Yes it does, but a vital and often overlooked truth about success is that when you’re doing what you should be doing, it won’t feel like hard work.
When I was coming up as a rugby player, I would train 1-3 times a day, and play matches on Wednesday (for college), Saturday (for my men’s team) and Sunday (for my u18s team).
People would say I was dedicated and tell me how amazed they were that I worked so hard.
I felt odd about this.
I kind of knew that what I was doing was hard.
I was obsessed with training to failure at this point and would do so in all my private training sessions.
The thing is, it didn’t feel hard.
I just did what I wanted to do.
I loved rugby, I loved training, and I wanted to get better at both, so I did whatever I needed to make that happen.
It was never a chore to me.
Fast forward half a decade, and the same exact processes had begun to feel like ‘effort’. They were draining me.
Being the stubborn and at times inflexible person that I was/am, I kept pushing at things that were draining me until I got hurt, sick and mentally ill.
If I had my time again, I would have taken a moment, listened, and worked out what I really wanted. I would have questioned why I felt such a strong need to be good at these things. I would have realised that my identity was so dependent on success in these domains that I was willing to do myself great harm.
Don’t be like me. If you want to be brilliant at something, you should pick something that doesn’t feel like work.
NB: yes there will be times when even your truest love becomes testing. Fine. There’s a big difference between the odd boring/crumby session and a daily feud with your desires/ intuition.
Moral of the story:
Energy is not a fixed quantity.
When you’re doing activities that line up with your deepest desire, your stock of energy expands exponentially.
Conversely, when you’re doing stuff you don’t really like, your stock of energy diminishes real fast.
Take the time to work out what you actually care about.
You’ll be happier, healthier, and have a more positive impact on the world.
To do this, as always, the first step is awareness.
There is no single person that exposes the intellectual frailties of popular culture more than Jordan Peterson.
Some of this stems directly from his actions. In his own work, intentionally and directly, Peterson challenges various psychological and cultural weaknesses and encourages us to be better.
That’s very valuable.
Just as important, however, are the actions of others in response to Peterson.
Some take his advice on board and improve their lives. Others engage with him in a mature and reasonable way, like the GQ interviewer Helen Lewis.
The most illuminating responses, however, are those that attack him. They reveal more about the weaknesses of our time than Peterson himself could ever do directly. Both frustrating and fascinating, these individuals respond in precisely the ways Peterson would argue we shouldn’t.
Every time I watch an attack on Peterson, I see irritation. I see anger. I see defence of the ego. I see fear attempting to hide in various ways.
Peterson is very clever.
This is enough to frighten many of us.
Peterson is also strong, reasonable and hard to provoke.
He is also willing to approach difficult (‘taboo’) topics with a nuance and rigour rarely seen in public discourse.
The result? A range of angry, threatened individuals doing their best to slur, insult or mischaracterise.
Off the top of my head, the list of faulty approaches includes:
Judgments clouded by emotion.
Judgements projecting personal biases.
Judgments projecting the views of allegedly similar thinkers onto Peterson – tarring him with a wild and unfair brush.
Arguments made in defence of personal weaknesses, vulnerabilities and insecurities.
Is this some great irony?
These individuals are attacking Peterson in ways he expressly counsels against.
It certainly seems comical at times.
It also fills me with despair and anger.
I do wonder how Peterson himself handles the fact that many people are responding to him with behaviour that his book (rightly) argues against.
The worst offenders
For particularly frustrating examples, see:
The infamous Cathy Newman interview. She said she was proud of this. It was one of the worst attempted hit-pieces I have ever seen. Constant rudeness, misunderstanding, mischaracterisation. Peterson keeps his cool incredibly well.
Peterson on QnA Australia. Terri Butler – clearly out of her depth and responds with insults and condescension.
The infamous “Jordan Peterson: Custodian of the patriarchy” piece by the New York Times. This article is so biased it is laughable at times, though again, very disheartening. His views are either taken out of context or represented inaccurately. The descriptions of Peterson are more year-9 Creative writing than professional journalism. Even the image chosen gives Peterson a demonic look.
Is there a better way?
Yes, and ironically, it’s broadly comparable to the way advocated by JP himself.
Look to your own sins. Put your house in order.
If something angers you, it might very well be because it exposes some vulnerability inside you.
We often resent what we want or admire.
Examine your thoughts closely. Seek counsel. Talk. Pick them apart.
Once you’ve worked on yourself for a while, you’ll have more access to the truth, without all those biases and cloudy thoughts/ feelings getting in the way. You will be more able to see things as they actually are.
You will be a happier, more truthful, more useful person.
To get there, as always, the first step is awareness.
Credit: I got the idea for my title from this title: https://medium.com/rebel-wisdom/jordan-peterson-and-the-new-york-times-a-rorschach-test-for-the-culture-wars-3c172113b3d0
You will learn much more by being open to others and their ideas than by trying to prove yourself right. Does it really matter if you’re right, anyway? Rather than ‘winning’ the argument, wouldn’t it be better for both sides if you learned from each other, ultimately producing a better overall point of view?
This might sound alien to you, especially if you’re a
high-achiever, but being ‘right’ is a mug’s game. It’s pure ego. If you do end
up arguing with someone, try pausing and looking inward. Ask yourself: “What am
I trying to achieve right now? What is the root of my behaviour?” Usually
you’ll find you simply don’t want to be “wrong”, because that makes you feel
inferior to the other person. And that stings. We often disguise this behind a
sense of morality but the truth is the majority of the time we’re simply trying
to avoid feeling lesser in some way. Be mindful of your thoughts. Search your
feelings. You’ll work it out. Maybe proving yourself right is just a phase you
need to go through.
It took me 26.5 years, a handful of damaged friendships,
countless Facebook blockings and a few dozen 100-comment long Facebook debates
to let go of the need to be right. Time is precious. Don’t waste it.
Be open, so far as your thoughts and feelings allow. In his
famous Libertarian essay, On Liberty, JS Mill defended free speech. He argued
that if we were right, a debate with an opposing point of view would ultimately
reinforce our convictions. Or, if we were wrong, we would form a more truthful synthesis
by combining our opponent’s ideas with our own.
I’ve never experienced as much personal growth as in one
month of my lfie where I made it obligatory to talk to every single person who
I found intimidating. It didn’t matter who it was, or why they scared me, if I
found myself naturally shying away from a person I HAD to walk right over to
them and start a conversation. The people tended to be those of whom I’d had
limited or scarring experiences of in the past: goths, extremely glamorous women,
men who were more physically imposing than me. Regardless of who it was, each
conversation broke down some barrier in my mind, and maybe 1 in 50 had an
outcome that wasn’t overwhelmingly positive.
someone has a gun or some other means of putting you in danger DO NOT approach
them as a means to improving yourself. RUN AWAY!
Extreme cases aside, cast your net wide. Do things you
haven’t done before. Explore ideas you’ve never heard of. Challenge yourself to
talk to people you wouldn’t normally associate with. Chances are, you’ve got
more to learn from them than anyone else.
This piece is adapted from one of the bonus chapters in my upcoming book on how to write a brilliant UCAS statement. The advice applies to most people, I think.
Cast your net wide
Especially in your first couple of years, I’d recommend
trying as many different things as you can. With most degrees the importance of
your work increases each year, so take the opportunity to explore early on. This
applies to everything. Activities, people, ideas. Most universities have an
incredible range of clubs and societies who are all hungry for new members.
Head down, make some new friends, give it a try. The worst that can happen is
you have a mediocre hour or two. The best case – well – it’s hard to say how
great that might be. You will always learn something, either about yourself or
With people, I would advise you to be mindful of your prejudices. You might think you’re an open and fair person. Trust me, you’re not. No-one is. The last few decades of research in behavioural economics has shown us all to be irrational and biased, admittedly to varying degrees. Google ‘Danial Kahneman’ (Nobel prize winner and one of Barack Obama’s favourite authors) for some brilliant research in this area. Or, if you want a quicker and more engaging fix, watch Dan Ariely’s short (<5 min) Youtube video entitled ‘What is behavioural economics?’
It isn’t really anybody’s fault, but our upbringing and
environment shape our perceptions of the world in a tremendous range of ways
that are often imperceptible. Many of these biases will only be revealed when
you come up against someone who challenges them, either with their ideas, their
own conditioning, or simply what they are as a person. Do your best to be
compassionate towards people and understanding of the reasons they might think
like they do. Withhold ‘judgement’ as long as you possibly can. Really, very
few of us have sufficient information to judge anyone else. So try not to.
I can laugh about it now, but the first draft of my personal
statement showed immense prejudice. I spent at least a paragraph berating Oxford
for being Elitist and unjust. With sentiments like that, I certainly wasn’t
going to make myself popular. More importantly, as my teacher and number one
ally Phil pointed out, I didn’t really know anything about Oxford. I was basing
these opinions – and I use the word ‘opinions’ because to call them ‘arguments’
would be a flattering distortion- on public opinion, hearsay and gossip.
Fortunately, I had someone wiser than me to put me right. So do you. Take it
from me: delay judgement until you have a level of experience and knowledge you
might consider to be gratuitous.
When the media covers stories of success, they often focus entirely on the most recent, significant and obvious markers. The race won, the goals scored, the contract signed.
This is natural and extremely misleading.
Natural – because to explain the success story in any detail would take too long. It would bore many/most of the audience.
Natural also because it’s much easier to write about one landmark event than go to the effort to study the causes of that event.
Natural also, perhaps, because focusing on single impressive events, and describing these events using terms like “luck”, “miraculous”, “genius” invites the reader to view the person as a different category of person, a freak. This makes people feel less bad. If Michael Jordan is simply a freak of nature, it doesn’t matter how hard we work, we will never be that good. As such, we are abdicated from the responsibility of our own mediocrity.
And herein lies the danger.
This is palliative, of course, on a society-wide scale. It is also sedative. If there’s no chance of me being successful, the cost of me living a mundane or unhealthy lifestyle is lower. The desire to disrupt, innovate and question is subdued. The focus becomes short term pleasure, over long term achievement.
You see this in areas that are full of conflict. Hedonism is rife. Why? They’ve got less hope of a future. Short term pleasures are more appealing. The opportunity cost of myopic pleasure seeking is reduced. They’ve got less projected happiness to lose.
If superstars are born freaks, you might as well give up hope. You were never going to make it anyway.
Sup up your beer and smoke your fags.
This is insidious and dangerous.
In most areas of life, hard work trumps talent. There are exceptions, of course.
100m sprinting is one. If you aren’t blessed with sufficient fast-twitch muscle fibres, you’re never going to beat Usain Bolt.
The difference genetics can have on athletic performance is exemplified by the East/West Africa divide.
NB: Though this divide is rough, it is clear enough to make my point.
Many in East Africa have predominantly slow-twitch muscle fibres, making them suited for long distance running. Ethiopia and Kenya, for example, have dominated the Olympic 10,000m race for decades.
West Africans, by contrast, tend to have much higher proportions of fast-twitch muscle fibres, which is one possible explanation for the prevalence of explosive athletes in the African American community. (Many West Africans were brought to America by transatlantic slave trade).
Anyway, with the most extreme exceptions placed to the side, we are left with a huge range of pursuits, sporting or otherwise, that require a mixture of abilities.
In these pursuits dedication will counter-act or trump blessings; genetic or otherwise.
Look at any of our great sporting legends: Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Jonny Wilkinson, Serena Williams, and you will find individuals who have worked incredibly hard, for many years.
Wilkinson kicked so often he changed the shape of his foot. Adidas were forced to alter the shape of his boots several times to accommodate this.
Tyson would wake up at 5am and run alone. He was also hypnotised from his early teens to believe he was the most savage man of all time.
Michael Jordan trained for up to 8 hours a day. He would be at practice long before anyone else and he would be there hours after they’d gone. He also hired his own personal trainer and conditioner, Tim Grover, to ensure he was always mentally and physically ready for games. Jordan paid him personally for 15 years.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of my heroes. I’ve had the chance to talk to some extremely “successful” people.
The more you do this, the more you realise they are not of a different kind. They are in the same category as you or I.
They are people.
Sometimes they are gifted, yes, but often they are simply driven by certain circumstances – both internal and external – to focus on a particular task or activity.
It is this focus – more than any innate ability – which produces results.
The takeaway is this:
Do not be fooled into thinking the people you see on Tv or Instagram are any different to you.
They aren’t, at least not in any dramatic sense. They might be a little bigger, but you might be slightly quicker. Perhaps they’re better looking, but maybe their family life was f*cked.
Some people will be extraordinarily gifted: great. They are a tiny minority, almost by definition.
Most success stories are of people who narrowed their focus and put other things aside to achieve their goals.
If you want something – do something to get it. Shoulder the burden of your existence. The responsibility is yours.
You can also choose not to do any of these things. There is no obligation to be “successful”.
Happiness and meaning don’t need success in any external way.
If there are things you want. If you can feel resentment towards successful people bubbling up inside you. If you feel the need to criticise those who have done or possess more than you. Consider why that is. Examine your motivations. It might be that you wish you were more than you are.
If that’s the case, sitting around hating isn’t going to make you any better. Tarnishing the successful won’t brighten the meagre. Only action can do that. And that, as we all know deep down, is our responsibility.
The 7 Habits of highly effective people is one of the best-selling books of all time. And for good reason. In this book, Steven Covey lays out what he sees as timeless principles for living a productive and meaningful life.
Covey introduces many concepts in the book, most of which are useful. One which stands out to me is the “P/PC balance”.
In short, P = production, ie, the activities we do that generate output. This might be baking a cake, writing a report, or training a client.
PC = productive capacity, ie, the activities that enhance our ability to produce. Such activities include education, training and networking.
Covey uses the analogy of the goose and the golden egg. I also like the old adage, ‘Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish (or give him a rod) and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.” The fish is Production. The fishing skills/ rod are our productive capacity, our ability to produce.
The P/PC balance is so called because to be successful into the long-term we need to ensure we distribute our energy to P and PC in the right ratio. We need fish to survive but we also need to work on our fishing skills if we hope to continue catching into the future.
Too much P (too little PC) would be someone who is consumed by their working tasks all week, possibly gets wrecked on the weekend, then does it all again. They are focussed solely on catching fish. They will keep their job, for now at least. They will earn a living. But over time, without personal investment in their skills and abilities, it’s highly likely they’ll be replaced by a more effective angler. (Unless you work for a government organisation, of course).
Too little P (too much PC) would be someone who spends all day improving their skills but doesn’t actually do anything with them. They are solely focussed on acquiring more rods, learning new casting techniques, and crafting fancy lures. They can speak 5 languages but never bother to actually translate a document. Such a person may fail to meet the expectations of their employers, clients or customers. They may be put on performance review. They may lose their job. Having great potential (high PC) may not mean as much if they end up on the street.
It’s important to get the balance right. In Covey’s experience – and my own, for what its worth- people often get caught up in excessive P activity. They are reactive. They rush around dealing with the urgent. They are drawn in by business.
Parkinson’s law says that a task will take as much time as is allocated to it, or in other words, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. This has never been truer than it is today. With email and instant messaging, the flood of tasks simply will not end, and 1000s of low-value interactions (think: sticklebacks) will consume your time, if you let them.
When planning our day, it is beneficial to carve out some time for PC activities. This time should be protected and not encroached on for anything. It should hold the status of an important meeting. Ben Bergeron (Coach of Crossfit Games Champions, male and female) does with this with reading and exercise. He also does it with family time.
By renewing our health, enhancing our minds and restoring our souls, these activities all enhance our long-run PC. They give us more rods. They help us use the rods better. They allow us to keep fishing into the long-term.
If you want to get somewhere, set your long-term priorities and build some time – even if it’s just 30 minutes – where you enhance your productive capacity in those areas. 30 minutes 300 times a year is 150 hours. When focussed, that’s a lot of time.
Carve out the time. Make a commitment to investing in your mind, body and soul. Future-you will catch many more fish, and be grateful for it.
A world full of opposites. Part 1. Harden or soften.
The first time any of us encounters pain or trauma we have two immediate options: we harden or crumble.
Hardening Take the first time someone was mean to you at school. What did you do?
The answer to this will in large part depend on your upbringing and early life at home.
I had an older brother who – for better or worse- had already educated me on the rudiments of playground law. As such, when people were mean to me, I reacted defensively, fought back in kind, fire with fire, an eye for an eye.
I also made a mental note of the insult or attack they had used. I studied it to see if it had any grounding. As we all know, an insult that contains truth is much more damaging than one that doesn’t.
Part of early defence is working out which
insults hold weight and which don’t. If the insult did hold weight, I might
consider adapting my behaviour, or preparing a response.
In this way, by being
exposed to the stimuli of attack, one progressively develops a complex system
of defence. We harden.
To primary school Josh or Jane, what are the alternatives?
Perhaps I could have cried, made a show of my weakness and hoped for sympathy from my attacker. This is quite common in nature. The weaker males in a pack will often prostrate themselves before the alpha male as a sign of reverence and a show of weakness. They make it clear they aren’t a threat. They ask for protection.
I could also have sought assistance from an external authority, Ie, the teacher. Both these strategies are a form of softening, they involve reliance on an external source for protection. As such, they should not be used unless absolutely necessary.
Advanced armour As we grow older, the attacks become more complex, and so too do the defences. By early teens, the fire with fire method is ineffective in most scenarios. The primary goal of defence at this age is to show you are not bothered by the attack at all, even if – and especially when- you are. One must learn to display indifference, even when feeling hurt. Especially when feeling hurt. This is a subtle art, one cannot be too obvious about it.
who go around saying “I don’t care” too frequently will soon convince their
peers the opposite is true. It is a very rare person who constantly says they
don’t care and actually means it. We’re talking enlightened Buddhist who has
shed all desire and concern for self, wizened bad-ass old lady, or at the other
end of the spectrum, a person so absorbed by their own ego that they genuinely
have no concern for others. Think coked-up narcissistic Nihilistic psychopath.
Patrick Bateman. Jeremy Kyle (I joke). Donald Trump (maybe, minus the coke).
Most children- and adults – care. And they care a lot.
So if saying you don’t care is ruled out, what’s left? Well, openly showing too much care will not do either. A rapid or disproportionally aggressive response such as a shouty “F*ck off”, for example. This is a clear sign of weakness and of possible volatility, likely to excite one’s attacker and lead to a growing number of attacks. This is perhaps the worst thing one can do as a child: outright defensiveness without sufficient supporting force (either physical or verbal).
We must dance a constant back-and-forth, a
pitter patter exchange of fighting off attacks as nonchalantly as possible.
Invulnerability – a frail kind of strength As we grow old, we learn more and more sophisticated ways of defending ourselves from attack. With the gift of foresight, we also put in place preventative measures against future possible attacks.
We make ourselves invulnerable. This is the model of existence promoted in much popular culture today. It is present in music, TV and our politics. Our politicians must present a perfect, varnished image. Anything less shows weakness, making them unfit to rule. You need only look at the way Diana Abbott’s calamity of numbers was received. Yes, she made numerous mistakes with numbers she should probably know. But how many people stopped to consider the situation before haranguing her as stupid, idiotic and worse?
A compassionate observer might
1. How many mistakes we all make on a daily
basis, away from the public eye
2. The pressure of interviews, and the effects
this may have on your performance, particularly when you’ve made a mistake.
3. What other commitments she may have that
might have drained her brain that day
4. Her solid academic record (History at Cambridge,
albeit a 2.2)
5. Her incredible electoral success. (She won
her seat by a HUGE majority).
Based on the response from both individuals and
the media, it seems invulnerability is essential to being a good politician.
too, particularly mainstream hip hop, there is the hackneyed refrain “I’m
better than you, I don’t need you” repeated ad nauesum.
I have already discuss this in detail here. Programs like Love Island showcase similar attitudes, for the most part.
I understand why people want to harden themselves so. It is the natural first line of personal defence. It is also related to appealing ideals: independence and invulnerability to harm. These sound great.
The problem is, what worked for 5 year old you, and possibly even 14, 18 and 21 year old you, isn’t necessarily going to work for adult you. And it certainly isn’t maximising what you can do for everyone else.
Each new layer of defence you add takes you away from yourself. Let’s say you struggled with the opposite sex in school. You go away, read some books, pick up some new skills. You suddenly become quite adept at pulling. The problem is, in order to do this, you’re putting on an act. You’re being “attractive”. You’re presenting a false image.
Or maybe you weren’t blessed
physically. This was exploited ruthlessly by bullies. So you hit the gym, got
some lip-fillers and a boob job. Now you constantly post pictures of yourself
to Instagram. You go out in revealing outfits. Now you feel stronger and more
confident. The problem is, your hardened glossy exterior may become hard to
bear. It may start to restrain you. You may feel pressure to always ‘look your
best’. You aren’t willing to go to the gym without a full face of make-up. You put
filters on your Instagram posts.
The same applies to males.
Maybe you were gentle and tender. Your response to attack was to go away and make
yourself tough. Now you have to live up to being a ‘proper man’, meaning you
bottle up emotions that would be better off expressed. This is one of the big
issues with traditional concepts of masculinity, and is undoubtedly linked to
the high male suicide rate in the West.
The converse case is just
as common. In response to rejection and ridicule by the mainstream, some of us deliberately
reject mainstream ideals, thus making ourselves impervious to them. This applies
to many people in ‘fringe’ communities, such as goths – who reject traditional
concepts of beauty as well as musical taste – or ‘alternative’ / hipster/ indie
people who eschew common notions of fashion and lifestyle.
These are stereotypes, of course, but ones which in my experience bear plenty of truth.
I have built such armour plating myself.
In response to ridicule, feeling fat and disgusted with myself, I made myself strong, physically and mentally. I made my own value system so I couldn’t be hurt by conventional views. I made by body very powerful. I pushed it as hard as it would go, so I knew it was durable. I ran my blood to water and mashed my body to a pulp, week after week. Partly because it was fun, but also because I had to prove to myself I had no fear. I was the master of myself. I was invincible.
I made myself smarter. I thought about everything deeply. I did my best to have a response before the discussion had even begun. I was armed and ready.
I made myself attractive, largely in the way described above. I was less-rejectable.
Of course, I gained a lot from these pursuits. I represented my country and fulfilled a dream of being paid to play rugby. I got a career. I attracted a lot of women.
Unfortunately, I outgrew these defences.
My armour had become a cage.
Trying to be all these things – to play all these roles – took a lot of energy. At least twice, it very nearly killed me.
I suspect that building defences is a natural phase we all go through. It is our first-line defence to trauma.
Like a scab on a wound, however, our emotional armour must make way for fresh flesh if we are to heal and grow. We need to soften.
Sometimes this will happen
without any effort at all. You may wake up one day and realise you have been pretending.
You have been acting as something you’re not.
The majority of the time,
however, we need to become aware of what we are before we can know what we aren’t.
This takes time, effort
Self-exploration is a brave act because getting closer to admitting who you really are might involve admitting some rather uncomfortable truths about yourself. Perhaps some of the things you tell people and yourself are lies. Maybe you aren’t actually that bothered about the kids in Africa. Maybe you don’t really love your family all the time. Maybe you sometimes hate people who are more ‘successful’ than you.
Self-actualisation, the act of being the person you really are, of walking the walk, so to speak, is no less courageous. When you act in line with your true self, attacks are directed at you, not the front you’ve created. You really are out in the open. Exposed. This is a scary notion, at first. It invites vulnerability.
But think of the upside.
No more pretending.
You are who you are.
Your relationships are real, based on a
foundation of truth.
You can stop second-guessing yourself and
I should add, you might find- as I have- a deeper sense of security that is much stronger than the armour you had before. By choosing to soften, you may actually become more robust.
Go ahead, give it a try, you have only your cage to lose.
As ever, the first step starts with awareness. Find some space. Breathe. Who knows what you might be.
I has written a poem to sum this up. I hope you like it.
I’ve been building this armour, each day since the womb, May I have the skill to unpick it, lest this cage become my tomb
Health and brains They – whoever ‘they’ are- say “you are what you eat”. In health, this is probably true. If you eat poor quality food your health will decline and you will weaken. High quality food will have the converse effect.
Health is clearly a high priority. We spend nearly $3 trillion on healthcare each year. With greater social emphasis on prevention, weight loss and aesthetics, the importance of food is rising up the agenda. Collectively, the world spends more than $30 billion per year on nutritional supplements. The ‘fitness’ industry, misleading title and other faults aside, is one of the fastest growing in the world: gym memberships alone generate nearly $100 billion revenue worldwide.
We are clearly willing to spend money, if not time (if they aren’t one and the same thing: Hello Marx!), augmenting our physical health. We are increasingly keen on regulating what we put into our bodies.
It is my contention that we should be just as discriminating, if not more so, with what we put into our brains.
Mouldy Brains The concept of neuroplasticity says that the brain can change throughout an individual’s life. Brain activity associated with a given function can be transferred to a different location, the proportion of grey matter can change, and synapses may strengthen or weaken over time.
Your brain can be changed by a range of factors, such as disease, injury, ageing, mould and other toxins (such as the Mercury in your Victorian era top hats – here’s looking at you, cosplayers – or the MSG in your Chinese takeaway.)
these factors are avoidable, some are not. Our control over many may be limited.
can, and should, all take more control of is the information we feed our most
complex and precious organ.
Research by Dr Daniel Amen, among others, shows not just that the brain can change, but that we can actively change the function of the brain through how we treat it.
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Our brain is an incredible thing. It is one of the most complex systems we know. It is also the source of our emotions, our identity and our life. And most of us neglect it. Poor sleep, poor food and a stressful lifestyle can all damage our brains.
This is certainly worthy of a lifetime of posts, but for now let’s stick to an often unexamined factor we can all control: our information diet.
I first came across the notion of informational consumption influencing our lives while visiting a Hare Krishna temple / village in Australia. If you get chance, I highly recommend visiting this temple or any other Krishna set-up. A practising yogi who had lived there for some time told me that he never watches any violent images, and he never gets scared or angry. His hypothesis was that, at certain moments, our brains recall images we have fed them. Because he hadn’t exposed himself to any scary or violent images in a long time, his brain had much less alarming subject matter to work with.
I think there’s some weight to this theory.
times are we completely comfortable with something until we have a bad
experience? How often does this bad experience cause us to be at the least
apprehensive about repeating the activity in future?
This will of course depend on the novelty, and
intensity of the experience, as well as how much evidence (other experience) we
have to outweigh it.
Still, the principle holds: when encountering a
similar or related experience, our brain conjures up the images of the previous
experience, calling forth similar emotions.
More evidence can be found in our experience of
childhood, and our observation of children. Many children are naturally
fearless. They don’t know what’s bad for them. The parent is a sort of
risk-monitor. First, they control the child’s environment to minimise risk.
Next, they inform the child of the risk. This is often fruitless, and it is a
well-known adage that a lesson only heard is not a lesson learned. Often the
child needs to be burned once before he/she understands the danger of fire.
Once the child has been burned, their brain has
a scary image. Whenever they go near fire, the brain will draw on this image to
inform their decision. It will cause fear.
There are a few points to raise here:
Unseeing is not possible. As the
comical phrase goes, there are some things that cannot be unseen. Like the blue
waffle (LOL), or people being beheaded by ISIS (anti-LOL). Once the image is in
there, you can’t force it out. You can repress it, push it out of mind, but
sooner or later that bad boy will make its presence felt. This is the essence
of the neuroses that Freud studied, giving birth to psychoanalysis.
images embedded in your swede, all you can do is provide different (better)
images to counterbalance or drown out the bad ones. This is like covering
corpses in flowers, or mending a broken relationship with daily acts of
kindness. It takes time to cover the badness up, and its still there for a long
time beneath the surface.
2. Your brain is more than you know. Our brain stores much more information than we realise. Even if you think it hasn’t affected you, it might have. The subconscious often twists and morphs things in ways that are hard to understand. Whatever you pour in there is having an effect of some kind, however imperceptible. If you don’t believe me, try running small experiments on yourself. Cut out one source or type of information and note the effects.
Act now for better brain The thrust here is to treat your brain with greater respect than you treat anything else you own. Watch what you feed it like a hawk. And see what happens.
Some practical ideas:
1. Avoid violent images. There is very good evidence that violent images make children more aggressive. These children become adults. There is also evidence to suggest a similar effect on grown adults. You can search your own soul on this one. I know that when I started watching Power, a horrendously mediocre and unoriginal show that is representative of much of the copy-cat trash pumped into our screens, I had more violent dreams and felt a bit more aggy. The same occurs when I play Halo, though admittedly this may be more down to my intense engagement than the subject matter itself.
low-quality content. Read and watch rigorous work. Your brain is a
brilliant pattern-recogniser. It picks out trends and schemas without even
trying. If you read trash, your brain will absorb this. If you read quality
literature, it will absorb that. The same for TV.
3. Be mindful
of TV. If you’re not watching it, turn it off. This is a common point of
conflict in my household. If I’m not interested in the program, I’d rather have
silence. Pumping in waves of detritus at a low level of concentration will only
fragment and dilute your consciousness. Don’t bother. Going for a walk, taking
a nap or having a conversation are all viable alternatives.
should go without saying, but the above is especially relevant to advertising. There
are lots of people out there who want your attention, time and money. Don’t
make it easy for them to take it.
4. Be careful who you talk to. Everyone
has their own way of viewing the world. Each conversation you have involves the
interaction of various conceptual frameworks, or systems of ideas. If you spend
too much time listening to mediocre, unhappy or resentful people, guess what?
You know it. It’s gonna seep into you. Motivator Jim Rohn famously said you’re
the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. There is a good deal
of truth in this. The influence of other humans is an incredibly powerful
thing. Be mindful of who you keep around you. They might be moulding you into a
I am sure there are some people who are reluctant to believe that they are influenced much by the external world. They want to believe that they are the captain of their own ship, the master of their destiny. This is – so far as I can see at least – quite foolish.
Yes, you do choose what you do. Yes, we should all take responsibility for our actions. These are noble sentiments and quite essential to the functioning of our normal understandings of praise and blame, our legal system, and our social structure. That said, if psychology and behavioural economics have taught us anything over the last centuries and decades respectively, it is that the power of human choice is severely bounded – or limited. We are all deeply influenced by our environment. FYI – I am a natural individualist. An outsider of sorts. If anyone should want to push a “Self-made/ personal autonomy” agenda, I certainly fit the bill. Fortunately, I do my best to make my views fit the facts, and in this case, the facts are that our brains are as much a product of genetics, environment and chance than any power of free will.
That said, we can choose to do the best we can with the freedom we do have. We can choose to shape our environment to our beliefs. We can choose what we watch, hear and see. We can choose to change the way our brains are shaped. And we should. There is no viable alternative.
BONUS CONTENT: The story of the fearless cows During my time at the Krishna village, I also witnessed some of the largest, most muscular cows I had ever scene. Their horns were also something to behold. These cows were happy to be approached and touched by any human. Why? They were incredibly well-treated. They were raised like friends or family members. They had never experienced humans as an object of violence.
In future posts, I plan to discuss how smartphones are changing our society. Today, I focus on the individual, using myself as an example.
My top 5 issues with smartphone use for me as an individual human:
1.Fragments my attention span. Attention, not time, is the most precious resource we have. We have 24 hours of time each day, but no one, not even Elon Musk, has even 10 hours of deep attention in that period. At least not sustainably.
I check my phone a lot less than some people. In a big project lasting 3 hours I might check it 3 times. That’s significantly less than the British average of around twice every waking hour. Still, when I do check them, it breaks up my train of thought and distracts me. The effects of this behaviour go well beyond the actual time spent. Research shows it takes well over 20 minutes to get back on track following a distraction.
2.Wastes my time. I spend too long looking at things that really don’t add much to my enjoyment or my output.
3.Encourages low-quality communication. Apps like WhatsApp and Facebook messenger want to be used. They are designed to encourage communication on their platforms. The problem is: it’s too quick and too easy. I am encouraged to express messages that are less clearly thought out. I say things that don’t really need to be said. The art of distillation and the virtue of patience are being eroded.
4.Stops me engaging with the world/ real people. I look around in allegedly social spaces – bars, pubs, clubs – and what do I see? You know it. People on their phones. People Instagramming their drinks.
There are less and less genuine, human interactions. You know that person you follow on social media? Well, you don’t know them. There are real people out there and they should be our primary concern. I am frequently uplifted by the conversations I have with strangers, and would like to think I bring them some joy, too.
It’s not just real strangers we ignore, but real friends, too. This issue has been widespread in the public consciousness for a while now, such that many people are leaning against it. “No phone” rules at meals are not uncommon. Some restaurants are now giving discounts to customers who don’t get their phones out.
I am quite good at staying off my phone in public, but it still effects me.
5.Makes me reactive. By constantly responding to content that I don’t control, I become someone else’s puppet. I’ve also noticed the increased frequency of small snippets erodes my patience. It makes me a worse person. When reading a book, I choose the subject, and I control the pace. It has a soothing effect on my mind.
Low-tech project update
I haven’t actually let go of the smart phone yet.
I got stuck into a task and allowed myself to be carried away.
That said, I have been using it less and less frequently, and considering each use much more carefully.
At this early stage, I’ve noticed one thing.
Part of me is becoming repulsed at checking apps without a clear intention. The aptly-named ‘Zombie Scroll’ is beginning to make me feel physically sick.
It’s not subconscious, because I’m aware of it. But it’s also not an act of willpower. I would compare it to the aversion you might have to touching dog poo, or eating something you really don’t like.
It’s almost as if part of me knows enough is enough.
Of course, I have analysed the smartphone issue consciously before. I have laid out all the negative effects smartphone use has on my life.
Nothing profound has occurred.
It seems my body/mind is aligning itself with my judgments without me applying any effort. A curious phenomenon.
This has happened to me a couple of times before, when kicking other addictions.
I applied so much willpower to one particular addiction. I tried and failed to give up so many times.
Then one day, I just knew it was time.
The spell had been broken.
There was no willpower.
There were no relapses.
I was just done.
I – this monitoring, vigilant ‘I’- didn’t make the decision. A deeper part of me had already made it.
I’m not sure what the moral is here. It certainly isn’t “just wait and eventually everything will be fine”.
Being proactive is usually best.
When the I knew it was time to stop intoxicating myself four years ago and when I knew last week I had to stop checking my phone, it sort of felt like these feelings came on their own.
They were simply a very real manifestation of something my rational mind had known and agonised over for years.
Whether it’s eating less rubbish, using your phone less, or avoiding intoxicants, any act of willpower is not wasted.
You should always try.
Maybe you have to try a hundred times before your brain and body finally get the message.
The modern smart phone can do so many things, it has so many capabilities. It is a truly dazzling piece of technology. It is our omni-present, omni-potent companion. It is our primary means of interaction, of organisation, of information.
Always watching, always listening. The smart phone is a truly Orwellian device. In fact, the device is so Orwellian he himself could not have foreseen it.
Smartphones are great, but they are also terrible.
I believe we have been sold a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I believe we make a mistake in assessing the merit of smartphones. By focussing on their capabilities – the incredible array of things they can do- we ignore their effects.
I will avoid anything conspiratorial – for now.
I will simply make the claim that the modern smart phone has – on the whole – been damaging for society. I will also claim that if we don’t take very deliberate steps against it, it will diminish us all, possibly in irreparable ways.
Today I bought a phone from Argos for £5.
It’s quite a nifty device.
I will be using this for at least a week, perhaps longer.
I am doing this because I have a growing sense my smartphone is having a negative impact on my life.
This may be a little late now, but I wanted to spend a few moments on yearly reviews. You know, the 20 image long Instagram stories of that sea-swing in Bali, flat whites in Bondi and some waterfalls somewhere.
Not to be outdone, Facebook users do this too, albeit in a generally less visual fashion. The content of these posts is dominated by two characteristics:
1. “Positivity”. Luxurious holidays. Exams passed. Engagements. Possessions acquired. New jobs started. 2. External focus. People list things that took place outside of themselves, ie, achievements others can see and recognise
I understand the motivation. If you’ve had an overwhelmingly good year, you might want to celebrate it. Even if you haven’t, you might choose to focus on the “positive” events because you want to uplift others, or not appear negative, or show other people you are ‘successful’, or demonstrate your status. (Watch the ego).
Furthermore, you might only include the external events because you presume these are the ones people are most interested in, or because these events are the easiest to show in pictures.
In many cases, the motivations behind these posts are unlikely to be sinister. At best, these posts are driven by a desire to celebrate ourselves and inspire others. Though some would view this as self-centred, it’s probably no bad thing. In all but the most extreme cases, the motivations are likely to be no worse than a desire to project a positive public image, to defend our way of life to others.
This is a natural product of our anti-social-media age.
It’s just not real though, is it?
Social media vs Reality
In the last year, perhaps because of my own difficulties, I’ve spoken to more people about their mental health problems than ever before. There are people having panic attacks, feeling depressed, trapped in loneliness. Sometimes there’s a clear reason, like a bereavement. Sometimes there isn’t. Often, these are the very same people uploading pictures of smiley faces on sandy beaches.
There are quite literally billions of people out there working through their own sets of issues.
This point really hit home for me a couple of years ago. I returned home for the weekend and bumped into an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. He commented at how I looked like I was having the best time. He had seen the photos on my Facebook. He seemed deflated when I told him I hadn’t really enjoyed any of those holidays. Things were not what they seemed.
Achievements don’t mean sh*t
I have achieved many things in my life people would see as good, great or exceptional, depending on their experience. I have also had various experiences that would be viewed similarly.
Some achievements/ experiences of the last few years that might be considered noteworthy to the external observer (dependent on their viewpoint, of course) are listed below:
Winning the University Four Nations with England Students RL. (2015)
Getting a teaching job at Harrow School. (2015)
Guiding my students to good exam results. (2015-2018)
Receiving 100s of thank-you cards from my students. Receiving a Louis Vuitton scarf from one. (2015-2018)
Getting paid to play rugby at Hemel Stags during my first year at Harrow School. (2015-2016)
Visiting Thailand 3 times (2015-2017)
Visiting India, Romania, Laos, Egypt, Ibiza, Dubai, France, America, Turkey, Ireland, Belgium and maybe a couple more I can’t remember. (2015-2018)
Playing in the University RL world cup in Australia (2017)
Pulling quite a few stereotypically attractive women (1990-2018. Lol)
Getting paid 70-100 pounds per hour in private education (2015-2018)
Writing my first book (2018)
In response to the list above, I have three comments to make:
I didn’t enjoy most of those things.
I take very little pride in some of them.
Only 1 or 2 of them happened this year.
2018: The reality The defining theme of the last year was battling against a cluster of mental health problems with a limited degree of success. I have read numerous books, paid several thousands pounds to see two psychological professionals, meditated, experimented with my diet. In my search for a ‘normal’ mental state, I’ve turned over quite a few stones.
At one stage, I got to a point where I could train quite hard. I even pulled together my own team and entered us into the Bournemouth 7s tournament. I scored 4 tries. Two months later I was having multiple panic attacks a day.
I am not ‘cured’ – though I am now classed as ‘clinically insignificant’ – nor do I feel anywhere near as good as I did before.
I still do paid work and write these posts, but my biggest occupation for the last 6 months has been returning to a ‘normal’ functioning state. I don’t expect this to change for at least three more months.
In terms of external achievements, I have gotten less done this year than any in my adult life.
Have I lost? Was 2018 a failure?
I don’t think so.
I’m still here. I’m still waking up and showing up. I’m still trying to make a better life for myself and others.
That’s no small victory.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make here is:
Achievements and experiences are meaningless without context. You could do the best thing ever, but if you’re not feeling it, it will mean naff all. If you’d have told ‘2008 Me’ I’d be going to Australia to represent my country in 2017, I’d have gone absolutely bonkers. The 2017 me really wasn’t that arsed. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. I was struggling pretty badly with some panic issues to do with adrenaline and asthma and inhalers around games. I worked with a sports psychologist to try and fix this. I didn’t quite manage it. I played, but was nowhere near my best. I was also knackered from my second year at Harrow. I started the tournament quite worn out, and left feeling quite pathetic.
I feel as proud of surviving this year and the way I’ve constantly fought back against set-backs as I do of any of the ‘achievements’ on that list.
Appearances can be deceiving. Just because someone looks great from the outside, doesn’t mean they are. Dan Bilzerian hires models, cars and everything else he can to market his lifestyle. Others do the same. Just because they are uploading photos of themselves partying and laughing, doesn’t mean they aren’t facing the same void of meaning. In fact, it is often those who present a joyous external image that are using hedonistic behaviour to distract from their fundamental instability.
An appeal to truth
Social media lies. Or rather, people lie on social media. This curated fake image people present just will not do.
Some people are deliberately presenting a beautiful front – and they should consider carefully the effect this is having on their audience members, particularly the young ones.
Growing up wondering why everyone else is happy and we’re not is causing a mental health crisis in our schools, with anxiety and depression both on the rise in young people. This is not a coincidence.
We all have a responsibility to be a little more real in the public sphere. It involves vulnerability; admitting that things haven’t been great and we don’t have much to write home about can make us feel boring or inferior.
But we shouldn’t.
Sometimes life is joyous. Sometimes its really grotty.
Sometimes you don’t need to do or achieve anything to have done or achieved quite a lot.
Sometimes just surviving, just carrying on living with integrity, just conducting yourself in an honourable way, refusing to be crushed by life.
Sometimes, that is the best you can do.
Even if it isn’t shiny or pretty or impressive, this is always, always enough.
P.s. I’d just like to add: I know there are people out there who are sharing their stuff without any thought at all. There are people who are having a great time. That’s cool, but are they having a great time ALL THE TIME. Like 24 hours a day? I don’t know anyone who is.
I know there are also people who feel a pressure to look good because their social media profile is their business. I cannot tell these people how to live.
‘New year, new you’ a slogan popularised by quick-fix snake oil salesmen has become a cliché, a joke. Still, each year, at around this time, many of us sit down to make resolutions for the year ahead. These resolutions are often wildly ambitious and lacking in detail.
“I will eat healthily”
The intention: noble. But without a clear a definition of what ‘healthy’ means or some sort of plan on how we might reach it, the pursuit of this goal is doomed to confusion and frustration.
So there’s my first point:
If you are going to make resolutions, make sure they are: a) clearly defined; b) supported by some sort of plan.
Taking the example above, we might define “eating healthily” as: eating 5 portions of vegetables per day, including protein with each meal, getting more than 80% of our calories from whole (unprocessed foods), and eating less than 30g of sugar a day.
NB: This is not a definitive statement of healthy eating – it’s a sketch.
The point is – we have some clear criteria. We have some measurable sub-goals. We have some clarity.
Now on to part b) the plan. Change tends to be easier when we have some idea of how it’s going to come about. Take your current situation, commitments and limitations into account. If you’re a single Mum working 3 jobs to support your 2 children, its probably unrealistic to expect yourself to cook all your meals from scratch every day of the week. Likewise, if you’re addicted to sugar, caffeine and processed food, it might be challenging to expect yourself to suddenly switch to salad and water.
If you want to make sustainable change with the least amount of grief possible, you may need to compromise a little on your goal. For the busy single Mum, the goal may become eating less than 50% of total calories from processed foods. The plan for this may be to start making one home-cooked meal a week, on the easiest day, eg, Sundays, and to freeze enough extra portions to cover the next two days of the week. Once this has been mastered, she may wish to do another big cook-up on Wednesday, or just expand her Sunday food production to cover more days of the week. The emphasis here is on making small, manageable steps towards your ultimate goal.
As founder of the Vertical Diet (used by Hafthor Bjornson – the Mountain from GOT- and many more), powerlifting champion and professional bodybuilder Stan Efferding says, ‘don’t let the great get in the way of the good’.
Something good is better than nothing great.
As with the SMART goals formula, it is sensible to make your goals time-related.
In my view, this is more important for the sub-goals than the broader goal. Taking the example above, if our busy Mum can keep to a target of, say, eating one more home-cooked meal each week, then very quickly she will reach the overall goal of eating more than 80% of her calories from whole foods.
Small steps will see your goals
I’d like to expand on something I touched on above – the idea of incrementalism, or change by degrees. In what is rapidly becoming a personal cliché, I simply cannot overstate the incredible power of small improvements. As Jordan Peterson argues in his book, 12 Rules for Life, the effects of small steps are compounded over time. Because each small step builds on the last, a snowballing effect occurs, with the results rapidly becoming vastly greater than we could have predicted at the outset.
Small steps > Paradigm shifts
I want to place particular emphasis on the power of small steps because it is at this time of year that people often try to make paradigm shifts, that is, they try to revolutionise themselves. This is implied in the ‘new you’ element – not a better you, not an improved you, but a completely different version.
A paradigm is a model or way of understanding the world, it is a framework or lens through which we make sense of reality.
Paradigm shifts occur regularly throughout the world.
The abolition of slavery? A paradigm shift in the way society viewed different races.
The legalisation of homosexuality? A paradigm shift in the mainstream view of sexual practices.
Female suffrage? You get the picture.
Paradigm shifts are so appealing because they are so powerful. They are broad. They are radical.
There is great temptation in the idea of creating a completely new version of ourselves, of radically changing our lifestyle. This is largely a manifestation of impatience. We see things we don’t like, things we want, ways we wish we were. And we want them. Now. again, the intention here is noble. We want to improve ourselves immediately.
The problem is, this doesn’t really work.
If it did, the term ‘yo-yo dieting’ wouldn’t exist. We also wouldn’t see millions of people flocking to purchase gym memberships in January, only to stop going by mid-Feb.
The gritty reality of paradigm shifts
What is often missed in discussions of paradigm shifts is the years of history that led to that point. Paradigm shifts are many years in the making. People didn’t just suddenly wake up one day and decide it was fine for women to vote. The road to female suffrage was paved with the deaths of suffragettes and the hard-won victories of thousands of determined women (and men).
In personal development, paradigm shifts do happen. I have experienced several in my life. One of the most influential was when I realised I was unhappy being chubby (aged 14) and that the only person who could get me out of this situation was me. At such moments, there is great exhilaration. There is the rush of a brighter future. What follows, however, is the daily grind of making that vision become a reality.
Inspiration, perspiration, actualisation
Lots of people have great ideas. They are ten a penny.
What is rare is the desire and fortitude – grit some might say- to take the necessary actions.
The founder of virtue ethics, and a former intellectual adversary of mine, Aristotle, wrote about the power of habit over 2000 years ago in his famous ethical treatise, The Nicomachean Ethics. To Aristotle, a man is the sum of his habits. A man is what he repeatedly does. In one of the only poetic lines you will find in his entire body of work, Aristotle sums this up beautifully: “For one swallow does not make a spring, nor does one sunny day”.
Or as the man who turned down poet laureate, one of Hull’s finest, Philip Larkin wrote in the poem Mr Bleaney: ‘how we live measures our own nature’.
We are all desperate for the paradigm shift. It enchants us. The reality of personal change, however, is that if we want to do anything meaningful and sustainable, we must start by changing the things we do everyday. We must start with small steps towards better habits.
This is more realistic and is likely to lead to changes you will actually stick to.
Take one step forward each day, and there’s no telling where you’ll be tomorrow.
Like many of us, I was born with a mix of forces in my soul. Some of these forces are dark. If left unchecked, unchallenged and un-channelled, they can ruin even the greatest of days. For a long time, I used extreme behaviours (exercise, intoxication, promiscuity) to quell or mask these forces. Right now, I aim for the middle path.
If I don’t do any of the things listed below, I am more likely to become frustrated or unbalanced at some point in the day. The activities I describe below are a daily minimum, they are the essentials I get done before I do anything else. They make me feel like myself, or a version of my self I’d like to be.
The development of this regime has taken a lifetime. Like many things, this routine is driven by necessity. As such, components have been added, removed, re-ordered or simply faded out of use as my needs have changed. It’s a trial-and-error process.
Try something for two weeks. If it works, keep it. If it doesn’t, chuck it out and try something else.
At this time of year, when our usual priorities take a backseat to family time, I have found my personal maintenance regime more important than ever.
Wake up. Get up. Don’t snooze. Stay off your phone
This may seem trivial to some but I cannot stress the importance of getting out of bed as soon as you wake up. Lying there procrastinating or worrying about the day ahead doesn’t help anyone. Snoozing can interfere with your circadian rhythm (body clock, basically) and the production of mood-regulating hormones, leaving you sluggish and lethargic. If you need more sleep, go to bed earlier, or wake up later. You’ll feel better.
The phone thing is something I’ve let slip a little recently. Don’t do it. Just get up and walk to the shower. It’s important you start the day pro-actively – by setting the tone yourself – not reactively. An unsavoury message or surprising email can really throw you off. Not a good way to start the day. Just as important: the morning is time for you to gather your thoughts, assess your priorities and mark your intention for the day. Receiving information from other people interrupts this process. You don’t need it.
2. Shower. Hot then cold (for now)
Self explanatory really, but for me the feeling of water on my skin feels good. It’s a prerequisite of facing the world. Back in my teaching days, on the odd occasion when I would visit Seshlehem on a school night, I would deliberately wake up an hour earlier just to make sure I could have a shower (and do my other essentials). Better that than get an extra hour’s sleep but feel grotty and off the pace.
For a long time I took cold showers to develop mental toughness. Now, I like to go warm for a few minutes and finish on cold. The scientific benefits of cold showers are well documented. This is also a productivity-gurus / lifehackers favourite. It’s become nearly as cliché as ‘getting comfortable being uncomfortable’. Still, my distaste for vacuous advice aside, it wakes me up and makes me feel lovely.
Ok, another one that’s been done to death now, but since so many people are still NOT meditating, I think it’s important I mention it. I meditate for between 8 and 15 minutes every morning. The precise number is chosen on the day. Intuition calls, I set the alarm and off I go.
There seem to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding meditation. The basic idea is focussing your mind on one thing, usually the breath. You just sit there and focus on the feeling of air going into your nostrils, or in your belly (always breath into the belly). Your mind will inevitably wander off onto something like your ex girlfriend (guilty), the day ahead (yep) or a book you read years ago (*nod*). Sometimes it will even be something useful. That’s cool. The idea is to simply be aware of your thoughts. As soon as you notice your mind going off somewhere, just gently bring it back to the breath. Do this for 10 minutes. Everyday. If you are one of those people who has useful thoughts while meditating, I found it helpful to have a notepad in front of me. Jot the thought down, then let it go.
If you want to learn more, the first place to start would be Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Godfather of mindfulness research. He was responsible for marrying Eastern practices (meditation etc) with Western scientific techniques. He even has a course called the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course (MBSR). The results have been incredible. He also has lots of free guided meditations on Youtube.
Important note: Don’t expect too much.
Most people give up meditation because they expect to float off on some magic cloud, or their mind to be instantly still. Your mind has been busy all your life. You have fragmented it each day with Instagram stories, instant messaging and multi-tasking. It won’t settle instantly, and that’s cool. Be patient.
I write everyday.
I have a spreadsheet I fill in tracking important variables, such as sleep, mood and stuff to do with food. When I’m training hard, I also track soreness and how much I train/ what I am doing. This is useful for spotting trends in your existence.
For example, whenever I have sex, or have more social time (up to a point), my productivity and happiness go up. Who’d have thought it.
I also write in an A4 pad. The exact format has changed a lot over the last couple of years, but today I write:
The values I am focussing on right now (anxiety-fightback, writing/shipping, and learning)
Things I am grateful for
What I’ve got to do in the day
I often jot down some thoughts, too.
This is invaluable for focus and prioritisation.
At the moment, I clearly mark the tasks that are essential/ non-negotiable for the day vs those which are desired/ optional.
I spend a minimum of 30 minutes each morning reading. At the moment I am reading a collected volume on Freud and Steven Covey’s best-seller ‘7 Habits of highly effective people’. I often rotate 2-4 books at a time as I get bored of individual authors quite quickly. Reading is an activity that builds for the long-term. It is an investment in your own growth and sustainability. Covey would call this a PC activity- it improves productive capacity. I recommend reading something that you find interesting and seeing where it takes you. Often one book leads three more. Like a decapitated hydra.
I also find reading has quite a calming effect.
In addition to reading, I sometimes undertake active learning, too. Recently I started a drawing course to overcome a childhood weakness. I’ve put it on hold to focus on some other projects but still I would advocate doing this if you have the time. I used Udemy.
Ooo baby. My sweet sister. I’m using this phrase a lot now but I simply cannot overstatethe importance of exercise. Clinical studies have shown it to be at least as effective as drugs to combat mild- moderate depression and other mood disorders. Humans were meant to move. We are built for it. Of course you feel better when you do. If you don’t use it (your body), you will lose it, so get out there and shake your tailfeather before it’s too late.
The type of exercise doesn’t matter so much. I’ve got some anxiety/PTSD/OCD issues which are specifically triggered by exercise – due to some lingering trauma from a past incident I discuss in this article. As such, I don’t do very intense exercise anymore yet. If I could, I am confident my life would be improved to a gargantuan degree. (Ooo naughty big word – sorry huns).
Intense exercise just gives my consciousness this rich, creamy, floaty feeling. Ooo baby. I’m actually salivating as I type. My sweet sister, we will meet again, in the pain cave.
Even without intense exercise, I get plenty of benefit.
I go for a long walk (45ish mins) every morning round my local park. I bloody love it. I listen to the birds and really try to pay attention to nature. The Japanese call it ‘forest bathing’. Again, this has been scientifically proven to improve wellbeing.
I love to watch the squirrels. They are such graceful creatures. No matter how I’m feeling, I watch them jump from branch to branch without fear or hesitation and remember a time when I too was that powerful. Seeing them makes me remember the joy of movement and reminds me that sometimes the brain gets in the way of the body. Moving is fun. Moving well is fun-ner.
Of course, not everyone’s schedule allows for the luxuries I have right now. I hear ya. But you know what, you can change your schedule.
I left an extremely secure, very well paid, very prestigious job at Hogwarts so I could live the life I wanted.
We all face restrictions – some more than others. I’m thinking of people with dependents here. That said, we can all make small changes daily to improve the quality of our existence.
It is your duty to look after yourself, because if you don’t, you sure as hell ain’t gonna be as good at looking after anyone else.
The term ‘ego’ was first popularised by genius and Godfather of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. In psychoanalytic theory, the mind could be divided into three parts: the id, ego and super-ego. The Id consisted of the unrestrained wants and desires that drive us. The Ego was the facilitator of these desires. The Id said “I’m hungry” and the Ego found a socially-acceptable solution to that problem.
It bought you a sandwich.
The Ego I am referring to relates to this Freudian type. It is still the personal assistant of our animal psyche. The particular aspect of the ego I am interested in, however, is not the fulfilment of desire, but in the construction of our identity. Eckhart Tolle – philosopher and educator – defines the ego as “our identification with form, ideas, status, talents and even events”. It Is this kind of ego that has overtaken much of our culture and its output. It is this kind that has particularly pervasive and toxic effects. It is this kind I work to rid myself of every day.
A need for special-ness
The ego needs to be special. As a result, it lives on division and comparison. It pits us against others, constantly needing to differentiate itself in some way. We have all experienced this. How often do you come into contact with someone, whether online or in real life, and find yourself comparing? This is often involuntary. Sometimes it is so common we don’t even acknowledge that’s what we are doing. But there it is, the voice of comparison. The ego needs to be special, and when it isn’t, there is pain.
Think of a dimension of yourself in which you find identity. Maybe its your intelligence. Maybe its your physique. Maybe its how secure you are in yourself. I am confident at some point you have compared yourself to another person and felt a touch of sadness. Maybe they were physically stronger than you. Maybe they appeared smarter. Maybe they exuded a sense of contentment and happiness. Either way, your ego no longer felt superior. It experienced a crisis.
Its times like these that we – or rather that part of ‘we’, the ego – scrambles for other forms of ‘specialness’.
“Well, they might be stronger than me, but I’m much smarter than them. I am intellectually superior, and that’s more important than physical strength”
“He might be really good-looking and rich, but he’s a snob. I am a man of the people and am morally superior. That’s more important”.
“He might appear really confident but I am more successful than him, I have more money”.
Floyd, Nikki, Cardi and Mark Corrigan
This is demonstrated tragically – and with no hint of awareness- by individuals such as Floyd Mayweather. Whenever he is challenged publicly, how does he respond?
In the past, with remarks relating to his fighting prowess. Now (start the video from 4 minutes in), Mayweather will invariably make some remark about his material wealth
“I have more money than you though”.
He is so strongly identified with material wealth that he can’t even seem to see how others would find this response questionable or comical.
Similarly mindless displays of ego are prevalent in our present mainstream hip-hop culture. This arena has become a feeble and shameful distortion of an industry that once prided itself on truth-telling. See Tupac, Public Enemy, The Geto Boys and Eminem for great examples of hip hop’s past.
Compare this to the almost-endless ego-intoxication of ‘artists’ like Nikki Minaj, Cardi B or virtually any popular male rapper.
Now I like dollars, I like diamonds I like stunting, I like shining I like million dollar deals Where’s my pen? Bitch I’m signin’ I like those Balenciagas, the ones that look like socks I like going to the jeweler, I put rocks all in my watch I like texts from my exes when they want a second chance I like proving niggas wrong, I do what they say I can’t They call me Cardi Bardi, banging body Spicy mami, hot tamale Hotter than a Somali, fur coat, Ferrari Hop out the stu’, jump in the coupe (the coupe) Big Dipper on top of the roof Flexing on bitches as hard as I can Eating halal, driving the Lam’ Told that bitch I’m sorry though ‘Bout my coins like Mario (Mario) Yeah they call me Cardi B, I run this shit like cardio
(From ‘I Like that’ by Cardi B)
Do I even need to comment on these lyrics? Flagrant materialism meets narcissism and meanness. “I like texts from my exes when they want a second chance” – rejoicing in the pain of others.
Not great stuff to be feeding into the ears and minds of impressionable young people.
Or perhaps we might look to Nikki Minaj’s famous verse from the song Monster: Pull up in the monster Automobile gangster With a bad bitch that came from Sri Lanka Yeah I’m in that Tonka, color of Willy Wonka You could be the King but watch the Queen conquer OK first things first I’ll eat your brains Then I’mma start rocking gold teeth and fangs Cause that’s what a motherfucking monster do Hairdresser from Milan, that’s the monster do Monster Giuseppe heel that’s the monster shoe Young money is the roster and the monster crew And I’m all up all up all up in the bank with the funny face And if I’m fake I ain’t notice cause my money ain’t! So let me get this straight wait I’m the rookie But my features and my shows ten times your pay Fifty K for a verse no album out! Yeah my money’s so tall that my barbies gotta climb it Hotter than a middle eastern climate Find it, Tony Matterhorn dutty wine it, wine it Nicki on them titties when I sign it How these niggas so one-track minded But really really I don’t give a F-U-C-K Forget barbie fuck Nicki she’s fake She’s on a diet but my pockets eating cheese cake And I’ll say bride of Chucky is Child’s play Just killed another career it’s a mild day Besides Ye they can’t stand besides me I think me, you and Am’ should menage Friday Pink wig thick ass give ’em whip lash I think big get cash make ’em blink fast Now look at what you just saw I think this is what you live for Ah, I’m a motherfucking monster!
Lyrically this certainly shows more talent than Cardi B, but are the values embodied any less abhorrent?
We see the same shameless materialism, the same rejoicing in damaging others “Just killed another career it’s a mild day”.
This is sheer madness. And it’s being celebrated. The ego ethic is rampant.
Almost incomparable, is the subtly satirical way such thinking/behaviour is handled by one of my favourite series, Peep Show. In this scene Mark allows himself to be pressured into buying condoms so a man he detests can have sex with a woman he is infatuated with. Being the conflict-avoider that he is, he goes through with this, but his ego is still desperately searching for a way this situation can be turned in his favour. The result, buying coloured condoms to make Jeff’s todger look “faintly ridiculous”, gives Mark the sense he has ‘won’, albeit in the most minor way ever. His ego has retained a smidgeon of pride.
Special-ness as victimhood
In one form or another, the ego simply has to be better than the next person. It doesn’t necessarily have to be better than everyone, but it does have to be better than anyone who it draws itself in comparison with. This is often someone who possesses something you admire, or who possesses one of your ‘identity-traits’ in a more extreme form.
It’s important to note that “better” doesn’t really mean “better”. It doesn’t mean better in an obviously superior sense. Many egos play the victim. We’ve seen this emerge recently with the toxic trend towards using offence to curtail free speech. People are using their alleged repression or offence as a means of self-identification.
If people are less successful, they can justify this – and maintain their ‘special-ness’ – in various ways. Perhaps they are harder done by than the next person. Perhaps they faced more obstacles. Or perhaps they “could have” been just as good, but they lacked the opportunities. They’ve been unlucky. Whether you are special by being ‘superior’, or special by being beaten down, the ego must find a way.
A question I’ve searched for an answer to: Why does the ego need to be special?
Well, there are a range of theories from psychology, spirituality, possibly even anthropology as to why this is the case.
For now, I am going to approach this from an evolutionary standpoint.
The purpose of the ego
As we’ve already mentioned, the purpose of the ego is to keep us – in physical or psychological terms – alive. Its central priorities are to facilitate our desires and give us identity. In biology, ‘us’ means more than just the person we call ‘I’. Us also means our genes. The ego facilitates our survival to enable procreation and the continuation of our DNA.
Ok – so how does this relate to ego behaviour?
The ego needs us to do things. Things like hunting food, and defending our tribe, and sourcing shelter, and attracting mates. The ego needs us to accomplish. There are two drives at play here. If we don’t take actions ensuring our survival, we will die quite soon. If we don’t produce visible displays of strength or usefulness, we will fail to attract mates, and our genes will die too. As such, the ego needs us to achieve and accomplish in order to ensure our short term (our own) and our long term (our genes’) survival.
So it’s like this.
When we are lacking in status, the ego cannot rest. It drives us to go and achieve things. It pushes us towards accomplishments. It forms our identity around with these accomplishments. Unfortunately, the contentment we get from these accomplishments is temporary. This is an essential part of the ego equation. If our accomplishments could give us lasting contentment, we might cease striving, and would risk us or our genes dying out. As such, because the ego attaches itself to temporary things so we never feel truly content. We never get lazy. But there is a tension there, a paradox. The ego needs us to feel good enough about ourselves to act, or else we will be outcompeted by more confident individuals. So it rewards actions that increase our chances of survival or reproduction, it gives us a little boost. This is the essence of self-esteem. However, the feel-good cannot last too long, or we would get lazy. As such, self-esteem is conditional. Our self-worth is transient. We must constantly prove our position in the tribe. We need to go and achieve again.
Living through the ego produces a constant state of flux, a recurring back and forth from rejoicing to lamenting, from self-esteem to restlessness or self-loathing. When things go well; when you get the promotion, when you seduce the partner, when you buy your new car, you feel good. But not for long. As soon as that box is ticked, the emptiness begins to set in. There is a gnawing inside. We need a new goal, something else to achieve. How good we feel about ourselves is directly related to how much we are achieving, or how hard we are working, or how ripped our abs are, or whatever. As such, we simply must continue to do more and more, to achieve more and more, to consume more and more.
The results But is all this doing, getting and having equating to more being?
Is it genuinely enriching our lives?
It’s a question you’ve probably never stopped to ask, so long as you’re doing well. It’s a question that I’d never bothered to face until my mid-20s. Indeed, I was so consumed in this mode of being I couldn’t conceive there was another way of doing things.
How could I be valuable apart from the things I do? How would I live if I didn’t spend all my time pushing myself to do stuff? Wouldn’t I become lazy, or mediocre? Would I slip down the social hierarchy, unable to find employment, win the respect of men and the attraction of women? At base, there was the fear of rejection. The fear of insignificance.
Man-against-man: Why the ego is a problem.
The issue with ego-based living is it puts us into opposition with each other. It encourages us to separate into adversarial groups. It encourages us to shun and be mean to others.
Some problems ego-living fuels or causes:
War. Us vs you. Leaders can’t be seen to back down. We have to defend “our” values.
Stabbings in our streets. Have to prove value to group. Have to show im strong. Have to defend my pride. Have to defend myself
Many arguments. I identify with my POV. If its wrong, I lack value. I need to be right. I need to defend my POV.
Toxic day-to-day behaviour. Im better than you. I can treat you like a piece of sh*t. Or: I’m insecure about my value. I’m going to treat you like a piece of sh*t.
Mass-shootings. Ive been rejected by my peers/ the mainstream. I am special because I see things differently. I will show them.
Radicalisation. See 5.
Incels. Woman-hating. See 5
Toxic seduction / manipulation of women by ‘rejected’ men. They rejected me. They thought they were better than me. I can outsmart them. I will show them.
Toxic dating generally, by men and women. I am better than you. I don’t rely on you. In fact, I have 5 people on the go. I am winning.
Identity politics. See 3 and 5.
Reluctance to share wealth, ie, end poverty. I’ve worked hard for this money. I deserve it. I need it. why should I help people? They should help themselves.
These are serious problems.
They cover the majority of suffering in the world.
The Buddhists thought that identification with temporary things caused Dukkha, or suffering. I am inclined to agree.
Identification with temporary things, and the promotion of this behaviour through ego-living, is the fundamental cause of many problems today.
Depression is on the rise globally, particularly in the developed world.
Is it any wonder?
You’re too bold, get real
If this all seems a little farfetched to you, throw it out. But before you do, why not look around you.
We have people who, despite severe health warnings, continue to push themselves in a given sporting arena. We have people who will continue to do 80 hour weeks, just to maintain their status, missing their kids sports day, and eventually destroying their marriage. We have people who will (almost literally) throw their friends under the bus in order to “get ahead”. You have politicians who will lie, distort and cheat, just to defend their own position. You have people who think it’s good to manipulate and deceive romantic partners – player’s they used to be called – because this somehow shows they are what? Cleverer, less vulnerable?
The ego epidemic is everywhere, and it is real. The solution
So what’s the solution?
Again, that is a topic for another day, but still. There are some people who do not care about this stuff. They are almost independent of it. They care about fundamental things, like friends, family and fun. They have a good relationship with themselves and tend to have good relationships with others. They are lucky. Perhaps their childhood equipped them better than most.
They are the salt of the earth.
For the rest of us, however, how are we to find value? How are we to be happy with ourselves?
As always, we start with awareness:
– Be mindful of our thoughts. – Watch the ego carefully. – When it is trying to differentiate us from others, be aware. Value that comes from superiority and difference cannot last.
Maybe nothing can. But value that is based on fundamental values and self-love, rather than opposition and superiority, will certainly endure a lot longer.
A final flourish
In the film Cool Runnings, bobsledder Derice Banner asks his coach, Irv Blitzer (played by John Candy, RIP) why he cheated. His response is as illuminating of the ego ethic as any piece of scripture or philosophy:
Irv: “I had to win… when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning. No matter what. You understand that?”
Derice: “No I don’t understand, Coach. You had two gold medals, you had it all”
Irv: “ A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.”
A word extremely common in the fitness, self-help and entrepreneur communities.
small loose particles of stone or sand.
courage and resolve; strength of character
Fleshing this out a little, we might say grit involves powering through difficulty, putting up with discomfort, or the ubiquitous social media cliché “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable”. The essence seems to continuing in the face of difficult circumstances whilst keeping a balanced outlook.
Helpless Advice The importance of this quality to a happy/ successful life is hard to overstate.
But is telling people to “have” grit or to be gritty good advice? Is there any value at all in simply telling people to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”?
This advice is as empty as telling people to “be happy”.
A more productive approach might be to examine grit in a little more detail. By working out what grit is made up of, I hope to provide some practical advice as to how one might go about fostering this invaluable virtue.
The 7 Components of Grit
1. Self-belief – If you believe you can / will get through your present difficulties, you are more likely to keep pushing. Very few people continue pushing when they are sure they will fail. What’s the point? In the early days following his diagnoses, Stephen Hawking’s health deteriorated rapidly. He was told he might have six months to live. During this time he gave up on his research, questioning the point if he was never going to finish it. Hawking only returned to his work once his condition stabilised. He believed he would have the time to produce something useful. What’s more, Hawking went on to implement and innovate ingenious technology to mitigate the effects of his disability. If that’s not grit, I don’t know what is. 2. Self-Esteem – This is the idea that you are valuable, based on your achievements and abilities. This is undoubtedly a good thing to have. More valuable still is self-esteem based on a broad array of abilities. That way, if one of them fails, your self-concept can still be preserved by the abilities that remain. Self-esteem allows you to shrug off disappointments, since you are still good at many things after all. You are still valuable. That said, self-esteem is flawed because it is conditional. How many superstars fall into depression or ennui following retirement? When people are no longer able to do the things they loved about themselves, they often experience a crisis of identity. This is not a stable foundation. If it lacks stability, it isn’t gritty.
3. Self-Love has the edge over self-esteem because it is unconditional. Self-love says that you are valuable, regardless of your exploits. You are valuable as a person, as a flawed but well-intentioned being. This is a difficult concept to grasp and one I am still wrestling with. How could I love myself if I committed a mass murder? Presumably I wouldn’t, for a while at least. Leaving such extreme cases aside, it is certainly healthy to show love for yourself independent of your external achievements, just for being you. If this seems too alien or cutesy-wutesy to you, stick with self-esteem for now.
4. Strong core values. If you have belief in values that sit above the petty struggles of the day to today, you will be lifted, too. If you believe honesty and compassion are important, you will not struggle to be honest nor fret about doing so, even if this means swimming against popular opinion or causing short term tension. You will hold fast.
5.A clear vision, either strong or long. Elon Musk is a man who wants to make the future of the world as good as possible. He wants to ensure the happiness and survival of mankind. With a vision that long, is it any wonder he treats “failures” as hiccups and shows no concern towards personal attacks ? It is easier to overcome ongoing hardship if you are working towards something long-term.
A strong vision is often just as good as a long one, for the time it lasts at least. Take someone who is desperate to get a promotion, or run a marathon, or lose a stone. These goals may be achieved in weeks or months but if the intensity of feeling is behind them, the one pursuing them will overcome many issues without trouble. This is partly an issue of focus and motivation: if you find a goal that you really want and set your mind to it – you can endure an immense amount of discomfort along the way. During my rugby career, I endured considerable physical suffering on a regular basis, particularly during conditioning sessions or the day after a game. Outsiders would question how I did it, and find it odd. The truth is you don’t really notice the suffering when you’re truly dedicated to a goal, you’re too busy focusing on the goal. I notice this even now when I’m training. I often feel worse once I’ve stopped, because my mind stops focusing on the goal and turns its focus inward, noticing the distress that has been done to the body. As long as your eyes are on the prize, you probably won’t even notice the hardship along the way. 6. A support network. All my life, I have been fortunate enough to have a strong support network. I’ve often thought that family are the friends you can’t avoid. And that’s a good thing. Having a family behind you provides support and stability you may not even notice until it’s taken away. Friends – the family you choose – are vitally important too.
In 2012, I pushed my parents to the limit, and they kicked me out. I went to live with the subject of this article, Ellie Gellu. In 2014, history repeated itself, and this time I went AWOL for about 6 months. Compared to the lifestyle most Westerners are accustomed to, I was in quite dire straits. I would sometimes go a day or two without food. Yes – there’s people starving in the world. And yes – some health conscious individuals even choose not to eat for much longer. That said, intermittent fasting felt markedly different when i wasn’t doing it by choice. If I didn’t have a good network of friends, I would have been on the streets. (See end of article for gratitude**). The point is: friends are sounding boards, mentors, therapists, investors, landlords, entertainers, reassurers. All these functions help keep you balanced and able to push on. Without those, hardship is much more difficult to face.
7. Emotional / psychological make up. Some People are much more vulnerable than others. Perhaps they were the babies who got left crying for a minute too long, or they had a bullying older sibling, or they were never shown love. Maybe they were abused. Some people are much tougher than others. Maybe they had a sh*t time, too. It’s hard to know.
The role your early-life conditions play in your adult development is another thing that’s hard to overstate. This view is shared by almost all mainstream psychological schools, from psychoanalysts like Freud and Jung to Cognitive psychologists like Piaget. If early events give you the impression you aren’t valuable, or aren’t worthy, or are deficient in some way, it’s likely your self-concept and thus your resilience will suffer down the line.
Ok, so those are the components of grit.
So far so good.
Let’s get practical.
How to develop grit: A place to start
In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that becoming virtuous is a demanding process. Indeed, virtue wouldn’t be as valuable if it was easy. The same is true of grit. Despite what the Instagram gurus seem to imply, these aren’t the type of things you can just “switch on”. Developing the seven components discussed above takes time, thought and energy. Some of them – such as self-worth – may be projects that last a lifetime. This is all the more reason to get started now. In the immortal words of Cheryl Cole, “If it’s worth having it’s worth fighting for”.
How might one go about this quest?
Each one of those strands is worthy of a book in itself, and indeed, books have been written on each topic.
I will give some cursory suggestions here.
Start with awareness. You cannot have self-love if you don’t know who you really are. You can’t have strong values if you don’t know what you really care about. Without a sense of self and a set of values, you can’t really decide how to move forward, making self-belief and a strong vision hard to attain. It all starts with being quiet, and listening to yourself. This is a long process. Your head is full of gunky thoughts, memories and feelings, many of which are just inherited or assimilated from various external sources, or left over from different versions of yourself.
Start by sitting quietly for 10 minutes each morning. If this is difficult for you, that should tell you something about your mental state. After the sitting, try writing down your thoughts. Be curious about them. Where are they coming from? What are the feelings behind them? Most people are excellent liars, especially to themselves. Self-deception is a coping mechanism, it shields us from the horror of our true thoughts and feelings. Start peeling back that curtain bit by bit. You might be surprised what’s inside. I guarantee it will be less gruesome than you thought. Eventually you may want to progress into more formal “meditation” – but just sitting quietly without doing anything is challenge enough for most people, especially the high-achieving “busy” ones.
Distract yourself less. Spend less time on your phone. Turn the TV off. See what happens when it’s just you in a quiet room or a forest.
Once you start to work out who you are and what you want, you’ll find that the rest starts to fall into place. You will become more welcoming – seeing opportunities rather than obstacles – and more charismatic – drawing others to you. Well- we seem to have gotten a long way from the “no pain no gain”’ brand of grit that the reductionist quote-spammers like to espouse. But here we are.
The foundation of lasting resilience is self-love, and that, as the name suggests, starts with you.
NB: In this article I do not address the kind of ‘me-against-the-world’, f*ck you, grit that many of us are familiar with.
I accept that this kind of attitude can be useful, particularly for getting through very tough times, but the energy that fuels it is not positive, and by being built on opposition to to external forces, is not built to last.
Perhaps I will discuss this in a future post
I’d like to take this moment to thank all the people who helped me during that turbulent period in 2014. My family, for not giving up on me. My Nan for that month’s rent. Ellie Gellu for many loans she feared may never be repaid (they were). Callum B and Swaggy Wezu for their faithful companionship. Ollie B, Matt G, Gaynor F, Liam D and Jamie J for accommodating me. The Willy Hill VIP commune collective: Tom P, Kay and Egg. We looked after each other. Gracey Chess for doing a big shop for me and never expecting a penny back (I got to repay you eventually). All the Bamber Bridge Rugby crew for many small acts of kindness. I’d also like to thank everybody (there are too many to mention) who helped me or contributed to the Beef Jerky Business I started to feed myself, especially Ryan O and Danny B. You invested in me and have never asked for a dividend. It’s coming, and you know that.
Some things to look into:
Self-compassion – Kristin Neff
Anything by Jon Kabat Zinn on mindfulness. His guided meditations are very good, and free on youtube
Freud – The Question of Lay Analysis
Eckhart Tolle – A New Earth. Plus all his Youtube content.
An extremely common piece of self-help advice these days.
I would place it in a basket with “no pain, no gain” and “be comfortable being uncomfortable”: generally useful, said too often, has some exceptions.
It’s usually aimed at people who are scared of jumping into a new career, committing to a sporting challenge or telling someone they really like them.
Such fear is very real for some individuals. It is often crippling.
Still, the stakes- real or imagined – are relatively modest.
Let’s take the case of telling your partner how you feel.
They might reject you. This can cause some serious emotional harm. It might damage your relationship. If you live with the person, you might have to move out. This could cause material difficulty. All of these things are challenging, but they are not – literally – the end of the world.
In cases like these, ‘push through the fear’ is probably decent advice.
But what about other cases of fear?
What about cases where you think the outcome of a certain action is – literally – the end of the world? Death, the end of our own world, at least.
Well, in some of those cases, you should listen to that fear.
If you’re stood on the white cliffs of Dover and the ground beneath your feet starts to subside, you should listen to your fear and get out of there ASAP.
The same would apply if someone is walking towards you with a knife. Again, your fear says “Get out of there!” and the man who wants to live does just that.
This seems uncontroversial.
What’s less obvious, however, is how to respond when the threat is internal.
This is an area of great ambiguity.
Each year, thousands of people make a trip to A and E with what they think is a heart attack or some other catastrophic event. This often turns out to be an anxiety attack.
How does one respond in these situations?
If you take it seriously, you may end up with a wasted trip to hospital. You may feel embarrassed that you’ve wasted valuable NHS resources.
If you don’t take it seriously, you may die.
The answer to this depends on a variety of factors: your age, existing state of health/ health conditions, the specific symptoms experienced.
I don’t want to dish out much advice on this particular area. I’m not qualified. One thing I would say is for many people, it’s probably worth erring on the side of caution and getting yourself checked out, at least in the early days. Your health is important.
What I’d like to focus on – in this and future articles – is those individuals who have been given ample medical reassurance but still have feelings of extreme fear and alarm. For these individuals, there is a mental struggle to be undertaken which is often longer and harder than the recovery from any physical injury.
I’m going to use myself as a case study.
Fear and me: a short history
For almost all of my adult life, I felt more-or-less invincible. Since the age of 16, I’d trained extremely hard, every day. Sometimes I trained 2 or 3 times a day. I wasn’t a naturally talented athlete so had to make up for it somehow.
I have fond memories of going into college, doing my first lesson, then heading to the gym to pull intervals on the rower until I puked up my breakfast. This intensity worked, for a while. Having been terribly mediocre all my rugby career, I got selected to play for Great Britain U18s in 2008. Between the ages of 18 and 22, my resting heart rate was around 45 beats per minute.
As a rugby player, my success was built on invulnerability. I would run directly into people as hard as I possibly could. If at any point I sensed myself letting fear influence my decisions, I would make a point of facing that fear as soon as possible. If I shied away from a particular opposition player, I felt compelled to get the ball immediately and run directly at him. Several times my head collided with a knee, head or elbow and split open. I would be reluctantly pulled from the pitch due to blood regulations, only to tape the wound up and return within minutes. I never got stitched – partially out of a reluctance to let someone with a needle near my eye but mostly because this would take too long. I bear the scars of this recklessness today. I think they look quite cool.
Important disclaimer: this sort of behaviour is not exceptional in rugby or other collision sports. There are countless players who perform similar and more extreme acts of toughness every week.
My desire for invulnerability extended into other spheres of my life, too. I had extreme recreational habits. I worked extremely hard – constantly perfecting – desperately guarding against intellectual attack. I also unconsciously blocked myself and others from accessing large portions of my emotional spectrum.
I was all about control and ‘strength’.
You get the picture.
The beginnings of terror
I experienced claustrophobia once, in an MRI scanner. This took me wholly by surprise, since previously I had been able to control my mental state entirely. Perhaps this was the beginning of the end for the hegemony I held over my own psyche.
That incident aside, I don’t think I ever felt scared or out of control in my whole adult life.
I could push my mind/body to do literally anything I wanted. I simply had not considered my own vulnerability. When my extreme ways pushed me close to death twice, I just brushed it off, carried on, and went right back to the same habits.
It was great, I could see no downsides.
In boxing, they say the punch that hurts you is the one you don’t see coming.
It certainly was for me.
One night in Harrow
I don’t want to talk about the specific details of the particular incident right now, and I’m not sure I need to.
All you need to know is that I felt extreme fear for the first time. I thought I was going to die.
This one incident set off a cascade of reactions that destroyed large chunks of my self-concept and ultimately led to great changes in me as a person, both good and bad.
Fast-forward 2 years and I’m playing a rugby match. 10 minutes in, I throw myself forward with the intent to damage a member of the opposition, only to collide head-on-head with my own player.
2 days later, I go to the gym with my brother. Towards the end of the workout, I start to feel a little dizzy and faint, so go outside. From here, my condition worsens, and I’m led on the floor under a foil blanket. I begin to feel pins and needles in my hands, which travel upwards into my face.
Again – I think I am going to die.
I perked up a bit in the ambulance and in hospital was diagnosed with ‘post-concussion syndrome’, told to rest and sent on my way. For the next month or so, just sitting upright made me feel weird. Standing up was even worse. I tip-toed my way back into physical activity, eventually reaching a point where I could do light gym workouts.
When progress stalled, I sought the help of a neurologist, who diagnosed me with a condition called BPPV. Fine.
I did all the rehab, got back to the point where I could play rugby to some degree.
Great – I had regained a huge amount of function, but I still wasn’t the same.
Throughout this whole period, a sense of often inexplicable fear had lingered in my brain.
Each day I made deliberate efforts to fight against it, but still it would linger on.
The fear I had was that if I exercised to a sufficient intensity, something would ‘go wrong’ in my brain again, and I would be incapacitated or die. This fear was obviously related to the earlier traumas I had experienced, in the gym and before.
There are many people out there in similar positions.
When a traumatic event is not processed properly, traces of it linger on in our conscious and unconscious mind, causing all sorts of issues.
OCD, chronic anxiety (also known as generalised anxiety disorder) and a range of other anxieties can result.
In my case, there seemed to be a mixture of OCD, chronic anxiety and health anxiety going on.
The Point – or lack of
I’m kind of unsatisfied leaving this article here. It feels like I’ve built up towards the point but failed to deliver it. That said, if you’ve read this article you’ll know I have made a commitment to putting stuff out there, however imperfect, and I am serious about keeping to that. In subsequent articles, I will delve deeper into mental health conditions and the methods I have used/am using to recover from them.
(A small portion of) Takeaway:
For now, I’d just like to make the following points:
Not all fear is created equal. A sense of general unease prior to your date arriving is very normal and a very different beast to a strong sense of impending death.
Not everyone should simply ‘push through the fear’. I tried pushing hard for a while. I had multiple anxiety attacks each day. This wasn’t much fun and didn’t move me forward. Sometimes taking it easy and giving your limbic system time to calm down is a better option.
In spite of 2): At some point, everyone will have to push through discomfort. If you’re scared of leaving the house (agoraphobia) and you never leave the house, you’re never going to overcome your fear. Working out when to push and when to ease off has been largely a matter of trial and error. Try and see.
My friend, Ellie, shared this video of herself accidentally head-butting a bar to a Crossfit group yesterday.
Watch with sound on.
My first thoughts on watching the video were:
Ouch! That was a big whack.
Well done on not crying
My emotions were sympathy and respect.
Shortly after her sharing it, the video was re-shared on another page called ‘Gymfuckery’, where – up to press- it has attracted over 400,000 views and over 2000 comments.
Some of the comments were supportive, some light-hearted.
Sadly but perhaps not surprisingly, A significant percentage were negative, callous or outright vicious.
In this article Im going to analyse some of these comments and try to understand why they were made.
What’s the beef?
There are multiple comments focussing on the notion that the movement Ellie is performing isn’t a ‘real’ pull-up, and that she would have been fine if she was performing the movement in the ‘correct’ fashion.
There is no such thing as a ‘real’ pull up. The lift she is performing is a kipping chest-to-bar pull up. She is performing this as part of her gymnastics program, in a quest to become proficient at certain gymnastics movements that are done in Crossfit. The people writing about ‘real’ pullups are presumably referring to ‘strict’ pull ups. These pull-ups may be done for a variety of reasons, but will not have the same results Ellie is seeking.
Issue number 1: People pushing their own belief systems onto others.
These comments frequently reference how the kipping pull-up wont build muscle. I would dispute that. I built very strong/muscular lats doing almost exclusively kipping pull-ups for very high reps during my rugby career, but that’s not the point.
The point is: she isn’t trying to build muscle. At least, that isn’t the primary aim here. The primary aim is working on a specific gymnastic weakness.
These commenters are presuming that everyone has the same goals as them, without bothering to do even the tiniest bit of homework first.
Not everyone has the same goals. Criticising others because they are doing something that doesn’t meet your projection of their goals is a curious act. I mean, criticising someone who has is doing no harm/ has no bearing on your life is odd, anyway, but we’ll overlook that for now.
There are two main faults here: ignorance and arrogance.
Ignorant of the different goals people may have, and arrogant enough to presume you can know the reasons anyone wants to do anything.
What makes this more bizarre is that there is an abundance of information about Crossfit out there, and it is very clear that the primary aim of crossfit is to be a maximally well-rounded athlete, not to ‘build muscle’ or ‘get swole’.
There are also people presuming what Ellie’s capabilities are. See comment below.
Again, this smacks of lazy thinking. ‘lorzenolynn’ has seen one video of one movement Ellie is performing. Using this to assess her capabilities is bizarre. If someone attempts to climb Everest and fails, it would be a rather silly comment to say “well, you should be able to walk up Ben Nevis first”. How do you know they haven’t?!
Again, the level of presumption is bizarre.
(For the record, Ellie has several videos of her doing full-range pull-ups on her profile).
Not even thicc
Moving into darker territory, there are also comments insulting her appearance and calling her names.
We see a two things here:
A man trying to impose his standard of beauty on a woman. “You ain’t even thicc” seems to presume Ellie wants to be ‘thicc’ – and that this is why she is doing crossfit.
People being deliberately malicious: calling her names, wishing bad things on her, taking glee in the suffering of others.
Tripping, falling and other minor accidents are a fairly common feature of life. I knock my elbows all the time. When such things occur, the common reaction is one of sympathy at best, or mere indifference at worst. Most people try to help. The only period I can remember being mocked for my misfortune was during bullying in primary school. Even then, this was carried out by a tiny minority and largely outlawed by the rest of the populace – it simply wasn’t on.
Given that even young children can self-regulate their communities against bullying and meanness towards people experiencing misfortune, I have been thinking hard about why this is perpetrated and supported by a significant number of adults. (Some of the abusive comments have several hundred likes).
Where does the motivation come from?
To answer this question, i’d first like to consider in which circumstances it is generally considered acceptable to mock, berate or attack someone.
There is a rather simple answer: when they deserve it.
Most people are fairly nice to most people.
Just look at the way people behave in pubs or supermarkets.
The order of service is generally given to those who were there first, who may pass it up to an older person, or someone in need. Queues are followed. People smile and let others pass.
Contrast this to the things people say about pedophiles, or the way they are treated by online vigilante groups.
“They deserve to be shot”
“I wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire”
When people feel the target deserves it, they feel justified – and perhaps more importantly, enjoy – dishing out righteous condemnation that ranges from pretty intense to full-on-old-testament-biblical stuff.
So to return to our question, why the beef with Ellie?
People may think that by posting the video online, this makes her a free target for ridicule.
They may also think that by doing Crossfit, she opens herself up to it.
They may think that by attempting to do something ‘the wrong way’, she is stupid and thus deserves to be taught a lesson.
All of the above may be accurate, but sadly I think the full explanation is much deeper and much darker than that.
All of the people making these comments are men.
Fear and loathing
My hypothesis is this:
By focussing on performance over appearance, Crossfit does several things:
Empowers women to value themselves based on qualities that are independent of, and at times clash with, historical male-dominated beauty standards.
Does not value muscle size or strength more highly than a variety of attributes. This challenges male-dominated notions of ‘fitness’ that centre primarily on strength and muscularity. By valuing many different attributes, Crossfit also makes the stereotypical ‘muscle bro’ less exceptional.
The Crossfit community provides a stable base for men and women alike, further boosting their confidence.
The sharing of fitness exploits is encouraged for critique and motivational purposes. This fosters further empowerment.
The end result here is we have groups of men who are threatened.
They are threatened because Crossfit has created a generation of women who have found confidence in their hard-earned, independent achievements. These women do not need men for security or self-esteem. They are strong and they know it. Their success is measured by expanding their physical capabilities, by hitting PRs, by mastering new movements. No man can give this or take it away.
These women often differ from western male-dominated beauty standards and are still happy, confident and willing to tell us about it. These women have rejected standards that value them for what they were born with. They gain value from what they have worked for.
These women have self-esteem that is not founded on male approval.
They are happy, healthy, and give less f*cks.
They are powerful.
And this – above and beneath everything else – is the reason some men hate Crossfit. This is why Ellie got bashed.
Fear, and resentment.
This has been one of my most read/ shared articles so far, and the response has generally been one of agreement. That said, having discussed this topic further with some friends, I think this article neglects the context of these comments, and in doing so, may overstate the role gender has to play in this situation to some degree. What I mean by ‘context’ is the way people interact with each other/ comment online generally. Often online interactions are mean and critical. Furthermore, often ‘fitness’ figures are subject to particularly mean and critical comments, regardless of gender.
The reasons people behave this way online are worthy of a serious discussion in themselves, but I would tentatively suggest the following: 1) Jealousy/ feelings of threat. Other people being fit/healthy/happy makes some people feel bad about their own lives/ inferior. They respond by tearing down the idol, so to speak. 2) Some sense that since the person is sharing images of their body online, criticising them is ‘fair game’. 3) A lack of consideration for the person as a human being, with feelings.
This of course is facilitated in the online sphere by a lack of real accountability for our words. We aren’t forced to deal with an upset person or a bloody nose as we might be forced to in real life. The checking effects of seeing other people upset or them responding with violence are removed. (Read my article on the second point here).
As one friend commented ‘People are just d*cks online’.
As true as that may be, and as much as that does weaken my argument, there still seems to be a particular issue with regards women in fitness/Crossfit being attacked by men, so the thrust of this piece still holds weight, I think.
I was pleased with the response to yesterday’s post.
Thanks for reading.
My subconscious was obviously quite engaged in the content, too, because it put a bit of a shift in overnight.
Today I am going to discuss the dark and sad side of attraction.
Today I am going to talk about ‘Game’.
Another important disclaimer: This will again be written from a predominantly male perspective. The content thus has a slightly different purpose for men/women, but it is no less valuable to each.
Game – not to be confused with ‘The Game’, the best-selling book centred around this concept – might be understood as “actions taken with the deliberate intent of making yourself more attractive to others”.
Two common types of game include:
Aesthetic game – ‘Peacocking’, or wearing something outlandish to attract attention and display your confidence, is perhaps the most famous tactic within this category. More common however, is ‘improving’ your appearance. Getting a trendy haircut (or a non-trendy one, if that’s your niche. Hipsters, unite). Getting shredded. Buying designer clothes.
Of course, these actions aren’t always done with attraction in mind. Some people do things for themselves. That’s cool. Lots of people don’t. Even those who think they do should deeply examine their motivations. You may discover you are more other-oriented than you are willing to admit. Anyone who says they don’t care what other people think is a liar, insane, or beyond the realm of my experience. Everyone cares. The question is just a matter of degree – some people care more/less than others.
Group theory – If you’re in a social setting and you see a guy in the middle of three beautiful women who appear to be listening to him, what do you think? Compare this to what you might think of a man who is stood behind three women, trying to get their attention. What’s the difference? The first one is – on the face of things – of a higher status than the second. He has the attention of others. He is obviously worth listening to. More importantly, he has the attention of not just one, but three beautiful women, who could be talking to anyone else in the bar. He is obviously confident and interesting. These three women, whoever they are, have just given this man ‘social proof’, that is, every other person in the bar now has a higher opinion of this man, from an attraction standpoint. It doesn’t matter how he got there. It doesn’t even really matter what he said. As long as he leaves before the women get bored, he has just elevated his ‘sexual market value’ (ie, attractiveness) to every other person in the room.
Another common group theory method involves how you treat the ‘target’ and her friendship group. The method would be to introduce yourself to the group and win them over – including the males. In doing this, you have achieved that vital thing once more: social proof. If everyone in the group likes you, you must be worth talking to. You must be worth something. You must be worth mating with.
From there, the story gets a little darker. The popular approach from here would be to show the ‘target’ as little attention as possible, to make her want to win your approval. Since the whole group already approves you, the ‘target’ will naturally want to win your approval in order to maintain her status in the group. Nefarious/basic/unoriginal game-exponents will also resort to ‘negging’ at this point. They will criticise the target in a ‘subtle’ (LOL) way, such as a back-handed complement.
‘Your hair looks great – is it a wig?’
‘I don’t normally like blondes but you might be the exception’
‘Whoa, I haven’t seen shoes like that for years. I do like them though, I really do’
The motivation here is: 1) Lower the self-esteem of your target; 2) Show them that you are ‘strong and powerful’, thus willing to speak your mind, even at the risk of offending.
From here, our young PUA (pick-up artist) will either ‘phase shift’ – a sudden burst of intense attention designed to make the target feel overwhelmed and elated – or attempt to get the target away from the group in order to reduce her security and inhibitions. One famous brand of such tactics was brought into the public eye in 2015 when one of David Cameron’s senior aides, Mark Clarke, was accused of sexually assaulting multiple women whilst executing his ‘Inebriate, isolate and penetrate’ strategy.
I could go on and on about various forms of game, and I am by no means an expert.
Why am I writing about this today?
Know thy enemy: If you know the common themes and tactics, you can avoid falling prey to seduction that is at worst, malevolent, and relatively unconcerned by your wellbeing at best.
Know thyself: In the long run, this stuff probably isn’t going to lead to happiness. It won’t help you find a life partner. Ultimately, it will just put more distance between you and the love you seek.
Ok – so point 1) should be mostly taken care of by now, at least in a couple of key game areas.
If you’d like, I will uncover more game strategies in due course.
On to point 2).
Look guys, I get it.
The universe is really unfair sometimes.
Some people are born talented. Or good-looking. Or intelligent. Or whatever.
Some people are naturally extroverted, tactile, and have high emotional intelligence.
In the seduction community, these people are called ‘naturals’, and they will beat the uninitiated to the pull 99 times out of 100.
These guys can walk into a bar and walk out with a girl within 15 minutes.
They don’t even need to try.
Its just what they do.
I am not a natural. I am ‘most people’.
For most people, the study of game comes from a good place: we just want to learn and improve so that we can level the playing field a little. We want to at least be able to talk to a girl so that we can show them all our great, but often subtle or hidden, talents.
It’s hard to argue this is a bad thing. And it works, at first.
The problem is that if you alter yourself too drastically in your pursuit of sexual partners, all your relationships will be built on an unstable foundation. Your partner isn’t with you because of you, they are with you because of the image you’ve perfected and projected. Of course, some really discerning partners might be able to see through all the game and love you for what’s underneath. That’s great. More often, however, you end up repressing elements of yourself to remain ‘attractive’, or the other person gradually turns away as it becomes apparent that you aren’t what you pretended you were.
Real relationships are made up of real people.
People who know themselves.
So finally we reach the point, I suppose.
Study yourself, make peace with who you are.
When you know what you truly value, you’ll find someone who is truly valuable.
P.s. I get that many men who learn game are doing it simply to get laid. Maybe this is just a phase you need to go through. I’m willing to bet the thrill of tricking a woman into bed doesn’t last forever, though.
P.p.s. Deliberately deceiving women in order to sleep with them obviously has severe ethical implications. It is not clear whether all game is ‘deliberate’ deception. Still, listen to a ‘chatting up’ conversation in any pub in the country and you will hear people deceiving each other about their achievements, talents and who they really are. This is a tricky debate and maybe one i’ll discuss in a future post.
Important disclaimer: this is written primarily from a male POV, mostly because I haven’t studied or thought about how females attract males in as much detail as the converse.
I would tentatively suggest that the principles apply broadly to women, too, with the following caveats:
Appearance may be a more important factor in women attracting men than the other way round.
Female friends have often told me men – particularly immature men- are intimidated by their talents. This would mean Level II would be inverted in some cases
Level I: Appearance/ Looks / Beauty
I’d like to talk about attractiveness.
AKA ‘pulling power’.
Looking around, nearly everyone notices the most obviously attractive feature: appearance.
It is a bizarre line of thinking which tries to say that everyone is beautiful.
They aren’t, at least not in the sense that most people mean it.
Of course, everyone has some qualities that could be admired by someone.
But that isn’t what we’re talking about.
We are talking very specifically about a physical appearance which is deemed as attractive by most people.
Yes, beauty is : 1) Hard to define; 2) Subject to variance across cultures.
This doesn’t mean beauty doesn’t exist, or that the notion is completely subjective.
If you aren’t convinced, ask 100 men who’d they’d rather sleep with, a famously beautiful woman like Cheryl Cole or a famously ugly woman like Susan Boyle.
Do this anywhere in the world and you will see physical notions of beauty are quite solid.
II: Excellence / Talent / Ability
Ok – so looks matter – at least to some extent – but anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at the subject knows this is not the whole story. Most rockstars are not objectively beautiful fellas, and they’ve done more bedding than Dunelm Mill.
Abilities matter, too.
The next level of attractiveness is that of excellence. Exceptional ability in any arena.
Look around you. The people who attract more mates tend to be good at things. The people who attract the very most mates are those who are visibly good at things , like professional sportsmen, actors and other people who appear on screens.
Wealth also falls into this category. Leaving aside those individuals who desire a wealthy partner because they want new shiny things, read: ‘Gold diggaz’, many people see wealth as an indicator of talent. If you are able to accumulate money, your talent is Capitalism.
You only have to listen to discussions of Trump to see that this is the case: people think money = excellence. And in some cases, rightly so.
Of course, this kinda falls down in the realm of inheritance, but if you’re focusing on material wealth as the basis of your attraction, you open yourself up to certain risks. If you end up with a talentless squib living off Daddy’s money, tough luck.
Excellence matters more than appearance, particularly if you have the opportunity to display it. Dappy from N Dubz, Peter Crouch, Donald Trump. These men and their sexual partners are all testament to what publicly displayed proficiency does to your attractiveness.
III: Inner peace/ Security / Confidence
The final level of attractiveness is what we might call ‘security’ or ‘inner peace’ or ‘vibe’ or ‘energy’ – this is being happy with yourself and in a great mood. This is the most attractive quality of all, and certainly the hardest to achieve. It is subtle, and almost impossible to fake.
This makes it extremely valuable.
Appearance can be altered: surgery, make-up, new jeans.
Excellence can be faked: bragging/ false representations/lies, inherited wealth, spending beyond your means.
Being content and completely at ease with yourself: not so easy.
This is partly the result of luck. Some people had happy childhoods that leave them feeling like they are worthy. They haven’t analysed it much, they just feel they are enough. They are ok with what they are, right now.
This quality is also the result of wise decisions: some people made choices they were happy with, leaving them free of regret.
It is also the result of hard work: some people have undergone great suffering and torment in order to reach a point where they can be ok with who they are.
Whatever the source of their contentment, the result is the same: pure, shiny, luscious.
Married men are more attractive even before women know they are married. Why? They are content, they are comfortable.
They exude a deeper sense of security.
The same could be said of many holders of excellence. People of excellence often hit both bases. They are attractive because they are talented and their talent gives them self-esteem, amplifying their attraction further.
This need not be the case, however.
There are many individuals who are mediocre on paper, but incredibly attractive in real life, to men and women alike, for no discernible reason at all.
We have all come across people like this.
We have also come across people, who, despite being very successful in various ways, do not have the pulling power to match.
This dimension is not related to an independent assessment of your life CV.
It is related to your own internal assessment.
Are you happy with yourself and all that you’ve done?
Do you believe that you are sufficient, more or less as you are?
If the answer is no, you are unlikely to possess the sheer magnetism of somebody who is.
You can still be attractive, of course, but you’ll never be as attractive, or as inspirational, as that rare individual who is at home in their own skin.
Maybe this won’t matter. Maybe you will attract mates and friends who admire you for your talents. Maybe this will be enough.
But maybe it won’t.
Maybe you’ll start to tire of appearance or excellence-based relationships.
Maybe you will begin to yearn for someone who wants you for who you are, not for what you look like, or what you can do.
The good news is: you can work on being ok with yourself.
The bad news is: it will take some time.
The process involved is the subject of another article.
For now, I wish you the best of luck on your journey.
I got rejected by a company yesterday, following two rounds of interviews. I didn’t want the job, I was interviewing to test the waters, but still.
This hasn’t happened to me in a few years and it kinda threw up some emotions I haven’t experienced for a while.
Let’s talk about the process.
Stage I: The Emotional Hit. A sense of sadness or embarrassment. A harking back to childhood disappointments. The intensity and character will vary depending on your level of self-esteem at the time, the amount of effort you put into the application, how much you wanted the job, and how confident you were of getting it. Right now I’m fairly balanced but not on-top-of-the-world so the hit was moderate. Enough to blemish the start of my day, but not enough to ruin it entirely. I made the amateur mistake of checking my phone on waking. NB: NEVER DO THIS. Get up and take care of your essential rituals before letting any external data into your life. You’ll feel much better, trust me.
Stage II: The Instinctive Reaction. Anger emerges, alongside a desire for self-justification. This is the most dangerous stage. STAY AWAY FROM YOUR EMAIL. In the past I’ve responded during this stage and said things I’ve regretted later. You may think the other person/people are wrong, you may have some good responses to their points, but it doesn’t really matter. Get on with something else and wait until stage three.
Stage III: The Processing. As your emotions simmer away, you start to see things from the other person’s POV. You stop fighting their judgements and try to understand them. This is a crucial stage, and it is one some people never reach. Many of us are so desperate to defend ourselves that we don’t take enough time to understand the ‘attack’. It’s at this point that I really start to depersonalise the feedback I’ve received – it isn’t all about me. Nothing ever is. I also try to think “If I saw another person do X or Y”, how would I perceive that in an interview setting? In my case, key criticisms included: saying I got into teaching for the money, saying I was overqualified for the role, and allegedly mocking some of my students’ parents. Some of these comments certainly seemed to have been interpreted in a very different way to how I intended them. Indeed, some of them seemed to have been interpreted in a deliberately unfair or negative light. But again, I tried to think of the overall impression that the combined weight of these comments would give, and whether the interpretation of some was coloured by others. It would seem it was, since the interviewers were probably hoping I was a good candidate, not setting out to discredit me.
Stage IV: The ‘mature’ response. Before responding to any rejection I think its important to ask yourself “What will I achieve?” Many times, all you are really going to achieve is making the other person like you less. You may just want to “say your piece”. I get that. Sometimes I even say to myself “well, if I don’t put this person right they will carry on doing things wrong/unfairly”.
In this case, however, I sense I would ultimately just be trying to show that I was right. This leads to a second question: “Why do I care about showing some people I don’t know, for a job I didn’t even want, that I’m right?” The answer, I suspect, is pure ego. I just don’t like being told I’m not good enough.
Before you respond, you should make sure you have a clear intention in doing so. Then analyse that intention. Is it genuine? Will it make the world a better place overall?
If the answer isn’t a clear yes to either, I’d recommend getting on with something else so your brain can carry on working through stage three behind the scenes.
Take your time, sift through all the gunk and respond when its going to do some good.
Perhaps you’re wondering how I responded to the company. The truth is, I haven’t.
I’m still in stage three.
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