Photo Credit: My Nikon 35mm 1.8g
Chapter 1: Defining Happiness
Chapter 2: Self Awareness
Chapter 3: Making Time (Coming Soon!)
Chapter 4: External Awareness
Chapter 5: Finding Passion
Chapter 6: Staying True to Yourself
Chapter 7: Discipline & Perseverance
Chapter 8: Courage
Chapter 9: Bringing it all Together
Woohoo! Congrats on making it to chapter two, I’m impressed. That was quite the rant to get through, and to be wanting more is awesome AWESOME. I’m sure you noticed it was quite a long read, and maybe you’re hoping the rest of the chapters are shorter. The bad news is that when this stuff is given in a short, condensed manner – it really isn’t very helpful. You’ve probably read a few of those of articles, the ones that have a catchy title and a few dot points. While they do serve their purpose by being accessible and making it easy for people to discover self improvement; they only tell you what you need to do, and not how to do it. So I’m sorry to say that all the bootcamp articles will be rather long; this one in particular because self awareness is probably the single most important step to getting started. The good news is that you’ve swallowed one chapter already and came back kicking and punching – let’s knock down a few more. No sweat right? ;)
The quiet place.
First thing you need to do is click on this mysterious link.
Note: If you just did it without the sound, the list below won’t make any sense to you.
Welcome back. Good stuff right? Now that we’ve slowed the pace down a little, let’s talk about some of the things that might have happened in the midst of all that:
- You slowed down.
- It felt good.
- Mmmm.. you like music.
- You felt something in your chest.
- You started to breathe a little deeper.
- You can hear yourself think.
- You’re more aware of how you feel.
- Facebook is so distracting.
- My phone is so distracting.
- I’m always so distracted.
- He just used ‘shit’ with bad grammar. Haha.
- 30 seconds seems like a long time this way.
- I need to slow down.
- Oh, goodbye? So soon?
- That was nice.
- Kinda ironic that he’s asking me to share on Facebook.
Don’t worry if you didn’t have that kind of experience, it was just an example (my own). I imagine people would’ve had varying experiences with it, I’m curious to know what it was like for you – so please do share in the comments at the bottom.
Yes okay the link was pretty cool Johnny, but get on with it.
Today, the world is a very noisy place. Everyone’s trying to yell over each other, everyone’s trying to get your attention. The result of this is very interesting – suddenly, quiet is very powerful. That’s because it’s now very rare. I hope that ‘the quiet place’ demonstrated to you that you’re now constantly enveloped in noise: audio noise, visual noise, mental noise, emotional noise, social noise – all kinds of noise. It’s like society turned into a giant baby, constantly screaming for your attention. This is to the extent that you need to have a link forced on you by an opinionated blogger in order to get just a couple of minutes of quiet, and when you do get that quiet (which is really a very simple thing), it feels heavy and profound.
The exact same thing can be said about pace of living. Everything is just go, go and go, there’s no room to slow down and breathe, or reflect, or think, or feel. Now if you’re still in school then this might not apply to you… yet. But as you become an adult and your list of responsibilities gets longer and longer, it starts to get a little harder to take some time for yourself, and of course that means we forget to do it completely. So here’s the first message I’m trying to give to you:
It’s impossible today to just ‘happen’ across some time to slow down and reflect, too many things require your attention. You have to consciously make an effort to do so.
But why is it worth your energy? Good question. Think about a time when you wanted to get something done (especially something that was important to you) – but you put it off, and then put it off again, and again (this is something we all do). Do you understand why you kept putting it off? The obvious answer here is procrastination – but do you understand why you procrastinated? It’s not because you’re lazy, and it’s not because you’re stupid. There are a million and one reasons why you might’ve procrastinated; but just as an example, the most common one is fear, and the most common type of fear is fear of failure. This is only one area (discipline) where a strong self awareness can help you grow, there are way too many others to list out but a few more off the top of my head are: emotional fortitude, confidence, courage, freedom – the list goes on.
Self awareness means understanding yourself, understanding why you do the things you do and why you act the way you act. It’s only when you have a keen awareness of your thoughts, emotions, decisions, actions, reactions and habits, that you can start to take the wheel and really steer your life in the direction you want it to go. The first step to gaining this awareness is to develop an understanding of what we are trying to become aware of (that is the focus of this chapter, as well chapters 3 and 4). You might be left feeling a little helpless as you start to understand the reasons behind the behaviors you’d rather not have, but not be able to do anything about them. Rest assured that the following chapters will focus on giving you what you need to deal with whatever it is that’s holding you down.
Fly like a bird, or maybe like a Charizard.
If you were planning to travel – let’s say you always dreamed of traveling around South America. The first thing you’d have to think about is time, when are you gonna do it? You have to make time for it – “Chapter 3 – Making Time” covers this in detail. The second thing you need to worry about is money – luckily for us, happiness costs next to nothing. If you don’t go to bed starving and cold every night, then you surely have enough money to be happy! The third thing you need to worry about is getting there – if you live in Australia like I do, you’d have to fly there. Now as you probably know, when you fly you’re allocated a certain amount of weight for luggage – you gotta decide what to bring, and what not to bring. Aside from the weight limit – you also wanna be free to explore once you arrive, and not be bogged down by your luggage.
So in this metaphor for happiness; how do we cut out the unessential stuff and make it under the weight limit? Luckily (or maybe not so luckily), as humans we have a tendency to lug a large collection of rocks around in our luggage. Now unless you’re a geologist, you probably don’t need to be carrying rocks around with you – so they can be easily discarded.
It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe” – Muhammad Ali
Let’s have a look at some of the things we can do away with:
Fear is the grand daddy of all the other qualities that weigh us down. It’s the cause, and they are the effect. For example: excuses and perfectionism are caused by a fear of failure. Dishonesty is caused by a fear of rejection, judgement, and vulnerability. All the things we do to try and numb ourselves are caused by a fear of pain. If you really think about it, all the ugly faces of human nature are also caused by fear – bullies are just confused and afraid. Cynicism and sarcasm are caused by jealousy, and jealousy is simply a fear of inadequacy. Even regret is just the fear that we lost something we can’t get back.
That’s not to say that fear is evil and we should ignore it, in fact if we didn’t have a fear function, humans would be extinct. What we need to do is learn to be more aware of when and in what form it shows up, to work together with it, and decide when it’s a good idea to listen to it, and when it’s a bad idea to listen to it.
A ship is safest when in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are made for” – William Shedd
Just like how a ship is built to be sailed out on the ocean, you’re alive today so that you can go out and live your life and do all the things that make you happy. Realize that you’re only here once, what’s the point of living safe if that means living frustrated and full of regret? Contrary to the message that pop culture spreads, the first step to overcoming fear is not to realize that “everything will be fine” or that “your fear is irrational”. Your fear is not irrational, it’s just informing you of all the things that could go wrong. If you really wanna start conquering your fears, the first thing to do is touch base with reality. You do sometimes have to take a risk, things might not always go the way you planned – but balance it with the fact that if you listen to all of your fears, all of the time, you really won’t be doing much of anything (which is what a lot of people spend their entire lives doing).
The key is to identify the situations when you want something more than you’re afraid of it (a Bill Cosby quote). It’s much easier when you have a goal that’s important to you, just keep fixating on that goal until it eventually overwhelms the fear. This may take a long time to do at first, but as you do it more and more it becomes easier and easier. You’ll realize that the sense of fulfillment at the end is worth far more than the set backs and challenges. I’m sure you’ve heard the cliche that goes something like this – “when you look at your fears in the eyes they suddenly don’t seem so scary”. If you stop turning away and avoiding them you might just find that they aren’t such a big deal after all. The key is to try it a few times, and try it on small things; this gives you a relatively safe way of sticking your toes in the water and can help you understand the message I’m trying to share with you here.
Now I need to pause here and stress the distinction between real courage and a cowards impression of courage. Real courage is being able to overcome your deepest fears and do the things that are truly important to you – usually these things scare the crap out of you. Start thinking about the things that you really want for your life. You might need to do a bit of digging cause we’re very good at burying this stuff – but if you’re honest with yourself, it shouldn’t be too hard to get a rough bearing. Personally when I think about them, I can feel it in my chest – and if it’s a fear that I’ve yet to overcome they make me feel a little flustered.
This is in sharp contrast to the meat heads that throw around their fake confidence, showing off how much they can drink, how fast they can drive, or attempting to do both at the same time. I’m not quite sure what the female equivalent to this is but I’m sure they exist. There’s no real challenge in buying some alcohol and swallowing it – swallowing is a basic human function, cave men can do it, and so can babies as soon as they’re born. I only used alcohol as one example of many, and I’m not trying to condemn drinking in any way – the point I’m trying to make is that in pop culture some people will try and pass off the stupidest shit as having “balls”, just realize that these are only bad impersonations of the real thing. Funnily enough when someone caves to the peer pressure of drinking (in situations where they don’t actually want to), they are caving to fear – the fear of being judged, rejected and ostracized by their friends.
Overcoming fear will be covered in depth in “Chapter 8 – Courage”. Similarly if you’re struggling to identify what you want to do with your life, that will be covered in “Chapter 5 – Finding Passion”. Sorry to keep you waiting but if I included everything in detail here then this post would be even more ridiculously long than it already is. Awareness has to come first anyway; “His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see” – Muhammad Ali, again. Haha.
Let’s take a look at the most common fears and how they manifest themselves in your actions:
I’m too old, I’m too young, I’m too fat, I’m too skinny, I’m too weird, I’m too boring, I don’t have this, I don’t have that. My parents expected too much of me, my parents never expected enough of me, my parents were too strict, my parents weren’t strict enough. I didn’t go to college, college was a waste of time, I went to the wrong college, I did the wrong course. I’m not fit enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not talented enough, there’s a giant pink rhinoceros outside my house staring me down and I’m stuck here and can’t go outside.
I could go on until your eyes bled and your ears fell off but I’m sure you get the point. This is the language of frustration and regret. I’m not dismissing the validity of your excuses, they’re probably all very valid. The thing is though, everyone has their own set of valid excuses – and when I say everyone, I mean everyone. Please don’t feel unique in having plenty of misfortunes forced upon you, everyone has problems. What you need to decide is whether you want to be that person who overcame their limitations, or just another person who got swallowed up by them. Think about every great story or achievement you’ve heard, how many of them involve someone who had a free ride there? If you really think about it, the quality that makes all great achievements great is the persons journey of overcoming obstacles, limitations and adversity to get there.
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed” – Michael Jordan
If you strip an excuse down to it’s core, it’s simply the fear of failure. Which is completely natural; failure sucks and it makes you feel like crap, especially when other people are watching. Fortunately for us, failure and success are tied together like ying and yang. You can’t have one without the other. In order to achieve true success you have to make mistakes along the way, that’s the only way we can learn. I say this is fortunate because it means that every awesome person out there has failed along the way – they understand. So guess what? The only people who will judge you or laugh at you for your failures are the people who never try anything important to them, and consequently never really experience success. Consider whether the laughter or judgement of these people really matter to you so much that you’ll sacrifice the quality of your own life for them. The best thing you can do is succeed, the second best thing you can do is fail, and the worst thing you can do is not try. Failure eventually leads to success, not trying leads nowhere.
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky
There’s just so much proof out there that your excuses and limitations don’t have to hold you back from your dreams, whether they’re big dreams or small dreams, just pick up the biography of anyone that you’re inspired by – they’ll prove it to you. Despite what you might think, everyone starts from the same place, and the huge bodies of work that intimidate us are built up little by little by little. It’s human nature for us to hear excuses in our heads, that will never stop – that bastard of a voice will always be there. But now you know that it’s there, now you know that it’s full of shit, now you know that it’s mocking you and lying to you and holding you back. So fight back for Christ’s sake, don’t be a pussy. A happy person does not let excuses get in the way of doing the things they want to do.
There are three types of pain: physical pain, emotional pain and intellectual pain (stress), we need to stop running from all of them. You might be a little surprised by this one, doesn’t it make sense to avoid pain? Interestingly, the answer to this question is no, it doesn’t make sense. Just like the need for you to be open to failure in order to experience success, you need to be open to pain in order to experience happiness – but in a slightly different way. Your emotions are just like your friends, you can’t just call on them when you need them and only spend time with them when it’s convenient for you – it’s a two way street. If you shun away your negative emotions, guess what? The positive ones will piss off as well.
Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever” – Lance Armstrong
Now I’m not telling you to go out and look for pain. Instead, when pain does come into your life, try to deal with it rather than attempting to numb it all the time. There are thousands of ways with which we numb pain, but here are some of the more common ones: drinking, smoking, drugs, bullying, gambling addiction, gaming addiction, T.V addiction, shopping, perfectionism, control freakism, food, work, blame, excuses, even sleep can be used to avoid pain – it could really be anything because it’s not the activity itself but the way in which you do it. Do you see what these things have in common? They are all ways in which we can temporarily escape from our own realities. We all need this escape mechanism from time to time (we are not machines), but the most important thing is to at some point deal with whatever issue caused you to want to escape in the first place. Unfortunately, I get the sense that not a lot of people do this.
The result is what I call emotional flat-lining: feel no pain, feel no happiness. The only problem here is that it doesn’t work, does it? Even if you’re constantly trying to numb the pain, it’s still there. No matter what we do, pain will be a part of our lives – when we try to avoid it we’re just sweeping it under the bed; but there’s only so much space under there so if we keep going it’ll eventually overwhelm us. Keeping that in mind, which do you feel is a better choice? Option A: waste your life away by constantly try to numb something that will never really go away, or option B: Accept that you’ll feel pain no matter what you do, let it in, deal with it, and move on with your life.
So how do we deal with pain? The logical answer here would be to stop doing whatever it is we’re doing in order to avoid it. But we all know that doesn’t work by itself. We need to find something to replace it with. Once again the answer here will be different for different people, but here’s an example. A friend of mine lost her mother last year (she was 21 when it happened), needless to say this is a very traumatic experience in itself, but she also had to start looking after her two younger brothers. Shortly after this she started going for runs, the easy option here would have been the opposite; comfort foods, drinking, wallowing around in self pity – and it would’ve been totally understandable. But she didn’t do it – it hasn’t even been a year yet and she’s happier than I’ve ever seen her. I haven’t really talked to her about it directly, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the running would have helped as an outlet for the emotional roller-coaster which I could only imagine.
I personally started coming out of my emotional rut 5-6 years ago when I decided to take up dance classes, it was an outlet for me and it felt great. The combination of physical activity and music started to teach me how to open myself up and let my emotions out rather than bottle them in. If you’re feeling lost for ideas, a great place to start is with something physical – the rush of endorphins that you get from being active feels very similar to the kick you get from satisfying an addiction. The physical pain that you have to endure is also a great metaphor for emotional pain as well as stress, and you might find that you can let them go all at the same time. Sometimes, something physical might be the wrong way to go – you might be active already and need a different way to tackle these issues. The other option is to go for something quiet and reflective like keeping a journal, using music, starting yoga, or even meditation if that sounds like your kinda thing. A list of suggestions and how they might help will be included in “Chapter 4: Making Time”.
The key here is to realize that when you sweep pain under the bed, you’re just bottling it up and stuffing it in a corner inside yourself. Instead, we need to let all of that come to the surface – we need to let ourselves experience whatever it is we keep putting off, in order to let it out. The numbing of pain is basically just emotional procrastination, much like the way we procrastinate physically. In fact, dealing with emotional pain is a lot like dealing with the physical pain involved in exercise; if you’re out of shape, it’ll be almost unbearable at the start as your body tries reject the change, but feels great afterwards after you’ve cleaned everything out. As you start doing it more it will become easier and easier, and eventually become something you can’t do without.
Once you start allowing pain to pass through, you might find that some of your walls will start coming down. You’ll feel vulnerable, and that’s the point. Vulnerability can be terrifying if you’re not used to it, but it’s a necessary ingredient for happiness – it’s terrifying because you’re allowing your true self to be seen out in a crowd of masks and disguises, open to their judgement and scrutiny. Once again I’ll ask whether it matters to you what these people think while they hide behind their masks? The funny thing is – it’s only when you take off your own mask that you begin to be able to pick out other genuine faces in the crowd, you shine out like beacons to each other. Wouldn’t you prefer the love and respect of these people?
It takes courage to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives” – Marianne Williamson
The word perfectionism can have two different meanings – the first (which is not the topic of this discussion) is simply an attention for detail and an unwillingness to settle for mediocre. In my opinion this is totally healthy. The second, I’ll call ‘paralyzing perfectionism’, this refers to when ‘perfectionism’ is used as the scapegoat for not getting something done, or in many cases never even starting something. It is the older more sophisticated brother of the excuse – and hence is also caused by a fear of failure.
Have you ever started something, maybe a new hobby – gotten really excited at the thought of it. So you went and did a tonne of research, then you went and bought everything you ‘needed’. Then you spent some time ‘preparing’, and then some time ‘getting ready’, then you went and did more research which made you realized you ‘needed’ something else, so you went and bought that too. You keep doing this for a while, and every time you actually try and really start, you kinda fall back into the preparation rut. Sometimes in these situations, you eventually stop trying altogether. This is tragic in my opinion because it must have meant a lot to you in the first place for you to have put in so much effort; but the fear of failure caused you to put the effort in the wrong place. I know this feeling well because that used to be me, and I still have to fight these temptations off with a stick. It’s common knowledge that children are fast learners and easily adapt to change. Guess what? They don’t do this.
This strange ‘adult’ behavior is incredibly evident in this new fad that is photography, so I’ll use it as an example. Seemingly, everyone and their cats has an expensive camera these days. Admittedly I’ve always been interested in photography and decided I’d give it a shot since it’d go well with my career change into design. So I did what any sensible adult would do, research. Now research is a brilliant thing, but only when it doesn’t get in the way. Without even realizing it, I got swept up into the huge mess that is photography gear discussion. Every place I looked to for advice was filled to the brim with people discussing gear. Since I had no frame of reference, it kinda just washed over me as the norm. For a couple of weeks I let myself get stuck in this rut of people nitpicking and comparing gear – this camera has these problems, that lens has those problems. Slowly but surely, my initially modest budget was slowly growing as I read the opinions of people sitting at their computers criticizing gear. These people must be experts because they all have expensive cameras and a collection of lenses, flashes, tripods, reflectors, accessories – you name it, they have it.
Then I stumbled across the Flickr page of a 15 year old girl who shot gorgeous photos, they took my breath away. I was dying to know what equipment she used, so I scoured her posts to try and find out – turns out she uses a bottom of the line Canon DSLR that I hadn’t even heard about, and just one lens, a prime lens too (one that doesn’t zoom). It was a camera that would have been torn apart by the people I had been listening to thus far, and there would have been much better options for not much more money. That’s when it clicked for me. I realized that while reading all of the initial opinions that I hadn’t even gone to their Flickr pages to look at their photos, so I went back to see. Surely enough all I saw were bland, uninspiring photos (sorry to be a jerk). Real photographers spend their time out there shooting, not collecting gear or sitting at home discussing it. Sure, preparation and resources are important – but the fact that this girl with no photography education and cheap equipment can shoot infinitely better photos than people who have thousands and thousands of dollars worth of equipment shows me that paralyzing perfectionism is a big part of the photography world right now. I’m very thankful to this girl cause it suddenly opened my eyes (not to mention also saving me a lot of money). I started discovering that more and more amateur photographers that inspired me had modest gear – they do their best with what they have. It really pays homage to the idea that limitations are an essential ingredient to creativity – but that’s a whole new conversation.
Irrelevant note: If you’re into photography, I read some great advice recently and it goes like this: “buy books, not gear”. The cost of one lens will get you dozens and dozens of books, in particular I would recommend books by David Duchemin – and this book is a great place to start.
If you’re wondering why I just spent 2 paragraphs ranting to you about photography, the truth is – paralyzing perfectionism can apply to many more aspects of life than just hobbies. Some people allow this to take over their careers, their lifestyle, or even the upbringing of their children. So consider for a second if this applies to you in any way, and whether or not you’re using perfectionism as an excuse to avoid the harder stuff. In the end it’s a matter of priority – are the right things at the top of your priority list? But most important of all, don’t feel bad about it when it does apply to you, it’s human nature. The photography example is very recent, and even though I’ve learned this same lesson over and over in the past – It still managed to catch me off guard for a while. The important thing is to be aware that it might be happening under your nose, and catch yourself when you fall victim to it.
When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas that we conquered long ago” – Friedrich Nietzsche
I’ve mentioned already that the root of this behavior is the fear of failure, let me expand on that a little. The reason why we feel the urge to make things all neat and tidy and ‘perfect’ before we dive in, is to limit and reduce the chance of failure. I promise you, that’s all there is to it. Deep down we just don’t wanna fuck it up and have people judge us or laugh at our failed attempt. Ironically though, the more we do this, the more likely we are to stuff it up. That’s because we attach expectation to it – if I spend all of this time researching to make sure I’m prepared, and spending all of this money on having the right resources, suddenly I’ve put all of this pressure on myself. “If I screw it up now it means I’m a failure.” The pressure builds and builds, which causes you to be overly careful, and risk adverse, and a pussy – leading to mediocre, lukewarm results. Similarly, if we try to shove perfectionism onto someone else (ie children, friends, colleagues), all it will lead to is frustration and resentment – no one enjoys being the scapegoat to your own fear of failure. Once again I’m not condemning preparation, research, being careful, or being smart. Just start looking out for when it might be getting out of hand and becoming counter-productive. Sometimes you just gotta be a little stupid and just go do it.
If you wait to do everything until you’re sure it’s right, you’ll probably never do much of anything” – Win Borden
Control freakism is the third sibling to the excuse/perfectionism family, and hence is also caused by a fear of failure. It involves trying to control something that can’t be controlled, or fixating on it in order to procrastinate or avoid the more difficult things we need to do. There are an infinite number of things that are out of our control (that we still try to control), and they can also be very situational. A frustratingly common example of one would be trying to control other people: your boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, your children, or your friends. Oftentimes the stupidity, unreliability or irresponsibility of other people is used as a scapegoat for our own inaction. Ironically, while we’re off fixating on things that we can’t control, we don’t do anything about the things we can control (ourselves) – and that’s exactly why we do it, because it takes the spotlight off of us. Further to this, trying to do something that is inherently not possible means that we’ll never get to the end, meaning we can do it forever – and that’s exactly how long some people do it.
You cannot find peace by avoiding life” – Virginia Woolf
The thing to realize here is that the only thing we can truly control is ourselves, we can’t control life, we can’t control people, we can’t control the weather, or how a day will unfold – no matter how much we plan it out. The people who’ve found a sense of peace in their lives are not people who have mastered controlling everything around them so that everything is perfect – they do not lead perfect lives where everything goes according to plan. They’ve just learned to accept life for what it is and find peace through their own actions and decisions. Ironically, the people who are constantly trying to control everything are the ones who feel the least control. When you’re constantly trying to bend everything around you to fit into your plan – and something unexpected happens, anxiety and stress follow shortly. This is really sad because some of the most amazing experiences in life come from the unexpected, and you miss them if you’re always fixating on making things happen the way you want them to.
In times of change the learners will inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists” – Eric Hoffer
But Johnny, I already know I’m a control freak but I can’t help that I need to feel in control… What can I do? If this section applies to you, the first thing you need to realize is that you’re not actually in control, it’s just an illusion. Chances are, despite all of your efforts – you still spend a large amount of time feeling anxious, stressed, or frustrated, and it doesn’t have to be that way! The good news is that you probably already possess a lot of the qualities you need to finding true control; you’re probably organized, reliable, and responsible – we just need to learn to direct those strengths to the right place. There are two main scenarios that I can think of where we can start to change our behavior:
The first is an overbearing need to follow a plan. As much as I love my mother I’m gonna use her as an example here – even on silly things like family trips or events she has a knack of fixating on how she thinks things should be, or how she planned it to be, rather than taking it for what it is. When something doesn’t go according to plan, or something unexpected happens – rather than adapting to the situation, she seems to get stuck trying to move everything back to her original expectations. Needless to say this causes her a lot of stress, and this stress spills out to the people around her in the form of frustration and dissatisfaction. The saddest part again is that it turns what could have been a nice event where she has fun (which is the whole point), into this obsessive need to make things happen a certain way, which causes her to miss all the great moments. Unfortunately this type of scenario can apply to virtually every aspect of life, from day to day life, to your work, to your children, to the way you plan your entire life. A plan is a great thing, and I love organized and reliable people – it just makes me a little sad to see when the need to organize and control has taken over to the point where they are doing it just for the sake of it. Ask yourself if you would be happier and less stressed if you were to treat plans more like guides, and start to become more receptive and adaptive to what’s happening around you.
The second is in a situation where you require an outcome, and the outcome is very important to you. For example this could apply to things like banking, or anything financially related, health, maybe an important project at work, or a service provider not keeping their promises. Unfortunately, anxiety and stress will always show up in these scenarios because dealing with selfish or irresponsible people is a part of life. But we can reduce that by approaching the situation in the right way. Diplomatic is the word I’d be looking towards here – rather than fixating on the fact that someone was unreliable and did you wrong in some way, or how things should have been done (which is fun, but completely pointless); why not start thinking about the best thing that you can do to get things back on track to achieve that outcome. I can tell you from personal experience that this saves me a lot of time, effort and anxiety, I can also tell you that it very rarely involves pointing any fingers, having arguments or getting angry. Think about it from this perspective, if you were the one who stuffed up (everyone stuffs up from time to time), and you’re already feeling guilty or stressed about it – who would you do a better job for: someone who was openly blaming you, bitter, and frustrated with you – or someone who in spite of your little mishap was forgiving, calm and reasonable about the situation? The first option provokes defensiveness, hurt and resentment, the second provokes respect and gives them sense of responsibility to deal with the situation. It’s very easy to argue with someone who is arguing with you, it’s much harder to argue with someone who is calm and forgiving. Now I’m not asking you to be a pushover, oftentimes these situations require the other party be given a push – but rather than expressing blame or anger, try to express a sense of urgency or disappointment towards the situation, and not directly at them. Put them in a position where they are tasked with helping you, rather than trying to defend themselves against you.
Once again these are only a couple of examples from many. The key thing to take away from this is simply that things will rarely ever go perfectly according to plan, so you need to always leave some room for the unexpected – and when the unexpected does happen, it’s important to be flexible and adaptive. Put the focus on yourself, and what you can do to make the best of the situation – because focusing on things beyond your control will always lead you nowhere. You might even start to notice that some of the most amazing, memorable, and personal moments can be created through riding with the unexpected.
Whilst the focus of this chapter is on self awareness, the topic of control freakism also spills into external awareness – realize that the way you react to situations also has a big impact on the people around you, for better or for worse! Realize that the reason there seems to be a social stigma on control freakism is not because people inherently hate organized or reliable people; perhaps they’ve just had bad experiences with being controlled and victim to someone else’s stress and anxiety.
Back when I was a promoter for World Vision I learned two very important lessons that will probably stick with me for the rest of my life – how easily people lie, and to never judge a book by its cover. A rough statistic would tell you that about 2% of the Australian population sponsor a child, and yet somehow around 30-40% of the general public replied with “I sponsor a child already” when I approached them. Usually it was very obvious when they lied, and when I was feeling a little nasty I’d pretend to get all excited and bombard them with questions about their sponsor child. We found it hilarious that the most common answer to the question “What country is your child from?” was “Africa”, since Africa isn’t a country. It got to the point where there were so many people lying to us, pretending they didn’t hear us, pretending to have suddenly received a phone call, or being distracted by something off in the distance, that it was a relief when someone was comfortable enough with themselves to just smile and say no thanks – we counted on these people to get through our shifts (and of course the people who said yes, but these were very rare).
The second thing I noticed was that you could never predict how someone would react based off of face value. This was a big shock to me as some of the nicest, friendliest looking people – clean and well presented (the people who you would expect to at least react politely) were the ones who would lie, ignore or act in a nasty way toward us. Yet some of the most intimidating people based on appearance (covered in tattoos and piercings etc), would turn out to be really friendly and compassionate. I worked in one of the wealthiest areas in Melbourne, and yet it was notorious for being the most difficult area to work in – it would seem to make sense that people with wealth could help others easily, and yet even in this area the people who signed up were either modest in appearance, or young people (I had a 19 year old girl decide to sponsor a little boy in India by herself, which is amazing).
You’re probably wondering why I’ve suddenly started preaching about humanitarian stuff. Feel free shake off the discomfort that comes with thinking about charity now, and we’ll focus again on the topic: honesty. The thing to realize here is that an enormous number of people spend their time and energy on upholding a certain image of themselves, rather than being true to who they are. I attribute this to the culture that has developed around shortcuts and instant gratification. I think most people are smart enough to know the type of person they want to be, and how they want to be seen – but the problem is that they don’t want to do the work they need to do in order to become that person. This creates a gap between who they want to be, and who they are in reality; which in turn causes a fear of judgement and rejection (I hope you’re starting to see a pattern here with all of these topics). The answer to this gap, as well as the fear – is dishonesty.
Dishonesty works fine, most people won’t even realize you’re lying (I know, I used to be very good at it). I realize now that the second stupidest thing you can do is to lie to someone, and the stupidest thing you can do is to lie to yourself. The interesting thing here is that it’s impossible to lie to someone else without also lying to yourself. Realize that it starts within you, when you are dishonest with someone else – that’s simply the second manifestation of something that started within yourself – a fear and refusal to accept reality. But why make all this fuss about being honest if lying works just fine? The answer here is because you hate it. Think about that for a second, because I refuse to believe that there’s a single person on this planet that does not hate lying. Deep down you hate it, you hate that feeling you get every time you lie, you hate that it eats at you – maybe you’ve become very good at blocking that feeling out, but it’s still there. The reason for this is because you are not yourself; whether people love your or hate you, they are not loving or hating you – everything becomes impersonal and arbitrary. How will you ever feel a real connection with anyone (including yourself), if you aren’t being you?
So how do we start becoming more honest? Luckily the answer here is pretty simple – stop lying. Now I know that’s a bit of a facepalm but let me expand on that a little. Telling the truth feels great, I don’t really know how to describe it, the only way you can find out is by giving it a go yourself. Start with small things; chances are if dishonesty is a problem for you then you do it with big things as well as little things, start by trying to catch yourself when you’re throwing out those offhand lies that don’t really matter much – and instead tell the truth. The thing to focus on here is that you’re targeting situations where you would normally lie.
I’m gonna wager that when you do it, the reaction from people is not so bad, and that you’ll feel great afterwards. People aren’t used to honesty, so when they do come across it they’ll usually be sympathetic – at least with small things. This might not be the case with big things where you really fucked up, but I believe telling the truth anyway will have long term benefits. They might react badly initially, but over time it’ll become better – and you’ve developed trust with that person since they know they can count on you to tell the truth. If they don’t ever get over it, well it’s a hard lesson to be learned – but you might just have learned to not make the same mistake again. If you lie and get away with it, that paves the road for you to continue that behavior – which will eventually lead you farther and farther away from yourself.
The whole point here is for you to realize that some of the things you’re trying to hide really aren’t so bad (maybe even things that others will find charming or endearing!), and also start to force you to change things that you genuinely dislike about yourself – rather than get stuck in the comfort of lying. So start small and slowly build your way up, at some point you really should find that it feels awesome and it’s worth the effort, and that people generally respond to it really well (and even if they don’t, at least it’s out of sight and out of mind and you have a free conscience!). If you’re really struggling to get it out, a little technique that might help you get started is the 1 second rule – basically whenever you’re on the spot, force yourself to answer in under a second. You should find that the truth just comes blurting out because you don’t have time to come up with a lie. You’ll feel like a blundering idiot but at least you won’t feel like an ass, which in my opinion is much worse. So go ahead and try it and let me know how you go! You’re gonna love all that free space in your brain once you’re not walking around with a rucksack full of your conscience and lies to maintain.
It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not” – André Gide
Don’t bash on yourself.
Now here’s the most important part of this entire post (and this entire series for that matter) – don’t bash on yourself. You will never ever be perfect in all the areas I just talked about, and no one ever will. This isn’t a competition, and if you grip on these ideals too hard you’re going to suffocate the life out of them – cuddle the puppy, don’t choke it. Just realize that the better you deal with these obstacles, the happier you will be. There will be plenty of situations where despite your awareness, and best efforts – your fear will still run circles around you and cause you to flop. Please believe me when I say that the end result really does not matter as long as you’re trying. This is about slow and steady growth, not a sudden need to ‘fix’ everything and make it perfect. I’ll be proud of you as long as you make an effort ;)
Fall down seven times, stand up eight” – Japanese Proverb
I read a book on drawing and sketching a very long time ago by John Hamilton; something he said that always stuck with me was that the reason most beginners will quit drawing is simply because they start off trying to draw something that is too difficult for them, and give up when they are heartbroken by the result. The key to starting to learn to draw is to start small, and start simple. This applies 110% to everything I just talked about, and everything I go on to talk about in the remaining chapters – start by making small changes, the ones that seem easy and natural to you; you might be surprised at how small of a change is needed for a feeling growth. Once you’ve started building your confidence and have a feel around how you work, and how you grow, I promise you that the changes that once felt big will all of a sudden seem less intimidating – and before you know it you’ve already come a long way.
I relate self improvement to learning any other cognitively difficult skill (like learning an instrument, or a sport for example), things seem to move in chunks. You’ll keep hitting brick walls, and you’re progress will feel like it’s plateauing seemingly forever – like it’s not progressing at all, or sometimes even feel like it’s moving backwards. But there will be moments when these plateaus vanish suddenly, and you’re progress leaps forward all at once. So I promise you, even if sometimes it feels like all the efforts are in vain, and you aren’t growing or improving – as long as you keep at it; a year from now you’ll look back and see just how much of a difference that you’ve made.
That’s it! Here, take your imaginary medal for getting through chapter 2 – you’ve earned it. In the next chapter we’re gonna take a break from these headache inducing concepts, and have a chat about how you can start incorporating this awareness into your life, and how to make time for it. On with the show!
It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop” -Confucius
Chapter 1: Defining Happiness
Chapter 2: Self Awareness
Chapter 3: Making Time (Coming Soon!)
Chapter 4: External Awareness
Chapter 5: Finding Passion
Chapter 6: Staying True to Yourself
Chapter 7: Discipline & Perseverance
Chapter 8: Courage
Chapter 9: Bringing it all Together
Have courage. Don’t judge. Live free. Be happy.
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