Monday, 9 September 2019

Impostor syndrome

Have you ever felt like all the good stuff that’s happened in your life, was all a bit of a fluke? Even though you know deep down that you’ve worked hard to get where you are, you don’t allow yourself to get hung up on it?

“Siri, define: Impostor syndrome”

“The persistent inability to believe that ones success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.”

I don’t know about you, but since I turned 16 I’ve often felt like a fraud. Any accomplishments I gained - regardless of the effort I put into achieve them - felt more like a result of luck than talent. 

For example: 
Every single job I’ve ever applied for, I’ve been offered. 

With the knowledge I have now, looking at that sentence makes me pretty proud. Prior to that knowledge, I was crippled by the feeling that I’d just struck lucky - right place, right time. 

**Side note: I don’t believe it’s a bad thing to get turned down for a potential job opportunity. I actually think it’s a constructive way finding out your weak spots, whilst gaining valuable experience.**

My mind passed it off as being ‘humble’, but it wasn’t anything like that. I was under the impression that I didn’t actually deserve what was being offered. I didn’t think I had the qualities they were looking for. I didn’t think any of the interviews went well. I took no positives from any of the experiences I had, and yet I still got the job. 

“I guess I’m just lucky.”

There are some that believe this psychological pattern only applies to the successful elite, which to me couldn’t be further from the truth. Regardless of societal hierarchies, anyone who has felt crippling doubts about their abilities - especially whilst being praised for their achievements - are going through the same emotional experience. The intensity may differ depending on circumstance, but the emotions felt are the same.

Anyone who has experienced this phenomenon will know exactly what I mean. It’s so difficult to put your finger on why you think the way you do, but for the purpose of this post, I had a go.

As situations and circumstances alter, our confidence levels follow suit. This is especially true during social interactions. 

For example:
If I was sat in a room with a group of strangers and forced to create conversation, my confidence in taking part would be low. However, if I was sat in a room with a group of football fans who happened to be strangers, my confidence in contributing to conversation would heighten. 

Although the structure of the interaction would be the same, my confidence rose on account of my love for football. 

Without my knowledge, a belief has been forged in my mind when it comes to discussions involving people who I have no prior relationship. 

‘Unless I have a passion for the topic of discussion, I have almost nothing to contribute.’

When I view that sentence in the cold light of day, I realise how silly it is. Yet, it’s a belief that I’ve never been able to shake. 

Applying these thoughts to my achievements, opened my mind to some of the other situational biases I’ve created. 

For example:
During the summer, my Sunday league football team held their annual awards night. 
I arrived in the belief that I’d had a difficult year, and my performances on a Sunday morning reflected that. 
I was under no illusions about the potential of receiving an award, and was looking forward to the social aspect rather than the presentation itself. I ended up being given the most improved player award. 
Stunned would be an understatement.
When people congratulated me, I replied with the exact same word in the exact same way.

“Cheers”, whilst holding a face of bemusement. 

I didn’t know what else to say I mean, I was shit? 
There was loads of people who’d improved more than me. 

Yet the weird thing was, when I told my family I’d won an award, I did it with a smile on my face. It was like I was able to appreciate how hard I’d worked once the pressure of the situation had been removed. It was almost as if my mind was allowing me - just for a split second - to realise that I’d done well.

I know I know, it’s a pretty small achievement, but it shows that these biases exist. 

I also believe that another contributor is other people’s consideration of your opinion. 

Everyone likes being asked for their two cents worth, because it makes us feel like our thoughts are valued. However, if we begin to feel like our opinion isn’t being taken into consideration, our confidence around those people diminishes. This causes us to feel anxious whenever we’re in the presence of these people, and eventually leads us to believing that their lack of consideration is warranted.

Take this scenario:
Your boss invites you to a meeting to discuss a future task he’d like you to complete. You go into his office to discover that he’s already put together what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it and who is going to assist you. After attempting to contribute to the planning process, you feel like your ideas and thoughts have been disregarded by your manager, who seems hell bent on doing things his own way. You leave feeling dejected and disinterested with the task at hand.

Now tell me something, the next time your boss invites you to a meeting, how are you going to feel?

For starters the feelings of the previous meeting will recur, along with the procrastinatory tendencies of someone looking for a way out. 

Barring a miraculous change in approach from your manager, your mind will always go back to that first meeting. All future engagements will come with the repetitive side order of anxiety, until you eventually start to believe that their inconsiderate nature is justified. You become so used to being told what to do and how to do it, that you struggle to offer your opinion in other areas of your life. 

I believe this is where the ‘yes man’, comes from. Not because the individual is a ‘pushover’, but because their initiative has been mismanaged. Their confidence has been suppressed to the point that the thought of maintaining a preference or opinion, brings nothing but apprehension. 

Truth be told, I’m not really sure how to gain control over this internalised fear - or if it’s even possible. 

Ever since I came to grips with my propensity to down-play my achievements, I’ve attempted to implement different methods for reducing the impact that impostor syndrome has on my choices. 

I’ve found that; investing time into development/learning, removing sources of self-doubt and questioning my own thoughts, have been of most benefit in terms of reducing the feelings of uncertainty. 

But in all honesty, I’m not really sure if this is something that we can ever truly let go of. 
Maybe we’re meant to have periods of self-doubt. 
Maybe we’re suppose to question our abilities, every once in a while.
Maybe confidence comes down to perception.

If you are perceived to be confident by others; is that all that matters?

Monday, 2 September 2019

Improvements don’t come in a steady incline

“If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
How many times have you heard this, after spending 10 minutes explaining that you’re finding something difficult? I’m guessing a fair few. Although it may not seem supportive, nor helpful, our audience are conveying a very simple and important message.

Change is difficult, get used to it.

We as humans have the irrational belief that the process of improvement is linear. Deciding what you want to improve is the start point, improving in that area is the end point, with a steady rising gradient connecting the two. It’s a lovely fairytale, but it’s looking upon the issue with rose-tinted glasses. 

Your road to improvement - no matter how large or small - comes with peaks and troughs. 

Lets take an example; building muscle. 
Most lads (aged 18-30) will initiate the idea of going to the gym in the hope that they can ‘get hench/swole/big/etc’. The concept usually derives from some minor ribbing off their friends, or even glancing at the cover of one of the popular fitness magazines. They see, they want, they ‘commit’. 

Fast-forward 3-6 months… 

The majority of our fledgling Mr Olympias have hung up their lifting belts, and slumped right back into their old habits - but why?

These guys saw what they wanted and assumed it was an upward trajectory from the second they walked onto the gym floor. They thought that all they had to do was pick up heavy shit like the rest of the meathead bodybuilders, and they’d be big in no time. 

Well, weren’t they disappointed. 

Their intentions were positive, but their expectations were not. The men you see on the front of those magazines have spent the majority of their time on this earth living the fitness model lifestyle. 

They spend 2-3 hours in the gym, 7 days a week. 
They eat a ridiculously low amount, regardless of the time of year.
They skip out on enjoying social occasions and birthdays, fearing their body will turn to mush overnight. 

These guys commit; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to get that physique, and you were expecting to smash it out in 3 months? 

So expectations were high, surely as humans we have the capabilities to realign our forecast with reality, and continue to progress regardless? 

Possibly, but unlikely. 

Imagine jumping on a bronco whilst under the impression that it enjoys being ridden, and inevitably (at least to everyone else) being launched 6ft into the air and crashing to the ground. Would you re-saddle without question?

So, now we’ve crashed back down to earth, with our expectations looking like they’ve gone through the set of Honey I Shrunk The Kids, how about we tackle the whys?

Let’s go back to our previous example; why can’t any old person just walk into the gym, pick stuff up and eventually gain muscle?

They can, with emphasis on the word ‘eventually’.

Most believe that if your form is correct and you lift ‘heavy’ weight frequently, you’ll achieve your goal. Even though this belief has the basics covered, there’s a whole world of variables that are left in the cold. Namely; protein intake, sleep, nutrition, stress, anxiety, individual pain threshold, individual perceived levels of exertion, water intake, illness, diseases, age of individual, hormonal imbalance, injuries, handicaps, calorie intake, etc. Some of these things we can control, others not so much. 

These factors vary and fluctuate from day-to-day, hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute. It all boils down to something I like to call, indirect variability. 

How on earth could our gradient of improvement remain stable, when all these inconsistencies are at play? 

In fact, I would go as far as to call it a miracle if you managed to go 6 weeks with consistent improvements, never mind 6 months. 

So instead of entering the world of self-improvement with your eyes shut, start by accepting the unavoidable negatives as par for the course. 

You will have moments where you feel like you’ve regressed.
You will have negative thoughts and emotions about your progress.
You will go to bed some nights feeling like you’ve failed.
You will feel like quitting… a lot.
All of this is part and parcel of self-development and it’s not only normal, it’s inescapable.

Difficult, stressful and mentally draining times, are what help our minds grow, adapt and prosper. Bad days are what put the successes into perspective. They give us a memory to look back on, when we finally achieve what we set out to do. They don’t feel like gifts at the time, but it’s exactly what they are. 

After all; how would we know what a good day was, if that’s all that we lived?

Monday, 26 August 2019

Loving the process

Have you ever wondered why the fulfilment you feel after reaching a target is so short-lived?
It doesn’t matter; how big an achievement is, how long it’s taken to get there or how much you’ve sacrificed to be successful, the satisfaction post-completion is always short-term. 

Why is that? 

The fact is that the vast majority of people who realise a long-term ambition, respond with more negative emotions than positive. It’s as if the structure they have built into everyday life is filling a void which only becomes clear after the need for it has been removed.

How do we avoid this?

Most people tend to jump straight into their next goal. However, I believe that a person that jumps from one achievement to the next is stuck on a road to short-term happiness. They spend so much time looking to the future, that they don’t stop to think about the here and now.

What makes me think this? This was me in a nutshell. 

I’d say that I’ve spent around 95% of my life thinking about the future and what it might hold, never appreciating what I had in the present. This isn’t me shitting on future-proofing yourself - that’s just smart life-admin - but I don’t believe for a second that the happiest people in the world are the one’s who think with the (what I like to call) ‘I’ll be happy when’ mindset.

This mindset encapsulates the exact type of person I was describing. They set a target, achieve it, indulge in short-term feelings of gratification and move on to the next thing. Sure, they’re experiencing so many things in their lives that others could only dream of, but are they really learning and gaining enjoyment from those experiences?

Most tend to see achievement as a process of hard work over a stretch of time, in a bid to achieve something that will improve their life. Though this is sort of true, it describes a direct outcome for your time and effort, but mentions nothing about the indirect outcomes. I believe the experience gained whilst attaining a goal is what people are overlooking in their search for higher levels of fulfilment. 

You don’t enjoy whatever hobbies float your boat for the outcome, you enjoy them for the process. Even though your mind is excited at the prospect of being able to complete the task, the act of engaging with the activity’s intricacies is what really ramps up your enthusiasm for doing it.

Think about it like this:
You and your friend love badminton, and get together to play each other every Tuesday. How unsatisfying would Tuesday's badminton session become, if your mate turned up, admitted you were the superior player and crowned you as victorious?

It doesn’t matter if we’re discussing your life’s hobbies or your life’s ambitions. We have to gain enjoyment and experience from the everyday grind, or the outcome will be worth nothing. To learn from your achievements and gain positive long-lasting experience from each one, you must be fulfilled by the process.

Between the years of 1992 and 1997, one name reigned supreme across the world of bodybuilding - Dorian Yates. Yates won the international bodybuilding competition ‘Mr. Olympia’ for 6 consecutive years, placing himself as the 5th most successful winner of all time. Yates became synonymous for removing himself from the public eye during the off-season and waltzing straight to the top of the podium on show day, earning himself the nickname of ‘The Shadow’.

But what’s Dorian Yates got to do with anything?

Yates is the absolute personification of loving the process. 
Bodybuilders are some of the most vain, narcissistic and self-obsessed sportspeople in the world. However, Yates was different. As his nickname suggests, he wasn’t in it for the admiration. He would rock up to a contest dressed in a baggy hoody and sweatpants, whip his kit off for the judges, smile/tense, get handed his winner’s trophy and slip off back into the darkness. In fact, Dorian has suggested that posing for pictures on contest day, wasn’t where he found his enjoyment for the sport. He found it his preparation. Contest day wasn’t where Yates found his competition, he found it on the gym floor. 

Like Dorian, we should be aiming to seek out the knowledge and experiences that our process presents. Without taking stock of our short-term improvements, we are destined to live a life of transient episodic happiness. 

If you feel like you don’t love the day-to-day slog of whatever you’re doing, I’d question whether the outcome will ever be worth it. Though for arguments sake, let’s say it is - who cares? 

Much like Yates himself, that feeling will disappear into the darkness by the time the champagne cork hits the ceiling. 

Monday, 19 August 2019

The fear of failure

When living in a society built on comparison, it is difficult to escape an overbearing feeling of inadequacy. Achieving at a lesser rate forces us to believe that we are somehow inferior to others, and unable to reach similar heights. Whether it’s through a lack of ‘essential’ commodities or god-given talent, consistency in the face of your apparent deficiencies feels inconceivable. However, just because these deficiencies exist, does not mean they are an impenetrable blockade.

In her book ‘Mindset’, Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck discusses two opposing mindsets that dominate the human race - Fixed vs Growth. 

A fixed mindset tends to be employed by individuals who live in the belief, that applying effort to achieve their goals highlights their deficiencies. Meaning their potential achievements are either postponed or abandoned through fear of uncovering that ‘weakness’. 

A growth mindset is often utilised by those who see failure as a means to learn and improve. By treating failure as an inevitability, they lack the preoccupation of weakness and therefore have a much greater potential for success.

The problem is that the anxiety that comes with failure doesn’t descend from self-judgement, but from the judgement of others. If we allow the opinions of others to dictate our actions, we fall into the trap of treating failure as a trait rather than an outcome. Accepting other’s opinions as beliefs rather than realities, decreases the influence they hold over your decisions, and therefore reduces the likelihood of surrendering to the fixed mindset.

In a 1999 New York Times article, Cultural Historian Scott Sandage called attention to the progressive change in our views on failure.

“Failure has been transformed from an action to an identity.”

Sandage’s research shows that the meaning of the word ‘failure’ has gradually mutated from an act into a flaw. The alteration itself has been drawn out over so many years that few had noticed it’s detrimental effects, not only on the amount of people willing to fail, but the amount of people willing to risk.

Lauded visionaries of today are held aloft as shining examples of success, yet there is little mention of the failures they endured to achieve it. Do you think that Apple Inc. was created in 1976 and has been continually successful to this day? How about Microsoft Corporation in 1975? Sony Corporation in 1946?

Various failures in protection of customer data, along with financial debacles such as; Sony’s 9 year stint of Bravia TV seeing losses of £4.6 billion, Microsoft’s $6 billion bath on the purchase of aQuantive in 2007 and Apple Inc’s $450 billion drop in market value in the first quarter of this year, say otherwise.

The average person has none of this on the line. No money. No employees. Their decisions have virtually no impact on the lives of others. Yet that fear is still present. Not only is it still present, but it’s debilitating. 

So, how do we stop this freight train of uncertainty? 

Just because you currently align yourself with the fixed mindset, doesn’t mean that this cannot be consciously altered. In her book, Professor Dweck goes on to discuss the changes people can make to help adjust their mindset.

The studies that Professor Dweck presents, show a remarkable change in the responses of subjects from minor tweaks to their prospective. Opting for more challenging tasks, aiming for improvement rather than achievement and praising effort over talent, all had positive effects on the participant’s ability to accept failure as part of the process. You would be forgiven at this point for thinking that this all sounds a little too easy - where’s the catch?

The catch is that it isn’t easy at all. Forcing your mind to think in a completely different way will not happen overnight. It may take a large amount of time and effort to realign your habitual tendencies with your new ethos. 

However, as long as we battle our natural urge to fallback into our previous disposition, we can begin to change the way we view our short-comings and start to progress instead of capitulate.

I hope after reading this that you have become more aware of how and why we tend to ‘play it safe’ sometimes. At the end of the day fear is completely natural, but we can’t let it dictate our actions and future. The daily battles you have with your conscience don’t stem from a flaw in your character, but a flaw in the thinking of humanity. We are adverse to risk not because we ‘aren’t wired right’, but because of a defective viewpoint in mankind. We don’t fear failure through judgement of ourselves, but through the disparaging eyes of others.

Once you accept these ideas and build a resilience to their effects, you will have a much better opportunity of leading the life you wish to live. After all, the definition of failure isn’t down the opinion of others, it’s down to you. 

Monday, 12 August 2019

Control the controllables

Some of you are living a chaotic existence; paying bills late, forgetting birthdays, neglecting relatives, all transparent symptoms of a disordered lifestyle. Relinquishing the control that you once had over these elements doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the eventual outcome of allowing your list of responsibilities to grow, whilst doing nothing to enhance your mind’s abilities to cope with that demand. 

Everyone has responsibilities and they all require a certain amount of care, consideration and attention. However with so many plates to juggle, how can we possibly stay on top of them all?

First of all, you have to accept that you are not a robot. You are going to forget things, neglect relationships and put your needs before the needs of others. These are facts of life. Once we have accepted this, we can begin to find ways of maximising the amount of control we can have.

What would you think if I said I could significantly reduce your stress levels, just by getting you to write out a daily ‘to do list’?

I’d imagine something along the lines of:
“Check this joker. He reckons he can sort my life out by getting me to write a fucking list.”

Utilising lists will not directly impact the amount of responsibilities you have. However, clearing your mind of less important tasks can alleviate some of the pressures we place on ourselves. Gaining control over your responsibilities isn’t as simple as just remembering them. It’s being able to prioritise and manage your time effectively. Once your mind has been cleared of the inconsequentials, you can begin to home in on what has eluded you thus far.

So, how does this look in real life?

Instead of attempting to cram as much information into your brain as possible, and run around like a headless chicken trying to remember it all, we’re going to list what needs to be done in the order we need to do it. 
  1. Walk the dog
  2. Go food shopping
  3. Pick up dry cleaning
  4. Kids party @12
  5. Visit Grandma
  6. Clean the house
  7. Sort your tax return
  8. Iron clothes for the evening
  9. Pick up kids @5
  10. Bath the kids
  11. Get ready
  12. Go out with partner @8

This might seem simple. Why would you need a list to remember your plan for the day? 

As a one off, this would make zero difference in how you cope with the pressures of life. However if you had to remember all of this whilst looking after the kids, working full time, holding down a romantic relationship and fielding calls from relatives insisting they’ve not ‘heard from you in a while’, I guarantee your tone would change. 

This is the elephant in the room when trying to understand how you got to this stage. It’s not the amount of time that these inconsequential additions take up, it’s that the additions keep coming. This is why you constantly feel confused by your seemed lack of ability in distributing your time effectively. It’s not because you can’t cope with the tasks themselves, it’s because you can’t cope with the volume.

Imagine your responsibilities sit on a scale of pressure. To feel the gratification that comes with being in control, your scale must remain in balance. The more responsibilities you have, the more pressure you apply, the more imbalanced your scale becomes. Once your mind reaches capacity, it will be forced to remove anything it can to realign the scale (and you thought that being forgetful was a trait not a choice).

Side note: This is also the reason why people who have very few pressures in their life, have an overwhelming feeling of emptiness. They lack pressure, therefore lack control. The scale works both ways. 

The satisfaction your mind craves is from control. To provide the best conditions for this concept to become reality, you must implement a manual removal of all unnecessary pressures. If something monotonous needs to be done, write it down. Remove the basics and allow yourself to prioritise and manage yourself in a way that provides you with that control. 

If you don’t, your lifestyle will remain in anarchy. 

Monday, 5 August 2019

Comparison Disease

Jealousy is a touchy subject. Most of us experience it regularly and yet pretend we’re immune to it’s ever-growing hold on the world. The feeling that someone else has more than you, is happier than you or is better than you, dominates the psyche of the anxious. This constant bombardment allows no rest from the negativity that invariably arrives as we are constantly viewing our lives as a state of ‘what ifs’. 

I guarantee that the people you feel belittled by would kill for some of the things you have. Yet, our mind has an intriguing way of focusing on the things we don’t have, rather than the things we do. This is ever present and envelops our mind on a daily basis, but it is especially prevalent during our time spent on social media. 

The internet was invented with the idea of connecting the world in a way that information could be passed and shared freely and quickly, dramatically reducing the social and economic gap that had emerged across the globe. However there were side effects that came along with the instantaneous dispense and consume culture that was cultivated. Over the years, this sharing of information has slowly turned from a creative encyclopaedia of factual intelligence to an incomprehensible dick-swinging contest. 

The internet was supposed to be a place of learning, yet it’s regression has taken the shape of a window into the life you wish you had. I highly doubt the inventors of the internet were sitting their on day dot, hoping that one day Mary from Derby could tell her 296 Facebook friends how many expensive holidays she’d been on this year - but here we are. The most fucked up thing about this whole situation is the consumers can see the chaos unfolding in front of them, but attempt nothing to avoid it. 

How many times whilst scrolling through Instagram have you said/thought something like: “I don’t care what you are eating”. Or how about: “May as well delete Facebook, just a load of people I barely know posting stuff about shite I don’t care about.”

Yet we continue to haemorrhage our time and effort into mulling over the goings on of other people’s lives, most of who we don’t even care about. That’s seriously fucked up.

These problems would be alleviated if our brains processed information based solely on logic and reason. However our mind has an unfortunate habit that it just can’t seem to kick - Comparison.

“Comparison is the thief of joy” - Theodore Roosevelt

In a time were sensitivity runs roughshod and anxiety prevails, comparison is the greatest enemy to one’s happiness. 

Your insatiable hunger for information consumption, coupled with the holy bond between your mind’s worst habits, has resulted in a constant state of comparison. 

“Is my car as nice as his is?"
“I wished I looked like her in that dress.”
“She’s on holiday again? She’s so lucky.”

We realise we’re doing it and we understand that we have to stop, but like an addict hooked on their town’s most stepped on substance, we just can’t seem to put down the pipe. 

We’re consumed with consuming. It’s taken over us like a viral infection takes over it’s host. It’s our default setting, our return to balance, our homeostasis. 

There are huge portions of your life that are not only under appreciated, but completely ignored. Every single relationship you hold dear is one day closer to ending whilst you sit there comparing. Your kids are one day closer to leaving home, your partner is one day closer to giving up hope, and your parents are one day closer to being laid out in a box. All whilst you sit there contemplating what you could have, instead of what you do.

When asked about the subject of jealousy in terms of wanting what somebody else had, Jamie Alderton had this to say:

“If you wouldn’t swap your entire life with someone else’s, then why feel jealous?”

If you wish it were you going on 3 holidays a year instead of Mary, would you be willing to give up your kids to get there?

If you wish you could have as good a relationship as Steve and Jane, would you swap your parents for their’s to achieve that?

If you wish you could look as good in that dress as Sarah does, would you be willing to divorce your husband to get there?

I think not. There’s a good chance that if you sit down to consider what you find important in life, that you already have the majority of those things sitting right in front of you. You’re just that busy comparing the inconsequential details that you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Happiness is wanting what you already have. So put down your fucking phone and appreciate it, because one day it will all be taken away.

Monday, 29 July 2019

The sunk cost fallacy

During our lives, we invest our time into lots of different things. Relationships, friendships, hobbies, jobs, learning and experiences, tend to be the key areas that absorb the majority of that time. However when it is clear that something is no longer benefitting our lives, but we have invested a large amount of time into that something, we find it difficult to depart from our current trajectory. This is the sunk cost fallacy.

There is a belief that because we’ve invested a hefty amount of time into areas such as; who we spend our time with and where we spend our time, that moving on from them would mean that time was somehow wasted. This is a misapprehension that the mind has devised, in the hope that being victim to this will some how bring us stability.

The sunk cost fallacy is a concept that could be considered the key difference between the settle and strive mentalities. Do I remain in comfort and stability, or do I advance into the unknown?

It is the belief that we make rational decisions based on the value that relationships, investments and experiences can bring us in the present and in the future.

This is a part of the web of lies that we have spun, in an attempt to convince ourselves that we are creatures of logic. Entities that are able to judge the circumstances based on their context, arrive at the most appropriate implementable measures and put those measures into effect. Not only is this not true, in most cases it’s the complete opposite.

Your mind craves equilibrium.  

In your mind, a stable equilibrium helps to harness a feeling of control and security across your life. In other words, your mind wishes to remain in homeostasis. A state where you are comfortable, confident and in control. If your mind is offered a change in circumstance that comes with drawbacks, it will be swiftly rejected. This isn’t to prevent you from adding more to your life, your mind is merely forming ways to remove the possibility for movement in the scale of stability. 

However, in your mind’s attempt to avoid imbalances, it also removes the possibility for positive growth. Here is the conundrum. This is the supernatural force that coerces a population to settle, rather than strive.

Here’s the bad news, short of becoming a human cyborg there is no way to remove emotion from our thought processes. However, what we can do is attempt to alter our mindset when presented with situations similar to those described. 

In Mark Manson’s book, Everything is f*cked, he discusses a psychological visualisation that can be used to allow your mind to chose the way it reacts to certain situations. Here is a brief overview:

Your mind is a car with two steering wheels and two sets of peddles. On one side is your thinking brain. This is the part of your mind that allows you to make rational decisions based upon the facts you have to hand. On the other side is your feeling brain. This is the part of the mind that imparts emotion into our lives. As you can see, these two parts of the mind have to coexist for someone to be both in control of their actions/decisions and well, human.

So, how does this apply to the sunk cost fallacy.

In our case, limiting the feeling brains ability to manoeuvre the vehicle will allow you to assess each case on it’s own merits/deficiencies. This isn’t about removing the feeling brains ability to contribute (again, we’re not robots), but allowing the thinking brain to assume control.

If we are able to wrestle the wheel from the hands of our feeling brain, we can begin to arrive at more rational outcomes. All that’s left after that is to put these choices into practise. 

Having the confidence to do that will not come overnight, but with consistency comes progression. We all have the ability to make these changes to our lives, we just have to implement minor alterations in the way that we think to get us there. 

Just because you’ve spent a long period of time doing something, or being with someone, doesn’t mean you have to continue. 

You may believe your time has been wasted if you give up now. 
Well, that’s all the more reason to not waste anymore of it. 

You may believe you are too emotionally invested. 
I’m sure you’ve had some great times with this partner/friend or job, but to arrive at a crossroads were you are considering a future without it, can only mean that there are undying feelings of negativity.

If you’re looking for a speech that you’re thinking will somehow force you into making the changes we’ve spoke about, I don’t have one. But I will leave you with this:

People often refer to life as this ‘journey’. A route to follow consisting of forks representing the decisions that we are faced with. I personally think it’s all a bit Disney-ish, but the underlying lessons are concrete. 

Craving equilibrium, though natural and pleasant, shortens your journey and limits your experiences, because at the end of the day, everyone’s journey ends with them lying in a box in the ground. 

Stop seeking comfort and start striving. 

“Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it's a small price to pay for living a dream.” - Peter McWilliams

Monday, 22 July 2019

You have to be selfish to be selfless

Confused already? I don’t blame you. Since an early age, we’ve been taught that being selfish is a negative trait. Now, I’m not here to say that we should strive to be impulsively selfish regardless of the consequences or circumstances. I’m suggesting that, as with the majority of other behavioural concepts, there is a grey area that we should strive to live within. In fact, not only should we be looking to exist between these two poles, we should be erring on the side of selfishness.

Negative reactions enforce negative connotations

Here’s a hypothetical scenario that will highlight why we find it so difficult to be selfish…

Your recent actions have not only affected you, but the people surrounding you. One of the members of that group takes umbrage with your choices, and reveals their distaste. It may go down like so:

“Why have you said/done that? That is so selfish.” 

How would that make you feel?

I’m guessing a number of negative emotions/thoughts would be begin to surface. These sorts of confrontations tend to lead to conclusions such as:

“Oh no. I’ve done/said something without taking into the consideration how it could effect those around me. What an awful person I am.” 

This is completely normal. You would have to be a complete narcissist to constantly ignore the gripes of those around you, especially when it was your actions that lead them to feel this way. However, reacting in this manner puts a certain expectation on that group’s ability to identify what true selfish behaviour is. This is the grey area I was talking about earlier. 

The selfishness spectrum

Now that you have a grasp on why we find it so difficult to be selfish, let’s delve into the reasoning behind people’s struggle to contextualise the actions of those around them.

The majority of concepts lie on the spectrum. Left is white, right is black with a grey area separates the two. So why when it comes to the topic of selfishness do we think in terms of black and white, instead of the vast area of grey that divides them?

As society’s need for extremist division rises, so do the illusions surrounding the life lessons that invariably impregnate our psyche. In other words, our need to slot people into categories has become so integral to the way we judge others, that people must fall into a category for the situation to be understood. This craving for identifiable viewpoints which we can use to brand one another has generated misconceptions when identifying selfishness in others (or even selflessness, for that matter).

For most of us, the first experience of this happens at a young age. We are taught from as early as we can understand, that sharing things such as; toys, food, games, etc, is the appropriate way to behave. If a child fails to grasp this concept, and acts in an improper and possibly selfish manner, it is seen as the responsibility of the parent to correct the child. This creates the most primitive of correlations in a child’s mind. Not sharing is bad, sharing is good. Or, selfishness is bad, selflessness is good.

The mind of a child would struggle to think in more detail than this, but as adults our brains should be able to delve into the complexities of a situation and judge accordingly, right?


Here is where the generationally recycled life lesson comes back to bite us on the proverbial arse. The concept is forced with such validity, that people are taking these beliefs into adulthood. This wouldn’t be an issue if our brain allowed us to develop these lessons by adding situational context. However, the way we think and therefore judge a situation, tends to be an outcome of the environment in which we spend our time. Meaning, if you spend all your time frantically assigning people into categories during your day-to-day life, how could you begin to add rational context to your thought process?

Try this on for size. 

Your sibling has dinner plans with their partner, but has run into trouble as their normal babysitter has cancelled due to ill health. You are asked if you can look after your siblings children for the night, whilst your sibling and their partner go out for the meal. You have prior commitments with a friend, and therefore cannot help.

If your sibling was to react without rational thought, they would deem you as selfish and uncharitable in their time of need. However applying context to the situation allows the sibling to realise that it isn’t your fault that this situation has arisen, and that you probably would have helped if you hadn’t already made plans.

This example highlights the need to alter our own mindset, rather than blaming our deficiencies on the society we have created. Adding context to situations based on the facts that we are presented with, should be something that we actively pursue. After all, this constant pigeon holing isn’t just preventing you from growing into a fully functioning adult who is able to rationalise, it is cultivating a society in which people are marginalised for being ‘different’.

The selfishness paradox

After gaining an understanding for our reasons for avoiding selfishness and our abilities to judge situations based on their nuances, we have arrived at the epicentre of the problem. The belief we have established is that selfishness is do things to benefit oneself. Whilst selfless people do things to benefit others. The truth is slightly different. 

To be truly selfless you must possess the capabilities to be able to have a positive impact on a person’s life. These capabilities will include things like; energy, experience and positivity itself. For example, if someone is struggling to be consistently positive, it is unlikely that a downbeat relative would be of any assistance.

As I spoke about on a previous post, relieving your mind of it’s own issues is paramount to a clear and positive mindset (an essential aspect of selflessness). The byproducts of this mindset (knowledge, experience and time), provide you with a foundation to be able to help those around you to the best of your ability. Meaning not only is putting your needs before others going to help YOU in the long run, it will allow you to be in a position to help OTHERS. 

If you are your number one priority in life, the people directly surrounding you will feel the benefits from that. This comes as a consequence of your happiness. If you are happy, positive and able to help, you will find that the attitudes of the people surrounding you will follow suit. 

The majority of people follow the example set by others, especially when it seems like that person has got their shit together. This kind of person (successful, mentally and physically healthy, fun to be around and most importantly happy) will have made choices in their life that society would deem ‘selfish’. This is exactly why selfishness isn’t inherently a negative trait to hold. In fact it’s possibly the most integral trait one could hold.

Your success is predicated on your ability to be selfish in key moments. Your happiness is dependent on how you find the answers to your own problems and needs before assisting others. You can’t be happy without being selfish, and you can’t be selfless without being selfish. 

So, the next time your actions are deemed to be selfish, ask yourself:
  • Does this person understand that putting myself first will invariably allow me to help others?
  • Is this person applying context to the situation and judging my actions accordingly?

If both or either of these questions result in a no, I wouldn’t waste your time worrying about the outcome. To be selfish is a positive step toward being exactly the type of person you want to be, you just have to take it. After all, as you’ve continuously heard from flight attendants all around the world;

"Only when you have secured your own mask, should you attend to children or other passengers.”