something to others that one would regard as an injury to one’s own self. In brief, this is dharma. Anything else is succumbing to desire.”

— MAHĀBHĀRATA 13.114.8 (CRITICAL EDITION)

It’s ironic that the fictional character Joey from friends, who everyone laughed at for being a bit slow, was also the character to come out with one of the most profound statements of the entire show when he argued with Phoebe that,

“There is no such thing as a truly self-less good deed.”

I agree with him.

Whether you’d care to admit it almost every action we make is motivated on some level by selfish intent. Even a charitable act is motivated on some level by your desire to feel good.

That’s not to say there is anything wrong with this – in fact, quite the opposite – it’s just something to be aware of. After all, if we weren’t motivated on some level by a desire to feel good, or to avoid feeling bad, then why would we do anything? We need something to motivate us. For that reason there has to be an element of self-interest behind our actions.

Anyway, why do I bring this up?

I heard the expression intelligent self-interest mentioned on a podcast a while back. This got me thinking about what this means and how we can make our self-interests more intelligent.

When I dug a little deeper I came to understand, although they are described/defined somewhat differently by various articles on the subject we can, broadly speaking, look at self-interest on three different levels.

Those are unintelligent (or stupid as I like to think of it), intelligent and enlightened self-interest.

This post is going to define each and look at how we can cultivate the latter two.


What is unintelligent self-interest?

Unintelligent self-interest is the personal interest of an individual that, if pursued, hurts others and/or themselves.

Some obvious examples of unintelligent-interest include binge watching NETFLIX, drug abuse, smoking, mindlessly scrolling on social media, etc. 

You know, all the things you shouldn’t be doing that every blogger and his dog bang on about everyday. (All the things I’ve done before, and in some cases still do…)

These are unintelligent forms of self interest because they satisfy a desire at the expense of our longer term health and happiness. 

We also tend to think because I’m only doing these things to myself that’s ok. I’m not hurting anyone else. 

But that’s wrong. 

What hurts you ultimately hurts others. By not working to resolve past trauma or avoiding negative emotions instead of doing what you ought to, you can trust me when I tell you this, not only does this hurt yourself it also hurts those around you. 

How then can we make our self-interests more intelligent and what does it mean?


What is intelligent self interest?

Intelligent self-interest is still about acting in ways that suit you, however, it also considers the ways in which it helps others.

It is about thinking of the other person while acting for yourself, i.e. you’re not acting without regard for others.

Some obvious examples of intelligent self-interest include meditation, exercise, a healthy diet, plentiful sleep, etc.

You know, all the things you should do that every blogger and his dog bang on about everyday. 

These are intelligent forms of self interest because you’re acting in a way that not only benefits your own longer term health and happiness, it also benefits others.

After all, a happier and healthier you is a happier and healthier world. Further, you cannot look after others without first looking after yourself.

One of the problems that proponents of such activities have is the way in which they frame their motivations. They talk on and on about the benefits they have for you. How meditation, exercise and a balanced diet helps you

Often they over emphasise the benefits these activities have for you without considering the larger reasons beyond the immediate. 

If you want to make mediation a habit, as an example, it’s far better to consider how taking the time to cultivate mindfulness is of benefit to your family and friends, as well as yourself. 

One way to do this is by asking yourself the following question:

Am I doing this because of love or fear?

I believe one of the major reasons our motivations stall is because we don’t feel we’re good enough (fear) and so give up far too easily. This is a problem many of us have when focusing solely on ourselves. If you take the focus away from yourself and instead remind yourself of the other people in your life for whom you’re doing these things (love), you’re far more likely to stick with it.

At least I know I am.

Instead of beating ourselves up for not being good enough and metaphorically whipping ourselves to do something about it, why not focus on feeling good about doing the things that ultimately help others too?

It’s a win win.

This brings us to the final level on the self-interest scale that I made up. The question I have is how can we act in enlightened self-interest that helps others? How can we see that helping others does in fact help ourselves? Let’s first explore what it means.


What is enlightened self-interest?

Enlightened self-interest is acting for others without expecting anything in return.

Some obvious examples of enlightened self-interest include donating to charity, volunteer work, saving someones life, etc.

You know, all the things every blogger and his dog probably should be going on about everyday but don’t.

These are acts done from the goodness of ones hearts. They aren’t done in expectation of gaining anything personally. 

I would make a point that this is very different to acting out of a sense of responsibility or obligation – because you think it’s the right thing to do. 

It’s far deeper than that. 

Enlightened self-interest understands that although no obvious attributable gain for oneself has been made, a bit like the beautiful philosophical idea of karma, what comes around goes around.

People who act in enlightened self-interest understand we are all part of the same world. That by hurting another you’re ultimately hurting yourself.

This is why it’s heavily related to the Golden rule: To treat others as you would like others to treat you.

Or, to put it as a question, one can ask themselves,

How would I want others to help me if I were in their position?

This isn’t rocket science of course.

If you look deeply enough, you’ll find how you treat others is how you treat yourself. Kindness to others extends inwards as well as out. The same is as true for anger or hatred. You give fuel to those feelings within yourself by acting on them. 

Enlightened self-interests come about as a by-product of truly wanting to help this world, as you would like it to be for you. By thinking in terms of how your actions will affect others we can, bit by bit, develop enlightened self-interest naturally. It’s simply a matter of acting in the interests of your heart. 

(As always I welcome ALL comments and ideas on this blog. If you have anything to add or any other suggestions about how develop more intelligent self-interest I’d love to hear from you in the comments sections below)


SOURCES:

https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/evolution/unselfish-act.htm

https://hbr.org/1989/05/how-selfish-are-people-really

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlightened_self-interest

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karma

12 Personal Commandments for a Happier Life

As inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s wonderful Happiness Project, I decided to put together a list of my own 12 commandments for living a happier, healthier and more purposeful life.

As Gretchen says, ‘these aren’t meant to be specific resolutions but overarching principles by which to live’. At any rate, it’s a fun and creative way to help outline some core values should you have the time.

I should say the quotes are not mine, but ones that stuck in my mind from various readings over the years. Anyway here they are:

  1. “Live in day-tight compartments” – Live in the moment. There’s no point in living with regret about yesterday or worry for tomorrow. 
  1. “Don’t cry over spilt milk”You can’t change what’s happened. Only pick up the pieces and move forward. Forgive and forget. 
  1. “Pay Rapt Attention” – Meditate daily and show a keen interest in your daily activities and conversations. Stay in the moment and participate fully. 
  1. “Act and think the way you wish to feel – be fearless” – Smile and be happy. Stand up tall and be confident. We live in the mind whether we know it or not. The wisest among us use our actions to influence our emotions and not the other way around. 
  1. “Count your blessings – Not your troubles” – First – aim to get what you want and then Second – Enjoy it! Be grateful everyday. You’re exceptionally lucky. 
  1. “Be Yourself” – Imitation is suicide. Be your best self and embrace your uniqueness. 
  1. “Have malice toward none and charity for all” – Don’t waste a second thinking about those that have wronged you. It serves no purpose. We must harbour no bitterness. Instead find time to give and serve those in greater need. 
  1. “Order is Heaven’s First Law” – Clearing clutter will help create peace of mind. Set specific measurable goals, visualise them complete, then act on them. 
  1. “Lose yourself in action – Just do it” – Secret to being miserable is to have the time to wonder whether you are happy or not. Keep yourself busy. Work daily, Exercise daily and Play daily. The time is now so go!
  1. “Do what’s right, not what’s easy” – The easiest is rarely the best option. Strive toward a higher purpose and think before every word and action. 
  1. “Remember life comes from you not at you” – Give up blaming and complaining. Only YOU are responsible for YOU. Be honest with yourself and understand that belief is a choice so choose to believe!
  1. “Look to the stars” – Have faith you can turn around any situation. To profit from your losses is far more important than capitalising on your gains. Take the time to reflect everyday. 

I might add I wrote this some time ago after I first read Gretchen’s book. After going through my old notes I thought it might be a great time to refine and update this old list. I’ll be sure to post it when its finished. In the mean time, if you have any personal commandments of your own please let me know in the comments section below. I’d be thankful for the inspiration.

Notes from my journal – March 2020

Hello fine readers and welcome to my Monthly review! Every day I ask myself the question – What did I learn? – and write some thoughts in response. The following is a collection of my favourites.

I should say most of these thoughts and/or ideas are heavily influenced by what I’ve been reading and the people I’ve been talking to. In some cases they are simply quotes by others. I hope you enjoy.


Setting your intention matters a great deal. An intention to be mindful in all that you do. ‘Unitasking’ is key. Concentrate on the one thing you are doing and give it your undivided attention! You will derive much more pleasure in life when acting like this.

Mindfulness is only one part of the puzzle. Compassion is the other. Being compassionate has to start with yourself. Forgiving yourself for feeling tired and disconnected – Recovery from depression and anxiety takes time. You’re doing really well. Look what you managed to achieve today.  Be proud of yourself. 

Scrolling is the new smoking. You need to significantly reduce it. Otherwise it leads to cognitive fatigue. Idea – should aim to have a phone free day every week and keep my phone in another room to the one I’m in while at home (That way I’ll be going to it for a very deliberate reason – not just to mindlessly scroll)!

A good nights sleep starts the minute you wake up. Starting your day is just as important as how you finish it. Don’t look at you phone until out of the bathroom – ie Don’t make it the first thing you look at in the morning! Use it only to log your weight and write in your journal before meditation. Otherwise leave it in the bedroom till you’ve finished exercising and had something to eat.  

It matters that you care. It really matters. Pay attention. Small acts with great love everyday. 

The essence of bravery is refusing to give up on anyone or anything

Forgiveness in this world is really lacking. For me forgiving myself and also other people in this world I believe to be doing very bad things is something to pay more attention to. Every act I make has a positive ripple effect. No matter how small, if done with love and compassion, it will effect the world in a positive way. Keep going. Keep smiling. Remain hopeful. Love yourself and by extension the whole world and everything in it. 

Forgiveness is a natural process. It does not matter if you are able to forgive someone or yourself yet, what matters is the intention to forgive that other person or yourself. That way the door is open for the process – however long – to take place. 

Everything I need and want, I already have. The most important thing for me is to learn how to enjoy it. 

The path of awakening is simply a process of wakeful, profound relaxing. We see what is here right now and we let go into life exactly as it is” – Tara Brach 

Reaching out to friends and family and checking in on them is so important. Especially now during this difficult time. It’s important to let them know we are here and also that we are safe. Family and friends are everything. We are nothing without each other. 

I was wrong about the coronavirus. It’s not been an overreaction – people are dying and medical staff are stretched thin. We must all do our part to help protect the most vulnerable in society. COVID 19 is an opportunity to spend time at home with our family and practise mindfulness. It’s an opportunity to send love out to all our friends and family. To really connect from isolation. We live in an extraordinary time in which we are incredibly lucky to be able to do so. To know so much. To prepare and mobilise behind a common cause so quickly as a result. There is still so much to be grateful for. 

Life is one big lesson in acceptance. Now is the perfect time to practise that. There is so much out of our control but what we can control has the ability to empower us. 

If you see through yourself you will see through everyone. Then you will love them. – Anthony De Mello 

What we react to is self generated and has nothing to do with the outside world. A negative feeling comes from YOU – nothing else. It’s all part of our conditioning – illusions created by our minds – from attachments that we have been conditioned to believe are important despite reality. By remaining truly aware and questioning the tricks of our conditioned mind with both compassion and curiosity, we can began to see the illusions for what they truly are and break down the false identities we all cling to. This will bring you back to life. To the here and now which is, of course, the only reality. 

My emotions are a direct result of my thinking mind – nothing else. To stop negative emotions it’s me who has to change. Not the world. Not anyone else.

Think in terms of others. Helping your self is not selfish. It’s the opposite of selfish. Helping yourself helps others. Fixing your back means you’re no longer distracted by it – which means you can focus your attention on more important matters. Looking after your finances helps build security for your family. 

Good parenting starts with being compassionate towards yourself!

Show up to your children’s emotions with compassion. It’s ok to feel sadness or anger. Ask them what it is that they need?

Life is a long beautiful melody. You have to let it play out. Don’t cling. There will be long low sad bits and high happy ecstatic peaks. Don’t cling to them. Don’t think those parts of the melody define you. If you replay one part of it over and over it’s no longer a melody. It’s ruined. Let it play out. 

Taking to yourself in the third person is an awesome mindfulness hack.eg David is feeling stressed. David is thinking lots. David is looking at his phone. It helps to unidentify with your thoughts, feelings and emotions. You become the observer of your thoughts without falling into the trap of thinking you are your thoughts. It’s another reminder to wake up!

Everything is a process. All I have to do is observe. Observe with curiosity and compassion. Look at yourself with curiosity and compassion. Remain present and your natural wisdom will guide you. Have faith.

Everything is always now. It can’t be any other way. The past and the future come from the mind only. They are illusions that distract awareness of the present moment. Everything you need is available to you in the present. Stay there. 

Showing up on the bad days matters more so than on the good days. Remember your’e saying something to yourself every time you show up about who you are and who you want to become. The same is true when you don’t.

Am I making this decision because of love or fear? – Dr Vivek Murthy  – Such an insightful way of asking yourself why or why not you should do something.

My 2020 GOALS & PLEDGES

Following on from my 4 part 2019 review, below are my pledges and goals for the coming year. I intend to do a monthly review of these goals as a way of holding myself on accountable as the year progresses. I hope you enjoy!

MY 2020 PLEDGES

By the end of 2020 my wife and I will have begun trying for a second child (or be pregnant with the second (and last!) on the way). 

With regards to work I will be “command ready” having worked to further my operation and confidence to its highest ever level. I will have attended a performance based course to help in this regard. I will have taken an extended period of 3 months off work from May till July. 

Health wise, I will be far more consistent with regards to my exercise and healthy living habits, sticking to my morning and evening routines that incorporates yoga and/or some other form of physical exercise. I will have completed one alcohol free week every month plus one alcohol free month during the year. My eating habits will much improved following a ‘slow carb diet’ 5 days a week. I’ll also have found a new activity based hobby that I enjoy outside of the home. As a result I’ll be as fit as ever having achieved my desired body fat percentage of 14%. My back injury will have completely healed.

My mental health will be vastly improved due to a more consistent practice of meditation, reading and writing that I’ll have better incorporated into both my morning and evening routines. I will have attended at least one silent retreat and a transcendental course to further my practise. I will have opened up to my parents about my previous difficulties and become much closer to them as a result. I will talk to my wife every single night when at home before bed.

In my spare time I will continue to write everyday. My first goal will be to write and publish a children’s book for wiggles. I will also start a new blog that explores the question of how to live a healthier and happier life at home and at work, as well as being a better father, husband and all round human being. I will have taken the time to volunteer and start annual donations to two new charities. 

At home I will be far more environmentally conscious having done a large amount of research into how I can live more sustainably. This will act as a model for Wiggles as he grows up.

Financially we’ll be in very good shape having organised a better tracking/savings system as we look to the future. We will have made a significant investment into my brother’s hedge fund and also a third property. I will have also invested in renewable technologies and/or an environmental project aimed at helping save the planet. Insurance wise we will have reviewed and updated all our policies and plans as necessary and have set up a will. 

MY 2020 GOALS

HEALTH

MENTAL

  • Meditate 365 days/year
  • Attend a silent retreat
  • Complete a course in transcendental meditation 

PHYSICAL

  • 5 x Exercise days/week
  • 4 x Alcohol free days/week
  • 1 x Alcohol free week/month 
  • 1 x Alcohol free month/year
  • 5 x low carb/high protein days/week (during intermittent fasting window 12 till 8)
  • 4 x long fast/year (24hr-76hr)
  • 14% body-fat goal 
  • Stretch/Yoga daily

OTHER

  • Perform LASIK
  • Heal back injury
  • Find new activity based hobby to commit weekly
  • Oxfam Trail Walker 2020?

CAREER

AVIATION

  • Be ‘Command Ready’ by 2021
  • Complete Performance course through work
  • Logbook journal after every flight – write 1 thing I did well and 1 thing I could do better
  • Take an extended period off work (3 months following LASIK? – May – July)

WRITING

  • Publish first children’s book
  • Start new blog (with a particular focus on health this year)
  • Post 1 new article/week
  • Write daily (As a minimum in my 5MJ)
  • Read 2 books/month
  • Read daily

FAMILY/HOME/TRAVEL

FAMILY

  • Set Liam goals to help his achieve throughout the year
  • Date night x 1/week
  • Talk to my wife every night when at home
  • Open up to Mum and Dad

HOME

  • Environmental research/piece on blog about how to live more sustainably/responsibly at home for the family to centre around 
  • Set goals and make changes based on this research

TRAVEL 

  • Skiing Japan Trip (February)
  • April/May getaway with Holly
  • Silent retreat (May in Bhutan?)
  • UK Trip (June)
  • Croatia and Serbia – Villa plus Ogi and Mia wedding (September/October)
  • UK (Christmas)

FINANCE/INSURANCE 

FINANCE

  • File/pay UK Taxes
  • File/pay HK Taxes
  • Research new mortgage for London apartment
  • Invest in my brother’s fund
  • Invest in third property
  • Sort better tracking/savings system with longer term goals in mind

INSURANCE

  • Write a will
  • Set up loss of income insurance through Union

CHARITY

  • Set up annual donation to 2 x new charities
  • Volunteer locally