The seeds of doubt were planted at a young age. I can’t tell you exactly when, but I know it started in childhood. I was lead to believe I wasn’t capable, that I would struggle in this life. In particular, concerns surrounded my abilities in English. At first, my parents worried that I had a … Read more Why I Write
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman (Source: The Living Wisdom of Howard Thurman: A Visionary for Our Time) I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘what do you mean the ONLY … Read more The Only Thing The World Needs From You
The other night, while I was trying to sleep, I started thinking about the post I wrote last week where I stated that hatred is driven – at its core – by a fear of death. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something fundamental. Naturally this started to make me feel a little anxious. … Read more Why Everything Scares You To Death
That’s the most liberating, wonderful thing in the world, when you openly admit you’re an ass. It’s wonderful. When people tell me, “You’re wrong.” I say, “What can you expect of an ass?” S.J. Anthony de mello – SOURCE: AWARENESS “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent … Read more The Secret Ingredient Missing From Every Conversation
“The principle of freedom must be our first commitment, for without this no one is immune against the virus of aggrandizement – the impulse to grab power, wealth, position, or reputation at the expense of others.” – Herbert Douglass – SourCE:The Cost Of Freedom True freedom is a commitment to experiencing the very real limitations … Read more Why Freedom Demands Responsibility
Guilt is the feeling you get when you did something wrong, or perceived you did something wrong, whereas shame is a feeling that your whole self is wrong – a belief that you’re a bad person, or unworthy as an individual.
Now, guilt isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be a useful emotion designed to help us right a wrong – to help us realign with our values. That is, provided, we’re not feeling, or made to feel guilty for the wrong reasons. Shame, however, is rarely a useful emotion. It is rooted in low self-esteem. It is very much a product of having a fixed mindset.
I believe there are two responses – broadly speaking – from those who suffer from such a deep-seated shame. On the one hand is the individual who refuses to ever admit to being guilty – who often uses pride as a shield for fear of having to feel any shame.
On the other hand is the individual who lives with excessive guilt – who believes that no apology or action can ever bring them back to feeling good about themselves because they don’t believe they’re capable of being a better person. The problem for the latter, speaking from experience, is the tendency for shame to consume you whenever guilt arises.
A couple of weeks ago something happened that brought up a great deal of guilt for my wife and I. It happened on Father’s day (of all days) when our 5 month old – whom we had placed on the centre of our bed – rolled over several times (something we had never seen him do) right off the side and, with some force, smacked his head.
Now, I’ll interject at this point to save you any heart ache and tell you he’s completely fine. Of course we didn’t know that at the time. There were no signs of concussion, although it took him about 15 minutes to stop crying. We also found a small bump, so we decided to take him to the hospital to have him checked.
While we waited to see the doctor, my wife and I calmed down. It was evident that our boy was himself – smiling and laughing away. No signs of distress or concussion. When we finally saw the doctor he decided it was best to “err on the side of caution” and do a CT scan. He also wanted to keep him overnight for observation to be safe. We agreed despite feeling confident they wouldn’t find anything.
Unfortunately we were wrong.
What they found was a small hairline fracture on the side of his skull. He’d hit the floor much harder than we thought. The doctor told us he’d called in a neurosurgeon to get his opinion and determine the next course of action. In the mean time they put our boy on a drip and demanded we stop feeding him in case they had to take him into surgery.
To say that the next few hours were difficult is to say nothing. When we finally talked to the neurosurgeon, he explained they were no signs of bleeding. Still, he wanted to do one more scan the following day to be absolutely sure.
To cut a long story short, the second scan showed no signs of bleeding either. We followed up a couple of weeks later and the doctor was happy there were no signs of brain damage. The skull, thank god, had done its job.
The only thing we were left dealing with was own guilt at having failed to protect our boy.
Which raises the question, how should you process it? Should you refuse to acknowledge your mistakes? Tell yourself it’s ok? That these things happen? Or should you tell yourself off? Should you tell yourself that you’re a terrible parent?
This is where I believe the distinction between shame and guilt is important. Why I believe it’s important to ask yourself which of the two you’re actually feeling and why.
In years gone by, such an incident would have thrown me into a spiral. I would have seen what happened as a confirmation that I am a bad parent, instead of one who simply made a mistake. I’m pleased to report that didn’t happen. Honestly, aside from our failure in the first instance, I’m proud of how we responded. We did everything right by our son after the fact.
Still, the fact remains, we made a cardinal parenting mistake. One that we need to learn from. However part of learning any lesson is learning to forgive yourself. Shame prevents you from doing that.
It was this point I made to my wife during those difficult few hours while we waited to hear from the neurosurgeon. I told her we need to be honest with ourselves. We need to acknowledge the fact that we made a mistake. However we cannot change what happened. We must also forgive ourselves.
I told her it’s important we don’t allow our guilt to tell us we are bad parents. that we don’t let that guilt turn to shame. While it is one thing to learn from guilt – to use that to make you a better person. It is a whole other thing to let guilt tell you you’re not capable of being a better person.
It’s failing to see that, that really is a crying shame.
(Thanks for reading everyone! I’m sorry I missed you the last couple of weeks. Between this and work, I decided that a blogging break was in order. I’m glad I took one. Anyway, what are your thoughts on shame versus guilt? Do you have any stories of your own? As always, I’d love to hear from you.)
Apparently, most of us have a default level of happiness. No matter what our station is in life, we are all slightly dissatisfied. Slightly. Life is just never quite good enough, even when it really is.
This default happiness level readjusts depending on your circumstances. Even if something significant happens to you, like winning the lottery, you soon get over it and return to that base level of slight dissatisfaction.
“I can’t use my legs anymore, but I can still binge-watch NETFLIX every evening like I used to!” Or, “I don’t have a smoking hot wife anymore but, you know, there are other less attractive fish in the sea. Ones that won’t steal my stuff. I’ll settle for one of those!”
That’s the spirit!
The reason for this is simple: survival.
It’s not the best strategy to be content with life. Otherwise, we’d stop chasing after that next promotion or that bigger house. We’d stop securing a safer existence for ourselves and our family — even if we already live on a luxury yacht!
It’s for this reason that our egos keep tricking us. It tells us, if you get that next promotion, or have sex with that smoking hot chick, or save enough money for that fast car, then you’ll be happy. Then you’ll achieve the kind of bliss that everyone else on Instagram clearly has.
And so you go after those things like your life depends on it.
But what happens when you actually get those things? When your hopes are realised? Of course, you’re happy for a time. That’s for the memory bank to remind you that more is better. But then what? That’s right, you get used to it! You get accustomed to your new sports car. You get over the fact that you had mind-blowing sex with that hot chick. You get used to the fact that your new house has 8 bedrooms, 2 tennis courts, and an infinity pool.
Once you do, you’ll find yourself back in that familiar default setting of life is okay-ish. Not bad, but it could be better. “I mean, It’s not like I have the fastest sports car in the market, right? And if I’m honest, she was only an 8 out of 10. Plus, I’d quite like a bigger fucking boat!”
The obvious problem, for those canny enough to recognise this ego trick, is that it’s never enough.
Happiness — the lasting kind at least — can’t be found through the pursuit of happiness. It’s like looking for gold at the end of the rainbow. You’ll never find it. There is no mountain high enough, no river wide enough, no luxury yacht big enough.
The other, less obvious problem, for those canny enough to see the bigger trap here, is your default setting has been adjusted to this more manageable level of existence. And this, I’m afraid to say, makes you weaker. It makes you softer because your default level of happiness is set against this higher standard of living. As a result, minor things start to bother you a lot more. You say, “Unless that waiter brings me the finest quality champagne, I’m gonna lose my shit!” Suddenly it becomes much harder to maintain that baseline of moderate happiness (or unhappiness as the case may be).
In gaining the world, you start to hate it.
As a pilot, I have the added perk of traveling in business class at a fraction of the price that most people pay, provided spare seats are going on a given flight. Is it a great thing? I enjoy business class, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think about it much anymore. That’s because I’m used to it. Instead, I find myself thinking about how great first class looks. I think, “If only my company would let me fly in first. Of course, business class isn’t bad, but, you know, it could be better.”
There I am, back to that default setting. (Spoilt brat, I know…)
But here’s the real kicker. When business is full and the only seats going are in economy class, well, then woe is fucking me! (Please don’t fuck me woe, not again!) What is normal and ok-ish for the vast majority of people has become a kind of hell because of my privilege. My privilege has made me weaker. It’s like that saying, once you go… (You know what? I’m not going to finish that sentence.)
This is the paradox that comes from making life easier for ourselves. We actually make it harder. Similarly, by chasing happiness, we end up finding less of it.
Now I’m going to ask you a question. I use this example only because it makes sense to me personally. Here it is: Why did you have kids? Why do you want to have kids?
To make you happy?
Sorry, that one slipped out. But seriously, if your reason is/was to make you happy, you need to sit down and have a rethink.
Kids make everything more complicated. Everything.
Changing nappies 8 times a day, being pissed on, rocking them for a goddam hour at 4 am, only for them to wake up the moment you place them in their cots…! Finding any which way to settle the little bastards. (I love them, really.)
If you haven’t felt an overwhelming urge to throw your baby out of the window at some point as a new parent, well, you’re not honest. That’s why, if you want to have kids, you have to really really want them. You also have to be very clear about why you have children.
Because if your why is in the pursuit of happiness, they will make you miserable — they will drive you insane. Then you might actually throw your children out the window. Of course, that would be bad. Very very bad. (I have to keep telling myself that.)
So why would you have kids then?
Well, the same reason you might decide to climb Everest or chose any challenging endeavor. For a sense of fulfillment, to help the world raise a more virtuous and responsible generation, to help you grow as an individual…
Ok, no, I don’t. What I mean is fuck looking for your happiness. The only thing that’s guaranteed in this life is pain. Happiness is never guaranteed. Never. You should write that on a billboard and hang it on your living room wall.
My first child forced me to reconcile with some dark inner demons. The moment I was candid with myself and realised that his wellbeing depended on me sorting my own shit, well, everything changed. Seriously. Everything. I sought therapy for his benefit. I did it for his happiness, and in the process, ended up finding my own.
Right there is the trick. What’s your why? That’s always a great question to ask yourself. If your why is happiness, you can expect unhappiness. If your why is to serve something bigger than yourself, well, then you’re actually on to something. Because the genuine pursuit of happiness is found in the pursuit of meaning through pain.
If you pursue meaning through pain, you’ll find the small stuff stops pissing you off. You’ll also find the everyday stuff that everyone takes for granted becomes a kind of paradise.
Suddenly you’ll look down after a long day in which your kids pressed every button — a day in which your nerves were utterly shredded. Despite that, you kept them alive. Not only that, you helped them grow. You also realise that you didn’t completely lose your shit this time. You notice that you also grew as a person. You realise that all that pain you suffered through gave you something no amount of money ever can. And as you look down at your kids, who are fast asleep, in a seemingly mundane moment, you suddenly feel something akin to happiness, but it’s not. It’s something more significant than that.
In a nut shell Miller argues that our childhood experience – specifically how we learnt to hide our own feelings, needs, and memories in order to meet our parents’ expectations and win their “love” – fucks us up (I’m paraphrasing), leading to problems such as depression or grandiosity later on in life. She goes onto explain how left unresolved, our neuroses get passed onto our own children unconsciously.
She believes it’s possible that the trauma many of us have experienced may well have been passed down over generations. As in it’s not your parents’ fault you’re fucked up, but your great-great-great-grandad’s (that bastard!).
Anyway, without getting sidetracked into the nuts and bolts of the book, the other unforeseen consequence of not properly respecting our children’s feelings, she argues, is that they will seek refuge from their painful past in ideologies such as Nationalism, Racism and Facism.
She notes, “The basic similarity of the various nationalistic movements flourishing today reveals that their motives have nothing to do with the real interests of the people who are fighting and hating, but instead have very much to do with those people’s childhood histories… Individuals who do not want to know their own truth collude in denial with society as a whole, looking for a common “enemy” on whom to act out their repressed rage.”
Now bearing in mind she wrote this book over 40 years ago she also said this, “The future of democracy and democratic freedom depends on our capacity to take this very step and to recognize that it is simply impossible to struggle successfully against hatred outside ourselves, while ignoring its messages within. We must know and use the tools that are necessary to resolve it: We must feel and understand its source and its legitimacy. There is no point in appealing to our goodwill, our kindness, and a common spirit of love, as long as the path to clarifying our feelings is blocked by the unconscious fear of our parents.”
So what can we take from all of this?
Well my thinking is that first, we should respect our children like adults, stop trivialising their emotions and show them the unconditional love that they need. And second, in order to break the chain of neuroses that our great-great-great-grandparents passed down to us, maybe we should take ourselves to therapy and process our own unresolved childhood issues.
Anyway I’m curious to know what you think. Is the only thing we need to do to secure the future of our democracy resolve our daddy issues?
Hello lovely readers and welcome back to Mindset Mondays! The only weekly post that minces its words while eating…
Following a 3-2-1 approach (this week), it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 things I’ve been reading, watching or listening to this week that has helped me grow.
As a bonus I’ve finished with 1 joke that’s so bad, it’s good.
(As a way to give credit and to say thank you, I’ve linked back to any posts that have inspired my thoughts. I’ve linked back to any quotes I’ve found as well.)
2) Kindness is not avoiding conflict at all costs. Kindness is not telling white lies so you that never have to hurt someone else’s feeling. That’s not kindness, that’s cowardice.
3) When you hold the door open for someone you shouldn’t do it expecting a thank you in return. Holding the door for someone so that you receive thanks is not a selfless act. It’s selfish. You’ve just made it about validation. So you can feel like a good person. That’s the wrong reason to the hold the door open for someone. You should hold the door for someone because you believe in kindness. Because you believe in upholding those standards for no other reason than you believe it’s right thing to do. When you expect thanks in return – when you place expectations on other people (strangers in particular) – you set yourself up to feel resentful if they don’t. Worse, you end up believing you’re better than they are. This is dangerous. True acts of kindness don’t come with expectations for something in return.
“The three most difficult things for a human being are not physical feats or intellectual achievements. They are, first, returning love for hate; second, including the excluded; third, admitting that you are wrong.” But these are the easiest things in the world if you haven’t identified with the “me.”
– SJ ANTHONY DE MELLO
1 x Thing:
1) This Freakonomics Radio podcast episode:The Downside of Disgustwith Stephen Dubner. “It’s a powerful biological response that has preserved our species for millennia. But now it may be keeping us from pursuing strategies that would improve the environment, the economy, even our own health. So is it time to dial down our disgust reflex? You can help fix things — as Stephen Dubner does in this episode — by chowing down on some delicious insects.” Personal notes below.
The core of disgust evolved from a system to avoid pathogens. Something in our brains already knows not to eat poop or vomit (not the case for dogs).
The word yuck is derived from the sound of vomiting. Like a pre vomit sound (retching)
Moral and social disgust has evolved from food disgust.
Should we dial down or up our disgust (since it’s part of an ancient response system)?
One of the most effective hand washing campaigns ever used to teach people in Ghana – shows a women coming out of the toilet not washing her hands and then preparing and feeding her children food she had contaminated with her own faeces. It’s believed that eliciting disgust from viewers is a much more effective way to teach people about hand hygiene as opposed to simply relaying the science as to why it’s important.
Example of where it would be useful to dial down our disgust response for various environmental/economics political reasons? Getting people to eat more insects. There are millions who could benefit from the protein that insects provide but are nonetheless disgusted by them. This would be useful because meat is much more resource intensive.
You don’t eat insects? There are an average of eight insect fragments in a chocolate bar (this is acceptable as is a small amount) salads, tin tomatoes, peanut butter, beer, wine – yes all contain their fair share of insect fragments
Of course not many people knowingly eat insects or are willing to eat them in toto
How to get people to do so? With incentives to begin with? Then using Mirror exposure effect: the more exposure you have to something the more you like it (acquired taste). It’s proven to work.
The problem is getting over the “disgust hump” People don’t realise they will cease to be disgusted once they get used to something. It’s worth remembering that Sushi was once held with a similar position in Western society a few short decades ago. Now it’s loved by the western masses. Insects could end doing the same.
We have made big changes in what we find disgusting regarding our beliefs – eg. slavery. Could it really be so hard to make insects appealing?
1 x Joke:
So my son was running around without a nappy on the other day when he came charging toward me.
He shouted, “Daddy! Daddy! Look at my balls!”
Sure enough, when I looked down, there they were.
Hanging out for all the world to see.
Them, along with a pair of massage balls he was holding in his hands…
(You really can’t make this stuff up).
Thanks ladies and gentlemen. I’m here all week! I sincerely hope you all have a great week ahead. As always I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions on this blog. Please let us know below.
One bonus question to finish:
What boundaries can you set with your Smartphone in order to live more mindfully?
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…
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 🙏
A life is infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things. When you zoom the lens out, when you consider the enormity of existence. A life is but a speck in the vastness of time and space. A life is nothing. It matters not a jot.
But when you zoom the lens in, past all of the galaxies and all of the solar systems, past all of the stars and the planets and the moons, and circle in on a single point in time and space. To the moment shortly after you were born, when I had you to myself. When the rest of universe melted away. When, for a moment, nothing else mattered.
Honestly if you could take everything else away. Every other moment in existence. Everything that has ever been. All the riches. All the mountains and all the oceans. All of nature. All of the stars and all of the planets in the unknowable universe. If you could take it all and give me just that moment, I would live in it for eternity.
Of course I will never be able to adequately convey what that moment felt like, as hard as your father might try. All I can say is that those few minutes when I first held you were among the most precious of my small and insignificant existence. What you managed to do was fill them with more love, more meaning, and more joy than I could ever reasonably express with words. It moved me immeasurably – permanently towards something more. Something greater. For that, to you, I will be eternally grateful.
You will, I hope, experience many such moments during your lifetime. Moments that move you beyond words. Beyond rhyme or reason. I pray your life will be filled with them. I believe it’s these moments that bring you alive in a way few others can. It’s these moments that remind you why, despite all the suffering life entails, it’s still worth it.
A problem that many of us experience is we forget. We forget, not the moments themselves, but the feeling. We forget what that true sense of aliveness really feels like. I believe this is partly because such moments are painfully rare during a life that’s painfully short. But mainly I believe it’s because people stop looking for them. They stop believing that there is any point to life. They start believing that their suffering is in vain. So they choose to live their lives in pursuit of immediate gratification. Nihilism consumes and they choose pleasure over purpose.
Here’s something I desperately want you to understand as you grow up. Something that took your old man a while to figure out.
Life is meaningless because meaning implies understanding. Whatever life means. Whatever the why may or may not be. What it is… is beyond our comprehension and always will be. It is therefore beyond meaning. Ergo, it is meaningless.
It’s preciously because life is meaningless that we must give it meaning. That’s how you guard against nihilism. That’s how you stop from falling down the rabbit hole. Life is chaotic which is why we must strive to give it order, no matter how trying the circumstances. To live is to suffer, it’s an unavoidable aspect of Being. Which is why we must suffer with purpose. It’s why we must seek to alleviate the suffering in others, however small, it whatever way we can. That’s how we find balance.
The truth is our lives hold as much meaning as we give them. Which is why you must give yours as much meaning as you possibly can. In your relationships. Your work. Your family. You must fill every corner of your precious existence with it.
If you do, you won’t be concerned with what the meaning of life is. You will understand that the question doesn’t matter. You will understand that your life does and that this is enough.
If you ask me the question of what it all means misses the point. The point is life itself. Why look beyond it? When you consider the extraordinary odds against which you found yourself here. It’s the equivalent of winning the lottery many billions of times over. A life, your life is invaluable son. You cannot put a price it.
Life may ultimately be meaningless but that doesn’t mean your life has to be. It doesn’t mean your life doesn’t matter. Because right now, today – so long as you’re alive – it matters immensely. Don’t let other people tell you otherwise. Don’t let them tell you that this life isn’t enough. That it’s not worth getting up for. Fighting for. Striving for. It’s your one and only life. It is nothing but everything to you. Everything.
I realise that your life, it’s everything to me too.
Happy Birthday Son
With love, for ever and always, from your Dad.
(Written on your actual birthday – January 6th 2021)
(Thanks for reading everyone. I started writing this in a highly emotional state after I left the hospital on the day that my son was born. I’m curious what your thoughts are on the meaning of life? Is it a futile existence? What’s the point? Do you agree that it’s us who give it meaning? As always I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions. I sincerely hope the rest of you have felt as much love as I have in the past few weeks or so. Wishing you well, AP2 🙏)
As the dust settles on the US election my feeling is not jubilation. I’m not happy that 70 million people still find Trump an acceptable leader. I’m not happy that a man whose flagrant disregard for the safety of his fellow Americans has cost hundreds of thousands their lives. I’m not happy that in death, the Trump campaign still has the audacity to attack the freedoms that millions have died for. I knew it was coming, but it still hurts. It hurts enormously.
I broke down and cried when Biden won. A cocktail of difficult emotions coming to a head following weeks of anxiety, depression, anger, shame, hatred… I’ve felt them all this year but not as acutely as I had in the 2 weeks preceding. In the end it was too much.
The question I have is where do we go from here? Biden is a gift during a year that’s been desperately short of them, but it doesn’t detract from my feeling that we are nowhere near where we need to be. We cannot continue on our path of wilful ignorance. We cannot continue to turn our attention away from one another or from the marginalised of society. We cannot continue to let our fear get in the way of doing what is right. We must bring greater integrity back into our lives. We must live for our values, not our pride.
We must also start finding common ground and working together. For me that common ground has to be the freedoms for which democracy stands. However we have a massive problem if we can’t agree on what reality is anymore. Perhaps this is the larger consequence of our vote 4 years ago? Where we have become so desensitised to lying that we are willing to accept it as fact. Where we are willing to believe whatever we want because it’s easier or because it’s more interesting – because the “facts” exist to support any cockamamy conspiracy theory out there.
We’re clearly addicted to the drama. It feels like we want life to one big conspiracy. In the process we have isolated ourselves from our own reality. In much the same way we refuse to accept the parts of ourselves we dislike, we have pushed the other side away. But in doing so we have only given them strength. We have only deepened the divide. Eventually we will reach a breaking point where we can no longer avoid the other side – those parts of ourselves. In that moment we have choice. We can let pride seal our hearts or let shame break down our egos.
As I write this tears are rolling down my face. I look at my 2-year-old boy and my wife who is pregnant with our second. I think about what I want my children to understand as they grow up. I desperately want them to understand that decency and character matter. That the truth and honesty matter. That morals and integrity matter. That responsibility matters. But I also want them to understand just how much forgiveness matters. This is where I have been failing.
The truth is I find it difficult to forgive those who still support Trump. And I get it. I understand why it’s the right thing to do. However it’s far easier to say the right thing than to do it. And let’s be honest, would you be able to forgive those who voted for Trump had he actually won? If you’re a Trump supporter do you forgive me? It’s much easier to forgive someone when you don’t have to sacrifice your pride. I recall that I wasn’t in a very forgiving mood four years ago. Maybe this is why so many of us refuse to accept the outcome? Not because we can’t accept reality but because we can’t forgive? It occurs to me that pride holds way more value in our society than honesty. It also occurs to me that I must swallow mine if I’m to forgive those I disagree. So let me do it. Let me say how truly sorry I am. Let me admit my shame publicly.
4 years ago I didn’t vote. I’m not talking about the US election. I’m not American FYI. I’m talking about the Brexit referendum in the UK. I didn’t pay attention living here in Hong Kong. I naively assumed we would never leave the EU. I assumed I didn’t need to go through the trouble of voting. Then I watched in disbelief as we voted to leave. And then, as if to teach me the cruelest kind of lesson, I watched on as the rest of the world seemed to follow. A series of backwards political movements that followed me home, culminating in the loss of autonomy here in Hong Kong. A loss that has meant a genuine fear of what I can say publicly. A fear that now has me writing under a pseudonym. And now I watch on in horror as the very legitimacy of voting comes under attack in what might be one of most treacherous acts from a sitting president in the history of American democracy. All for the sake of fucking pride.
And it is pride that Trump has successfully used against me. He understood that pride can be used to stoke the fires of rage and hatred in my heart. In all our hearts. And he has. He’s made me angrier than any other politician, or indeed few other people, ever have. I believe this is the main reason I cried when I found out Biden won. There was a part of me that needed to be broken down. There still is. That needs to mourn the passing of a previous self. The part that thinks it’s somehow better than others. The part of me who is unwilling to forgive those for the same mistakes I’ve made in my own past. For being human. So for my arrogance, for my wilful ignorance, for ignoring the other side, for avoiding the difficult conversations and for my pride, I am deeply sorry. I will do better.
Let me finish by telling you about the shame I’ve felt since that period in my life 4 years ago. What I’ve learnt from it and why I’m owning it now. Shame is demonised in our society yet pride is glorified. I call bullshit. Pride is a means of avoiding shame. Often the very shame we need to feel in order to change – to become a better person. Shame isn’t the bugbear that everyone makes out. Of course you shouldn’t cling to it. You need to forgive yourself, but I believe you do need to feel it. You need to process it. Shame allowed me to really see the error of my ways. It allowed me to see why I must never take my freedom for granted ever again. Why I must protect it for my children. Shame has undeniably made me a better person.
Of course I understand that pride has its place and that shame for the wrong reasons is very damaging, but if you asked me to swallow one and accept the other – if pride came in form of a red pill and shame in the form of a blue one (you’ll have to excuse my choice of colours) – I would swallow my pride. I would choose to feel shame. It’s by far the harder choice. It’s not hopeful or inspiring like pride is. It’s difficult. It’s brutal in fact, but it hurts because it’s meant to. That’s what makes you change. That’s what makes you a better person. Right now, if you care about freedom and democracy, at the very least, I believe you need to swallow the red pill as well.
Thanks for reading everyone. I might have given you a bit too much to chew on there! I also appreciate many of you might have had your fill of politics recently… Still I’m curious to get your thoughts on the relationship between pride and shame. Do we use pride as a shield – as a way of avoiding shame? As a means to avoid reality even? What do you think? As always I welcome ALL opinions and thoughts.And please don’t worry – all is forgiven.
Before I get started there are a couple of things you should know.
The first is I’m a pilot. (What? Didn’t you know!?)
My choice of profession means I’m responsible for pumping copious amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Seriously a fucking lot!) It should also be said I love to do this in my spare time. Travelling is a passion and if it weren’t for COVID that’s exactly what I’d be doing right now.
The second is that I eat meat, drink my tea with cows milk (because anything else ruins it) and fucking love cheese. Seriously, put some of that shit on a giant man-sized mouse trap and my last words would be, “this… mature cheddar… is… to die for… aaaaahhhhhhhh…”
This all begs the following question,
Why Should You Listen To Me Regarding The Environment?
Well, I’m not entirely sure you should, but I can, at least, think of a couple reasons why you might consider hearing me out.
For one, I’m not here to give some fluffy account about how great I am or all the incredible things I’ve done/are doing to save this planet.
“Hey everybody, look at me – I’ll show you exactly how you should live your life! All you have to do is be tee-totalling vegan buddhist monk just like me, yaaaay! 🤗”
No. That would be too easy.
I want to inspire change but you can’t do that without being honest. Without being clear where it is you are. For me that means admitting I still have an almighty mountain to climb if I am to become the change in this world that I wish to see. After all it’s not just changes in others I wish to inspire, but myself.
However I will admit my selfish intentions here – I want all of us to change for my children’s sake.
With that said, I don’t subscribe to the belief that you need to be a vegan or some kind of die-hard environmentalist to save the planet either. At least not yet. At any rate, I believe telling others that they must does more harm than good.
By the by, I don’t believe people are saying no to wearing masks per say – I don’t believe they are necessarily denying the science either – I believe they’re simply saying fuck you for demanding it of them.
Our children are already striking – many becoming full-time climate activists – understanding that if things don’t change, and quickly, then becoming a doctor or a pilot (god forbid) will be luxuries they simply can’t afford to pursue. Instead we will have a generation of full-time environmentalists because we’ve left them little other choice.
This is precisely why we must ensure our choices are based on fact and not our feelings or fucked up entitled beliefs.If you didn’t know already, science gives zero fucks about what you feel you’re entitled to believe.
With all that said I won’t demanding you change your ways but instead ask compassionately that you please grow the fuck up and wear a mask (and make it a reusable one too). You do that and maybe, just maybe, I’ll consider putting oat milk in my cup of English breakfast tea (In other news the Queen just revoked my British passport).
I joke, of course.
Seriously though let me come back to the title of this post. The one you clicked on with a huge amount of scepticism.
Allow me to reframe it slightly and ask you this:
What’s One Thing You Can Do Today That Will Help Save The Planet?
And what if… (I’m dreaming big here.) What if all we had to do was ask and act on that one simple question?
What if we simply made the decision to be ever so slightly kinder to the environment today than they were yesterday?
And If we all did this, could it work? Could this be all that it takes?
Or am I away in the clouds again?
What do you think?
(Thanks for reading everyone. I appreciate the above might feel rich coming from a pilot but I genuinely believe in broader movements over absolute ideas of living in the woods with Bambi as my playmate. I also appreciate that the single biggest thing I could do to help the environment as a pilot is quit my job. Truthfully this is something I’m working on but now is not the right time (although it might well be out of my control soon enough).
Honestly the idea of making very small changes everyday has worked well for me – which is why I brought up this topic. For example I’m entirely plant based at home. This is a balance that works for me. It’s important to stress this didn’t happen overnight. This has been years in the making. It’s been a process. Of course I wouldn’t advocate you do the same, I’m merely pointing out a balance I’ve found in my life that works for me. It has been a long process of course, and I still have a long way to go but there is no question I’m moving in the right direction. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be a tee-totalling vegan Buddhist monk but that definitely isn’t the goal! Anyway it’s getting late so I’ll stop here.
As always I’m keen to get your thoughts and opinions on the matter. I welcome ALL of them. Also if you know of any easy to implement changes at home that one could incorporate to help the environment, I’m all ears?! I’ve also left a few articles for any interested parties! Thanks again and love to all, AP2 X)
Hello lovely readers and welcome back to my new and improved Mental Mondays newsletter – the only weekly newsletter to make a pass at your spouse before apologising profusely.
For those who don’t know, each week I try my best to give your Mondays a much needed kick up the proverbial by sharing 3 x thoughts from me (that you should probably ignore), 2 x quotes from others (that you probably shouldn’t), and 1 x thing I’ve been reading or listening to that has helped me grow (in a non-sexual manner).
As always I finish with a joke that’s either so good or so bad, you won’t be able to help it but laugh.
3 x Thoughts From Me:
Success is what we alone define– it’s extremely personal and completely different to what society tells us. Which is why you must take the time to define it for yourself – otherwise you’ll end up chasing someone else’s version of it.
The mind is hardwired to keep you alive. It’s far more interested in your survival than achieving any sort of lasting happiness. That’s why it keeps tricking you into thinking that more money, a better job, or a bigger house is what you need. It’s trying to safeguard your future self – to give you the best possible chance. If you found lasting happiness once you attained everything you actually needed then you would have stopped striving a long time ago. It’s so important to understand this. To understand why – after having great sex, getting a big promotion or buying a fancy new car – your happiness is so short lived. This is by design. You need to stop looking to your mind for lasting happiness because you won’t find it there. You need to let it go. You need to look beyond it and see what is right in front of you.
One reason you shouldn’t have children: that moment when you realise that one day you will have you let them go. One reason you should have children: that moment when you realise that one day you will have you let them go. (Let that sink in for a second)
2 x Quotes From Others:
“Lack of confidence kills more dreams than lack of ability. Talent matters—especially at elite levels—but people talk themselves out of giving their best effort long before talent becomes the limiting factor. You’re capable of more than you know. Don’t be your own bottleneck.” – James Clear (Source: James Clear Newsletter)
“You don’t build self esteem by patting people on the back and telling them they’re wonderful. Confidence is a much more complex phenomenon that comes from experiencing one’s strengths in action.” – Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Source: vrundachauk.wordpress.com/oh-i-didnt-knew-this-quotes)
1 x Thing That Has Helped Me Grow
This brilliant Intelligence Squared podcast episode with Thomas Friedman and Robert Peston on the Final Days of the Presidential Race. For those who don’t know the name, Thomas Friedman has won the Pulitzer Prize three times and has been called ‘the most influential columnist in America.’ In this conversation with ITV’s political editor Robert Peston, one of Britain’s leading journalists, Friedman talks about what is possibly the most consequential Presidential elections of our times. Honestly, if this doesn’t persuade you to vote for Biden then nothing will. It’s well worth a listen. I’ll leave you with this quote:
“What we have now is a president without shame, backed by a party without spine, supported by a network without integrity – and that trifecta is extremely dangerous.”
1 x Silly Thing To Make You Smile:
Sorry to bother you with another moon joke for the third week running but I felt I had to share this one.
As we were relaying the story to my parents about our son’s strange phobia of the moon my father paused before commenting,
“Maybe he’s a Luna-tic!?”
My dad is here all week ladies and gentlemen.!
Till next time…
Have a very happy Monday!
One bonus question for you all:
What does success mean to you?
(As my regular readers might have noticed I’ve changed the title this week. I’ve don’t this for a couple of reasons. The first is because I never really liked the trite title Motivational Mondays. The second is part of an effort to give my blog a little more direction with a particular focus on building emotional resilience. Mental being short for mental health. Of course mental on its own sounds better – plus I’m a little bit f***ed up so that fits too… In an effort to streamline this post and to give you more bang for you buck (and to save me some time), I’ve moved it to 3:2:1 format. Please let me know what you think of these radical changes in comments section below. Love to all, AP2 x)
Hello fine readers and welcome back to my Motivational Mondays Post! The only newsletter to give you a nice warm hug and a much needed kick up the backside at the same time.
Following a 4:3:2:1 approach, it contains 4 exceptional thoughts from me (ha), 3 admittedly better quotes from others, and 2 things I’ve been reading and/or listening to this week that have helped me grow.
As always I’ve finished with 1 something silly to lighten your Monday blues…
Love to all X
4 x Thoughts From Me:
There isn’t an inverse correlation between success and failure. The more you fail in life, the more you succeed. If you’re not failing it simply means you’re not trying as hard as you should be. If you ask me, the only real failure in life is not trying. You need to put yourself in positions where you have to fail in order to succeed.
Creativity has nothing to do with being the best but everything to do with expressing your individuality. It’s about doing something in a way that only you can. This is what makes the creative process so beautiful. It’s also what makes imitation such a terrible waste of your talents. There will always be someone who can do it better than you but no-one, who can do it the same.
Why we feel the need to map out our entire lives from the age of thirteen is beyond me. Life is meant to be a melody. Yet so many of us get stuck on one note. That’s not a beautiful song. That’s just noise. Or put another way, a really shitty way to live. You have to allow the melody to play out through both the high notes and the low. That’s what creates a beautiful life.
3 x Quotes From Others:
“Your passion is for you. Your purpose is for others. Your passion makes you happy. But when you use your passion to make a difference in someone else’s life, that’s a purpose.” – Jay Shetty
“Brad, they can’t kill you and they can’t eat you. Suit up.” — Len Fassler
“The first day of therapy with a new therapist is worse than the first day of school.”
I was able to break down my shame around depression gradually by talking about it. The more I did the more comfortable I became with having had it.
Having honest conversations with other people who told me that this was the first real conversation they’d ever been able to have about their struggles with depression made me feel like what I had to say had value. This created a positive feedback loop that obliterated my shame. Not lessen it, obliterate it completely! My narrative shifted. I just started to think ok it’s depression – not gonna hide from it. We’re human. We can either deal with it or not.
To be willing to go deep on yourself. To keep recognising we are all flawed. The more we can do this without shame the better. Ask yourself, How are you complicit in creating the conditions you say you don’t want? What it is not being said? What is being said that you’re not listening to?
It’s true for most people. We are in complete denial about the ways in which we create our own unhappiness.
HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT THERAPIST – GET A REFERRAL FOR A REFERRAL. I recommend finding someone – a friend or colleague who has done therapy and get their recommendation (or if you have a GP you’re comfortable with – most of them will have a network of therapists for referral). Go to their therapist for a referral. Get them to spend an hour with you so they can refer to someone that in their professional opinion believe is appropriate for you.
“The construct – called the “strategic mindset” – describes the tendency to question and refine your current approach in the face of setbacks and challenges. While others diligently follow the same convoluted path, people with the strategic mindset are constantly looking for a more efficient route forwards. “It helps them figure out how to direct their efforts more effectively,” says Patricia Chen at the National University of Singapore. And Chen’s new research shows that it may just spell the difference between success or failure.”
1 x Silly Thing To Make You Smile:
This week I get to spend it enjoying the confines of a hotel room in San Francisco! Such are the joys of layover travel during the COVID era.
Anyway, to make me feel slightly less homesick I thought I’d share this short story of when I was learning the ropes as a brand new father nearly two years now. May it serve as a waring for all new parents everywhere…
So I was happily going about the task of wiping my son’s bottom by gently lifting his legs up by his ankles and pushing them into his body (so his knees were pressed into his chest), before he happily let rip!
It seems the pressure applied plus the liquid consistency of his stool created the perfect conditions for something called projectile shitting.
Shit flew all across our windowsill – upon which we had positioned him and his changing table – travelling at least 4 feet from his anus before completely covering our favourite framed wedding picture.
I’m guessing there’s a cruel metaphor somewhere about what his plans were for our marriage. Best to ignore that.
Till next week…
Have a Happy F***ing Monday Everybody!
P.S. Don’t forget to exercise your silly muscle this week!
One bonus question for you all:
What’s your best (or worst) projectile story?
(Thank you all so much for reading.If you have any suggestions, thoughts or ideas about today’s weekly post I’d love to hear from you in the comments at the bottom.)
Hello fine readers and welcome to my Motivational Mondays Post – a weekly newsletter that attempts to rewrite the narrative Mondays are the most depressing day of the week. (Or at least start it off in a slightly better fashion.)
Following a 4:3:2:1 approach, it contains 4 exceptional thoughts from me, 3 admittedly better quotes from others, and 2 things I’ve been reading and/or listening to this week that have helped me grow.
As always I’ve finished with 1 something silly to hopefully make you all smile.
Love to all X
(To my 2 regular readers: you’ll notice I’ve been playing around with the title. Do you like Motivational Mondays? If not, do you have any other ideas about a good title for this weekly post? If so please do leave them in the comments at the bottom. I’d be grateful for your suggestions.)
4 x Thoughts From Me:
One question to check if you have grown as a person: “Do I still believe the same things I did a year ago?” If the answer is yes then you haven’t grown. Growth comes from challenging your own beliefs so you may come to a greater understanding. You can always come to a greater understanding.
We would all do well to think of seeing a therapist in the same way we do a doctor. We rarely think twice about visiting the doctor when we have physical pain we don’t understand. Why do we hesitate asking for professional help when we can’t understand the reasons behind our emotional pain?
The beauty of a moment comes from its impermanence. The moment you cling to it, it’s destroyed.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King
“It’s time to stop denying the dark side of our nature. We’re all sick twisted fucks to some extent. The denial of that fact only encourages more destruction. It’s only by accepting it that we can bring it into the light.” – Mark Manson
“Whatever you’re doing, a sense of superiority will make you worse at it. Humility, on the other hand, will make you better. The moment you think you’ve got it all figured out, your progress stops. Instead, continue to advance and improve by reminding yourself how much more there will always be to discover. Confidence is positive and empowering, but arrogance is deadly. Be confident, but not at the expense of your respect for others. Don’t burn up all your energy proving how great you are. Invest your time and energy being thoughtful and helpful. See the victories not as proof of your supremacy, but as opportunities to offer more value to life. See the defeats not as personal affronts, but as chances to learn and grow stronger. Take care not to waste your time in delusions of grandeur. Embrace the power of confident humility, and live well.” – Writer Ralph Marston on Confident Humility
The number of pedestrians killed on US roads has risen by a staggering 51% since 2009. In 2017, pedestrian fatalities in Australia jumped by 20% in a year, with police blaming the stupidity of smartphones.
The fact is, we are, as a species, becoming addicted to both the dopamine hits of satisfaction that our smartphones give us hundreds of times a day, while being simultaneously assaulted by the dangerous levels of cortisol they send coursing through our bodies.
Anyone over the age of 10 is already unable to imagine a world without smartphones, and as they grow into adolescence, they are likely to be gifted one of these dangerous yet vital devices by their own parents… This is “like giving them cocaine or heroin”, according to David Gillespie, the author of Teen Brain – Why Screens Are Making Your Teenager Depressed, Anxious And Prone to Lifelong Addictive Illnesses – And How to Stop it Now.
“Between 2007 and now, the rates of teenage pregnancy, and alcohol and cigarette use by teens all dropped – they’re all about half of what they were, it’s a huge achievement and I don’t know why we’re not talking more about it,” he says. “The rates of anxiety and depression for teenagers should also be halving but, instead, the rates of those things in teens have actually doubled over the same period.
These devices were designed from day one, by Steve Jobs and company, to be “beautiful, easy to use and hard to give up”. And, knowing how addictive they would become, Jobs famously declared that he wouldn’t let his own children near them...
1 x Silly Thing To Make You Smile:
My son has been a little confused about the difference between pooing and farting recently.
So much so that every time he farts, he looks at us and says, “poo poo.”
The first time he did this, we got everything ready and changed his perfectly clean nappy.
The second time we were fooled again so tried explaining to him what the difference between a fart and poo is.
He thought this was hilarious.
The third time he said, “poo poo,” we had the foresight to check his nappy first.
My wife looked at me and said, “He’s the boy who cried poo.”
Till next week…
Have a Happy Fucking Monday Everybody!
P.S. Don’t forget to exercise your silly muscle this week!
I feel we need to be very careful about what we tell ALL children, including our young girls. To make sure the false narratives that have so visibly divided the sexes throughout history, doesn’t continue to be the narrative that writes our children’s future.
It’s a well worn discussion that bears repeating, and for that reason I’ll keep my thoughts and this post short. That said I do want to raise a point that’s maybe been missed in our attempts to rewrite the story for our future girls.
With regards to the feminist movement in particular, we need to be especially careful about how we manage its evolution.
When I think about the way in which mainstream media has started to reflect this changing narrative, I wonder if we are unwittingly going down a dangerous path.
Not because we are telling young girls to stand up for themselves more.
Not because we are telling women they’re every bit as capable as men.
Not because we are telling them to be their own heroines – not to expect that they will be saved by some bullshit knight in shining armour.
These are undeniably good things to teach our young girls in order to find greater equality going forward.
What I’m taking about is something more subtle.
The well worn narrative of what it means to be a man – macho and independent – to not need anybody’s help. Specifically that asking for help is a sign of weakness (Something I talked about at length in my previous post).
I think it’s this narrative that has put distance between many of today’s male leaders and their own hearts. It’s acting in the pretence of what society believes to be strong that is, in no small way, dividing nations and destroying our earth.
There’s nothing wrong with challenging the narrative women are less capable than men which, of course, is complete BS, but to teach our girls the same things we’ve been teaching our boys is not a smart move.
The way we teach girls to have greater emotional intelligence. To pick them up and hold them when they cry. To let them understand the importance of knowing their emotions intimately.
This is a great thing.
We need to teach and show our boys more of this. Not women less.
To teach them not to cry and be like a man, or grow a pair, so to speak, would be a disaster.
A world in which neither sex is able to properly process or access their own emotions – where girls are told ‘not to cry’ – is a world we cannot allow.
“A few modern philosophers assert that individual intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protect & react against this brutal pessimism… With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.” – ALFRED BINET (early 1900s)
I’d lived with a fixed mindset for years.
It was a mindset driven by a deep seated belief of not being good enough. Not being smart enough.
Simply not being enough.
I told myself all sorts of lies based off this. Lies that sounded so strongly I became crippled with depression and anxiety.
My mind tortured my heart until it shut off completely.
I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place now.
I’m more productive than I’ve ever been. I’m calmer, more confident. My thinking is clearer. I trust in my heart again.
I’m beginning to wake up to who I truly am.
One of the reasons, I believe, is an understanding that nothing is fixed. Nothing is permanent.
Through true insight gained from asking for help, I’ve been able to gradually change the harmful narrative I’d spent over a decade strengthening.
I didn’t realise it then, not in these terms at least, but one of the major reasons I managed to overcome depression was because I started to cultivate a growth mindset.
A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.
A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behaviour, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.
Through her research Dweck demonstrates just how limiting a fixed mindset can be in stalling motivation and progress, especially following failure or when facing challenges. Conversely she demonstrates that those with a growth mindset see failure not as a confirmation of being unable or unintelligent, but as something from which they can learn and improve.
At the crux of her argument is the idea that those with a growth mindset understand just how valuable effort is over any sort of innate talent.
They understand effort = intelligence, and so fall in love with the process of improvement. On the other hand those with a fixed mindset are so worried about what failure might say about them, they come to dread doing what they have to in order to succeed. In extreme cases they avoid doing all together so as to avoid the pain of failure.
“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
When I began to think back over my own life in these terms, I began to see how damaging a fixed mindset had been throughout my life.
Failure to me was confirmation I was one.
I hated doing certain work from a young age. Languages, in particular, were difficult for me. I was led to believe, by many teachers nonetheless, I wasn’t good at English and/or Languages.
I didn’t bother putting any effort into those subjects. I remember thinking what’s the point. I’m not any good so might as well concentrate on what I am.
The trouble is it worked in reversed too!
I was regularly told how good I was at math – that it was something I should pursue because it will open many doors. This was drilled home to me.
I completely lost interest in a subject I once loved. I still managed to scrape an A during my GCSE’s, but much to my father’s disappointment, I decided not to pursue it as an A level. I didn’t want people to find out, that if I put in the effort and failed, I might not be that good after all.
My parents, who I know believed were doing the right thing, didn’t realise how harmful praising my natural abilities were. It turns out that praising a child’s natural ability, or telling them how clever they are, is extremely damaging because it fixes a child’s mindset.
As Dweck notes,
“The ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent… In contrast, when students were praised for effort, 90 percent of them wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from.”
I’ll tell you a story of another teacher who never made mention of my abilities in English. She had me moved into her English class for the top peers in our age group (even though I belonged in the bottom). She made sure I sat at the front and paid keen attention (she was somewhat terrifying which helped). Despite not putting much effort into my coursework during those years, because of her, because of what I learnt through the effort I was forced to put in, I achieved B’s in both English Language and Literature.
You might think so what?
Well given my coursework material, which counted for a large percentage of the final grade, averaged between a C and a D, I must have aced the final examinations. I would also point out, before I joined her class, I was far, far behind the rest of the pack. On top of which I was going through some very difficult times in my life (I’ll get to that shortly). To this day they’re my proudest grades from secondary school.
Forgetting the grade, however, what she proved was far more important, even if it didn’t fully register till years later. She proved that if I chose to apply myself I was more than capable. She helped plant the seed for developing a growth mindset that would bear fruit many years later.
‘Prolonged bullying can instil a fixed mindset. Especially if others stand by and do nothing… Victims say that when they’re tortured and demeaned and none comes to their defence, they start to believe they deserve it. They start to judge themselves and to think they’re inferior.‘
I would love to say from this point everything got better. That I understood and moved forward with a newfound belief and started to grow.
But it didn’t.
It got worse. Much worse.
My problems stemmed from many variables, but bullying played the biggest role. Those years of secondary school were brutal for me. I was bullied every day at school for years.
This was compounded by the fact my parents couldn’t see what was happening. I was at boarding school halfway across the world. They didn’t know.
The trauma of being bullied repeatedly hardwired my response to withdraw from everyone and everything. I shut down as a way to repress the overwhelming emotions I didn’t know how to process. It was depression in the making.
Ultimately this was a major problem because it prevented me for doing what I needed the most.
Ask for help.
What followed makes perfect sense to me now.
When my first love of two years broke up with me during University, I fell apart. I had no confidence I was capable of being on my own. No belief I was lovable, or that I’d be capable of finding it again.
Similarly, when I messed up a landing so badly during my early Junior First Officer training as a pilot (that the Captain had to take over and go around), it felt like my whole world had fallen apart. I put on a brave face but when I got home I broke down. The feelings of inadequacy came flooding up. It was too much for me.
(For those who don’t know in aviation, a go-around is an aborted landing of an aircraft that is on final approach.)
Carrying on afterwards, whenever I faced failure of some kind, was extremely, extremely difficult. Difficulties would often trigger a bout of depression that could last for weeks if not months at a time.
What my fixed mindset always wanted was to give up. To retreat into my shell. To shut down rather than fail and confirm what years of bullying had led me to believe.
It took everything I had to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To understand these were just lessons on the road of life which all of us go through.
Still, something in my heart kept my head above water.
The small voices of a growth mindset, planted there by various people including my parents, my high-school English teacher and my wife, to name a few, who all understood I really was capable, were enough in the end to pull me through. To all of them I am, and always will be, extremely grateful.
Yet it was all much harder than it needed to be. The major problem wasn’t my fixed mindset, but that the depression and paralysing anxiety it caused, prevented me from reaching out for help. I knew I needed it but for years I simply couldn’t find the strength.
It wasn’t until after my son was born, when I came home from work one day consumed by a regular bout of depression. As I sat with him and looked into his eyes, I realised I didn’t want to be around him.
I didn’t want to father him.
The familiar feeling of wanting to runaway and hide, to withdraw into my shell, to shirk all my responsibilities – including that as a father – broke me. The remorse and guilt was too much to bear. I left the room and the tears fell.
I let the sadness consume me.
I cried and cried. I cried until nothing was left but a strange peace. Something inside me changed. Something that said this time I couldn’t let depression win. I won’t. I didn’t think about what to do next. I simply picked up the phone.
I reached out.
I asked for help.
“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives”
I rate it as both the most courageous and important decision I’ve ever made. Since then the changes have far exceeded what I thought possible.
Am I out of the woods yet?
No, not a chance.
But I can honestly say after I sought help, after over a decade of suffering from what was eventually diagnosed as long-term depression, I’ve not had an episode since.
I still struggle with anxiety and other emotions that surface, especially in the face of adversity. However the difference is they don’t consume me like they used to.
I’m acutely aware of where those emotions and the false narrative are coming from. This has helped me to gradually let them go.
I also realised through the flooding of my subconscious with positive thinking and reading (the same way bullying can flood your subconscious with negative thinking), you can change the narrative in your head. You can literally grow out of a fixed mindset. You can literally grow out of depression!
Of course I don’t want to underplay how difficult this all was or, indeed, still is. To this day being bullied remains one of the most difficult topics for me to talk about personally, let alone publicly, but I now understand the need to do so.
In not facing your demons, you only give them strength. You only strengthen your fixed mindset. By not asking for help you only make it harder to do later on.
Ultimately if there was just one message I could convey to those struggling with depression – to those who suffer from an all consuming self-doubt – it would be to ask for help.
To somehow find the courage within you and reach out.
I know how hard it is.
But please remember, asking for help is simply asking someone else to help you grow. We all need help from one another – from the day we’re born till the day we die. The last thing it shows is that you’ve failed or that you’re incapable.
It shows the exact opposite.
It shows that despite everything you’re still willing to show up. It shows you’re not willing to let past demons fix in you any false belief. It shows that you understand that within you is another voice. Another mindset that knows you have so much more to give. A mindset we all have.
Dear readers, thank you so much for listening to what I have to say! In the interest of growth, I’d love to hear any comments, suggestions, questions or criticisms you may have in the comments sections below. Thanks again. Yours, AP2.
“Every child has a god in him. Our attempts to mould the child will turn the god into a devil“ – A. S. Neill
I’ve been thinking today about the nature of my child. What I see is a boundless love and tenderness. Such a pure gentleness.
This is his nature.
I mean to imprint that in my mind.
A gorgeous boy full of smiles and laughter. But also not afraid to cry and express himself. He might not have full control of how he responds to his emotions yet, but there is no doubt about how in touch he is with them. He’s not one bit consumed by them either. He lets them go as soon as they’ve passed.
There is a lot we adults can learn from that.
I think in our efforts to make something of our children, we often do a disservice to that which is already there. I don’t need to make him into anything. I simply need to encourage what already is, for him to flourish and realise his full potential.