It’s what the philosopher Alan Watts used to refer to as “the backwards law” — the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place.
Doing the opposite
Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others. The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships. Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance.
Focus about few things to care about
I may sound like an asshole, what I’m talking about here is essentially learning how to focus and prioritize your thoughts effectively—how to pick and choose what matters to you and what does not matter to you based on finely honed personal values.
- Subtlety #1: Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.
- Subtlety #2: To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.
- Subtlety #3: Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about.
Acceptance == liberating
Then, as we grow older and enter middle age, something else begins to change. Our energy level drops. Our identity solidifies. We know who we are and we accept ourselves, including some of the parts we aren’t thrilled about. And, in a strange way, this is liberating.
Suffering because of what we have
One of those realizations was this: that life itself is a form of suffering. The rich suffer because of their riches. The poor suffer because of their poverty. People without a family suffer because they have no family. People with a family suffer because of their family. People who pursue worldly pleasures suffer because of their worldly pleasures. People who abstain from worldly pleasures suffer because of their abstention.
Suffering is useful
We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change. We have evolved to always live with a certain degree of dissatisfaction and insecurity, because it’s the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that’s going to do the most work to innovate and survive. We are wired to become dissatisfied with whatever we have and satisfied by only what we do not have. This constant dissatisfaction has kept our species fighting and striving, building and conquering.
There will always be problems
Problems never stop; they merely get exchanged and/ or upgraded. Happiness comes from solving problems. The keyword here is “solving.” If you’re avoiding your problems or feel like you don’t have any problems, then you’re going to make yourself miserable.
Solving problems = happiness
True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving. Sometimes those problems are simple: eating good food, traveling to some new place, winning at the new video game you just bought.
Just because something feels good doesn’t mean it is good. Just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad. Emotions are merely signposts, suggestions that our neurobiology gives us, not commandments.
A more interesting question, a question that most people never consider, is, “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?” Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.
Wants and struggles
Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can bench-press a small house.
Problem with self-esteem movement
The problem with the self-esteem movement is that it measured self-esteem by how positively people felt about themselves. But a true and accurate measurement of one’s self-worth is how people feel about the negative aspects of themselves.
Entitlement = special treatment
This entitlement plays out in one of two ways: 1. I’m awesome and the rest of you all suck, so I deserve special treatment. 2. I suck and the rest of you are all awesome, so I deserve special treatment.
You and your problem are not that important
Often, it’s this realization—that you and your problems are actually not privileged in their severity or pain—that is the first and most important step toward solving them.
Creation of safe spaces and soft hearts…
It’s not uncommon now for books to be removed from a class’s curriculum for no other reason than that they made someone feel bad. Speakers and professors are shouted down and banned from campuses for infractions as simple as suggesting that maybe some Halloween costumes really aren’t that offensive.
Limited time for one thing
To become truly great at something, you have to dedicate shit-tons of time and energy to it. And because we all have limited time and energy, few of us ever become truly exceptional at more than one thing, if anything at all.
Most of humanity and mediocrity
A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life won’t matter. This sort of thinking is dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless.
Obsessed with improvement
The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement.
Struggle == most beautiful
As Freud once said, “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” This is why these values—pleasure, material success, always being right, staying positive—are poor ideals for a person’s life. Some of the greatest moments of one’s life are not pleasant, not successful, not known, and not positive.
Self improvement == prioritizing better values
This, in a nutshell, is what “self-improvement” is really about: prioritizing better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about. Because when you give better fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems, you get a better life.
This is the realization that we, individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances. We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.
Public blame and shame
In fact, this kind of public blame/ shame game has become popular; in certain crowds it’s even seen as “cool.” The public sharing of “injustices” garners far more attention and emotional outpouring than most other events on social media, rewarding people who are able to perpetually feel victimized with ever-growing amounts of attention and sympathy.
Entitled groups everywhere…
In fact, this may be the first time in human history that every single demographic group has felt unfairly victimized simultaneously. And they’re all riding the highs of the moral indignation that comes along with it.
The writer and media commentator Ryan Holiday refers to this as “outrage porn”: rather than report on real stories and real issues, the media find it much easier (and more profitable) to find something mildly offensive, broadcast it to a wide audience, generate outrage, and then broadcast that outrage back across the population in a way that outrages yet another part of the population.
Search for doubt instead of certainty
Instead of striving for certainty, we should be in constant search of doubt: doubt about our own beliefs, doubt about our own feelings, doubt about what the future may hold for us unless we get out there and create it for ourselves. Instead of looking to be right all the time, we should be looking for how we’re wrong all the time. Because we are.
Evil and good
Evil people never believe that they are evil; rather, they believe that everyone else is evil.
Uncertainty and progress
Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth. As the old adage goes, the man who believes he knows everything learns nothing.
When we let go of the stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, we free ourselves up to actually act (and fail) and grow.
Failure, then success
If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because she has failed at it more than you have. If someone is worse than you, it’s likely because he hasn’t been through all of the painful learning experiences you have.