the-happiness-blueprint

My Blueprint to Happiness

Read time: 17 minutes

I think I’ve cracked the happiness code.

While I am talking about this in the context of my life, I do think that some of this could be applicable to you.

Since my tracking happiness post, I started thinking a lot about how much my life has improved over time, so I started putting together a compilation of all my thoughts, trying to document all the things that I believe led to the change.

I want to share with you how I got through some tough moments, a couple of key lessons that I learned along the way, and how I became a lot happier in my everyday life.

Think of this as a snapshot in time of where I am today. This is my ground zero, and from this point, I want to start challenging myself to start building upwards.

As always, I’d like to hear what you think about this and I’d also like to know about the kind of things you do that make you happy. Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Let’s get into it.

Be selective with the people you spend time with

“You are the average of the five people you associate with most, so do not underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganized friends. If someone isn’t making you stronger, they’re making you weaker.”

– Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

This one is possibly one of the toughest things to do in practice.

The people you surround yourself with the most have an incredible impact on your personality, the choices you make, and even where you end up in life.

It’s extremely tricky because most of the time, you’ll be unaware that you’re surrounding yourself with the kind of people you should be avoiding.

How to know if you’re hanging out with the right people

Here are some questions I ask myself to figure out if my relationships with people are worth investing in:

  • Does their friendship consist of equal give and take?
  • Do they encourage me, and push me beyond my comfort zone?
  • Do they tell me when I’ve screwed up?
  • Can our friendship survive through tough periods?
  • Do they challenge me when I’m wrong?
  • Are they willing to put in the effort to maintain and build our relationship?

Obviously I don’t disqualify people based on these criteria alone. They’re more like guidelines that I would look at, and it could be different for you. What do you value in your relationships? Let me know in the comments.

Now let’s think about this for a second: If you lost everything, would you be able to turn to your friends?

If you’re trying to improve yourself, and your friends laugh at you or belittle you, they’re not your friends. If they don’t value you or your time, politely tell them to get stuffed, cut them off, and don’t look back.

I used to have friends who didn’t believe in me, ridiculed and laughed at me behind my back, and competed against me, always feeling the need to be ahead of me in some way, no matter how trivial the stakes. I didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life and all I had to do was walk away, so I did.

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Today, I have friends who are willing to push me, encourage me, and believe in me even when I don’t. I have friends who respect me enough to tell me when I’ve messed up. I have friends who appreciate my time, value my friendship, and invest the same amount of effort (sometimes even more) that I put into my relationships with them.

This didn’t happen by accident, and it took many years to get to this point.

I chose to invest in these relationships. The hardest part is finding them, and the way you can do that is by being the friend you would want to have, to the people around you. Soon enough, you’ll know which ones are worth your time, and which aren’t.

When you surround yourself with great people, you can’t help but to want to be more like them. The effect is infectious: you start sharing ideas, working together, motivating each other and enjoying each others’ company a lot more, and it’s absolutely fantastic.

Great relationships are the real secret to happiness.

Investing in the wrong people

Sometimes it’ll take years before you find out that you’ve made a mistake. I like to think that it’s a price worth paying, because when you do find those who are worth it, it will make all the difference in the world.

You don’t always need a great deal of friends—it’s always far better to have a few great ones.

Be selective with what you spend your time on

I’ve wasted a lot of my downtime in the past, and while I still do to some extent, I’m trying to be more mindful of it. I used to waste hours playing video games and watching TV shows, and while people have given me the “it’s not wasted if you’re enjoying it” speech, I’ve come to believe that it’s not true.

I’ve realised that the hours spent playing mindless video games and doing nothing of value turned into a blur of years in which I neglected my family and the precious time I could have spent with them. I had a massive, unwelcome dose of reality when I heard this for the first time:

By the time you leave to college, you’ll have spent eighty to ninety percent of the time you’ll ever spend with your parents

That statement really put a fist through my gut.

I can’t remember where I heard that, I think it was a podcast, but Tim Urban posted a similar statement on his blog, Wait But Why, in the post: “The Tail End”:

“It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.”

It really puts things into perspective.

The next thing I noticed is that while I was enjoying myself with these mindless activities, they didn’t create any lasting happiness. The joy of playing a video game evaporated as soon as it was over, and TV shows had the same effect. In all those years, I had done nothing of any value.

It wasn’t until I had left home for university that I decided I’d had enough of wasting my time with things that added no value whatsoever to my life.

Working towards becoming a polymath

I banned myself from watching tv shows and quit playing video games and something interesting happened. I had to find stuff to do to fill up all this newfound time on my hands so I started picking up old hobbies like playing the guitar and reading books.

I also picked up new activities, like digital art, working out, creating short videos, writing short stories, and working on a couple of business ideas (which failed terribly, but I learned a whole lot from them so no regrets there).

I felt alive and happy, and I knew I was on to something. I kept doing this, but the bad habits picked up again after a while and I slipped back into my old ways. The change was dramatic, but I barely noticed it. I was back to wasting hours on games and TV shows. I gained weight, lost touch with friends and constantly felt like something wasn’t right.

The light bulb moment took ages to arrive, but when it finally did, my life turned around once again, and this time, I started this blog, worked on another business idea (which also went on to fail), finally learned to improvise on the guitar and became a better student and person in general.

I really hope the stuff I’m saying doesn’t come off as bragging, because the core message here is that I learned that I could get a lot of things done if I stopped wasting my time with short term pleasures.

I agree with the phrase “It’s not wasted if you’re enjoying it”, but only if you’re doing something worthwhile. Otherwise, it is wasted. Yes, I did miss the opportunity to become great at a video game and have my skills become the envy of all my friends, but years later, I can safely say that no one would have cared or remembered that today.

Choosing to spend my time well made me so much happier, and while it’s hard to do consistently, I think it’s worth the effort. I’d like to know what you think about this. Have you done something like this yourself? Have you noticed a difference in the quality of your life?

When I started tracking my happiness, I could see the change occurring over time, and quite rapidly. I could visually see the impact of the changes I was making, and it was quite reassuring. It would be awesome if I could hear from you and find out if this is true (or otherwise) for you too!

Play the long game

This one actually took a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I was having a crisis of confidence, not being able to achieve the things I was aiming for. I was getting nowhere with my beginner coding lessons, I was struggling to get a job I wanted, and I felt like I needed to figure things out right then and there.

What’s the rush?

That changed when I watched a Gary Vaynerchuk video, and he asked a very simple question: “What’s the rush?”

I started wondering, what was the rush? Who was I racing and competing against? The thousands of overnight success stories that the media is all too happy to wave in our faces? I’ve been obsessing on becoming a success as quickly as possible that I missed the entire point of getting there—enjoying the process, as Gary puts it.

gary-vaynerchuk-youtube
Gary Vaynerchuk’s YouTube channel is a treasure trove of information and actionable content

He’s right, I do love the process. I love the work I put in, and I enjoy learning, improving, and achieving little milestones. The problem is, I forgot all about the process, and that’s when it stopped being fun.

I spend more time watching videos and reading books about becoming successful, that I haven’t done the one thing that’s actually required to get there: Doing the actual work. And that’s going to take time to show results.

Once I figured that out, I felt like my head cleared and I could just focus on keeping my head down and getting back to work on the things I love. Being part of the process is what keeps me feeling happy, because it gives me a strong sense of purpose and drive.

I’m in this for the long haul, and sometimes I have to remind myself that a huge part of success comes from being on the journey itself, and having the fortitude to keep going, especially in the moments when I want to give up.

Learning to be Consistent

This is the second thing I realised about playing the long game. Consistency is the key to doing anything well. Whether I’m trying to learn a new skill, work out, work on a project or a side business, or pretty much anything else, consistency in the long term provides the greatest return on time invested.

I’ve been playing the guitar since I was eight years old. Yet, there are people who started a year ago who are miles ahead of me in terms of skill.

The difference is that I was inconsistent. I would pick up the guitar once every few weeks or so, whereas they practiced every day.

I’m trying to learn from that mistake, and right now, I’m focusing on keeping my nose to the grindstone.

It’s time to play the long game.

How do you find the things you love doing?

I did this by trying many different things, figuring out which ones I enjoyed and then focusing on those. You’ll know you that you’re in the right activity/job/hobby if you experience the state of flow, or being “in the zone”, consistently over a period of time. It’s a state of energised focus, and time just slips away without you noticing.

In other words, it doesn’t really feel like work. Sometimes it might, especially when it gets challenging, but it’s work that you want to do.

Working on these kinds of activities or hobbies really helps me feel like I’ve spent the day well, as long as I do at least one these per day. For me, this can be anything from cooking, to practicing my (very beginner) coding skills.

“I don’t have the time.”

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like this excuse has anything to do with being happy, but I promise it’ll start making sense by the end of this post.

I was using this excuse all the time, and worse still, I had convinced myself it was true. At one point, I was having a conversation with Van, my close friend and training partner, and sometime during the chat, I pulled out the old reliable “I don’t have the time”. He responded with silence.

I’m not sure what it was, but that awkward silence made me realise that I was full of it. Maybe it was because for the first time, someone was actually challenging my excuse.

Somewhere inside, I knew I didn’t believe my own excuse. When I said “I don’t have the time”, what I really meant was “I’m not willing to sacrifice my comfort for this.”

I went to school, I was working construction, I was working out five hours a day, I was taking acting classes from 8 o’clock at night to 12 midnight. I was doing all of those things. I wanted to make sure that out of the 24 hours of the day, that I don’t waste one single hour. Those hours were too precious.

That quote is from an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s how he used to spend his 24 hours. That’s also why he won the Mr. Olympia championship seven times in a row. Can you honestly say that you’re not wasting a single hour of your day?

I can’t, but I’m trying to get there.

The reason I’m quoting Arnold, is because he is the definition of a polymath. According to his Wikipedia page, he’s an actor, producer, businessman, investor, author, philanthropist, activist, politician, and former professional bodybuilder.

He achieved all this by pushing himself well beyond his comfort zone and making the most of the time he had available.

I, on the other hand, have been coddling myself. Eventually, I had to tell myself that if I’m not willing to put in the work, if I’m not willing to sacrifice my short term comfort, then I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that I deserve to be stuck where I am.

This is where I am now:

I’m working on my fitness, learning to code, working on developing a couple of business ideas, improving my relationships with people, along with a couple of smaller goals that you can read about on my Now page. Of course, I expect to fail along the way—none of these things are easy—but I’m going to keep at it.

I’m sharing this publicly because I wan’t to challenge myself. I want some form of accountability, so that the next time you see me in person, I’m going to be an improved version of myself. Now, if I don’t achieve my goals, I’ll be publicly humiliated. How’s that for incentive?

Avoiding discomfort guarantees unhappiness

If you’re wondering how anyone could possibly feel happier by pushing themselves to their limit, spending every moment of their day honing their craft, challenging themselves, and going flat out to work on dreams they may never achieve, you’re not alone.

I often wondered why anyone would choose to work that hard when they could sit back and binge-watch Netflix instead.

I now believe that the way to feeling happier and more satisfied with life is a little counter-intuitive for most people: Seeking out discomfort.

Bear with me.

If you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone, you’re left feeling unfulfilled. Consider working out—if you don’t push yourself until it hurts to the point that you want to quit, your body simply doesn’t get stronger. Anything less than that is your comfort zone.

This is true for pretty much anything. Take relationships: If you don’t approach that cute guy or girl because it’s outside of your comfort zone, you’ll get nowhere.

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Seeking out that discomfort and putting yourself out there is what gets you results, and that eventually builds confidence, a sense of self-worth and achievement, and happiness.

Sharing this post so everyone can see my mistakes and my failures is definitely outside my comfort zone, but I’m doing it because I’m hoping that by sharing this, I can help at least one person. If I can do that, then to me, that’s a resounding success.

Discomfort is partly why I think more people should aspire to be polymaths. It’s far from easy, and there’s a lot of work involved, but while the idea of picking up new skills and spending time learning about new things can seem daunting, you’d be surprised at how much better you’ll feel with yourself.

In fact, I’d say that doing these things can and will significantly improve your overall satisfaction with life.

How badly do you want this?

Eric Thomas once shared a story that contained one of my favourite quotes of all time. I listened to this years ago, and it had such a profound impact on me. Here’s the video if you want to watch it yourself (it’s so worth it):

At the end of the story, he says:

When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.

Have you ever started something, feeling pumped up only to give up a couple of days later? That’s happened to me so many times, and each time it’s because I didn’t want it bad enough. Now, whenever I feel like quitting, I remember this speech, and ask I myself, “How badly do I want this?”.

Positive self-talk

Positive self-talk is one of the greatest tools you have, because when no one else is around, you’ve got your back. Maybe a little ironically, your greatest enemy is also yourself, because there will always be that voice in your head telling you to give up. That’s when the positive self-talk can really come in handy, to be the opposing voice that keeps you going.

I’ve been through many different public speaking scenarios and there have been moments where I froze, forgot my speech or story halfway through, said something stupid, embarrassed myself, and got laughed at. When I was up on that stage, I had only my own voice to tell me to keep going, battling the little one that was telling me to run off stage and hide.

Taking a moment to be grateful

There’s a reason why a person can have a roof over their head, running water, unlimited food, access to the internet, transportation, safety, community, a healthy body, youthfulness, and somehow still manage to be unhappy. It’s a lack of a gratitude, and a lack of perspective.

If you’re reading this, you probably own the device that’s enabling you to do so. That alone makes you more fortunate that you can possibly imagine. How often do you stop to consider that? If you’re like me, probably not very often, and if that’s the case, let’s work on that.

You can’t be happy if you can’t appreciate what you already have, and sadly, most people don’t and never will. They’re too busy being consumed with what they don’t have, and that’s why they will never have enough.

Think about this for a second, if you achieve a goal or receive something new, how long does that great feeling last? How long do you feel a sense of gratitude? Usually, it fades away quickly and then it’s time to start chasing the next high, and then the next.

In my opinion, chasing happiness is a pointless exercise if you aren’t grateful for what you already have, because no matter what you achieve and how high you climb, the destination will never be good enough to satisfy you.

Here’s to us

I want you to live not just a good life, but a great one. I want you to be able to say that you are truly happy with your life, and mean it. That’s why I’m sharing all of this with you, in the hopes that you will gain something from it, and find your own happiness.

One of the reasons I started writing this blog is because I wanted you to be able to see the steps that I have taken, and the mistakes I’ve made and will continue to make. If you think anything I’ve said above is flat out wrong or if you want to make suggestions, please let me know. I’m more than happy to learn from you and accept criticism.

I’ve had many moments where I felt like I was going nowhere in life, just doing the same, routine things and living the same day over and over. I spent a lot of time feeling stuck. I constantly felt unfulfilled, lethargic, and deflated, because everything seemed completely monotonous.

I think the truth is, I had only myself to blame for feeling that way. I was choosing to feel sorry for myself rather than take action and do something about it.

Thankfully, I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m challenging myself to live the best life I can live. I can look at my own life right now and honestly say that I have a great one, and I couldn’t be more grateful for being able to say that.

Netflix cease and desist email Stranger Things

Netflix’s Brilliant Handling of Unauthorised “Stranger Things”-inspired Pop-up Bar

I’d like to make a quick post highlighting Netflix’s brilliant email that the company’s lawyers sent out to fans who had decided to set up a pop-up bar called the The Upside Down, named after the alternate realm in the show, Stranger Things.

The fans who had set up the bar hadn’t asked for permission regarding the usage of the name, and the company decided to send a cease and desist email to them. Not very different to what any large corporation would do right?

Not exactly. The way they handled it was an absolute masterclass in public relations.

Here’s the email they sent out to the owners:

What I’d like to most point out is that the owners of the pop-up bar completely understood the company’s perspective and agreed to closing it down and all of this was done without the need for hostility from either side.

I wish more people resolved conflict in this way. Keeping things lighthearted even when you’re talking about something you dislike, can lead to co-operation from the other side without creating too much of a fuss.

Approaching any kind of confrontation with hostility will usually lead to the other party getting on the defensive, which severely inhibits conflict resolution.

The way Netflix approached the issue was exemplary and I believe that people can really learn something from this.

 

Specialists vs Generalists, The Polymath Ideal

A Jack of All Trades or a Master of One: Specialists vs Generalists

The common saying, “jack of all trades, master of none”, seems to imply that specialisation is superior compared to dabbling in numerous fields. It’s incomplete however, and the actual quote conveys a different meaning:

“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.

A capitalist society reveres the specialist; the more specialised you are, the more valued and respected you become, eventually leading to better remuneration. That being said, specialisation certainly has its place – there are countless specialists who have made significant contributions due to their in-depth knowledge in that specific area. In the medical field, for example, specialists are virtually a necessity as the field is simply too broad for individual mastery.

Benefits of being a specialist:

  • They are able to charge higher rates
  • They have in-depth knowledge of the subject matter
  • They can allocate all of their attention and focus on one field
  • They are regarded as experts in the field, and can act as consultants

The Case for the Generalist

Polymathy is severely underrated, especially in a capitalist economy that  idolises specialisation. I am certainly not against capitalism (we will get into this discussion in an upcoming post), but I do think that this is one of the drawbacks of the system.

If you are competent in a number or fields, you are essentially equipping yourself with a variety of resources and tools. Knowledge can be transferrable, and even applicable across disciplines – an advantage polymaths are able to capitalise on.

Benefits of being a polymath:

  • Talent in various fields
  • Able to apply knowledge gained in one field to another field
  • Ability to make connections easily
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Well rounded
  • Development in multiple areas
  • Able to apply skills in a variety of situations
  • Understand systems thinking or how concepts are interrelated
  • Yeah, this list is a lot longer than the benefits of being a specialist, I’m biased

Polymaths are able to draw upon their knowledge from multiple sources, enabling them to see and make connections that a specialist would not be able to. Innovation is often a result of combining ideas, and extending your areas of knowledge often assists in the process.

Robert Twigger (a British poet, writer and explorer), in his essay “Master of Many Trades“, summarises:

The real master has no tools at all, only a limitless capacity to improvise with what is to hand. The more fields of knowledge you cover, the greater your resources for improvisation.

Famous Polymaths of the Past and Present

Widely considered the epitome of polymathy, Leonardo da Vinci clearly illustrates the point I made above. He was an influential artist, inventor, engineer, botanist, writer, and sculptor, among other things, and it can be argued that he was able to do this because he was able to apply his knowledge from one area into the next.

Other examples from the time include Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo, while modern day polymaths include Tim Ferriss and Elon Musk.

For some interesting further reading, head over to “What Happened to the Polymaths? Some Modern Examples of Homo Universalis and How to Emulate Great Thinkers“. The article poses some interesting theories as to why there appear to be fewer modern polymaths.

“Use It or Lose It”

I’d also like to highlight another point that Twigger makes, about the common misconception that it is essential for one to be naturally gifted in order to succeed in this endeavour:

The fact that I succeeded where others were failing also gave me an important key to the secret of learning. There was nothing special about me, but I worked at it and I got it. One reason many people shy away from polymathic activity is that they think they can’t learn new skills. I believe we all can — and at any age too — but only if we keep learning. ‘Use it or lose it’ is the watchword of brain plasticity.

The Overachieving Brain Surgeon

Consider this: Can a specialist also be a generalist?

Let’s look at a hypothetical brain surgeon for a second. This surgeon is an example of a specialist, but let’s assume that he or she is also a guitar virtuoso, has a decent grasp on poker and chess and happens to be an excellent swimmer. Would the surgeon be still be considered a specialist or would they now be a generalist?

Firstly, do the terms “specialist” and “generalist” only apply to attributes that are relevant to the job market? I have not found a definitive answer to this question anywhere else so far, but I’m going to say that they are not.

From my perspective, the debate about whether it is better to be a specialist or a generalist is quite irrelevant because they are not mutually exclusive. Why choose a side when you can have the best of both worlds?

What do you think? Would you rather choose a side, and if so why? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

The Best Podcasts to Listen To

Podcast Picks of 2017: Productivity, Language, and Culture

Podcasts have been experiencing phenomenal growth and it’s certainly justified as they’re extremely versatile and there’s an immense selection available. This means that there’s always something for everyone Continue reading “Podcast Picks of 2017: Productivity, Language, and Culture”

Advice From Henry Ford - Crushing the Crippling Fear of Failure

Advice From Henry Ford and Crushing the Crippling Fear of Failure

This post is strongly geared towards education, but the principles are universally applicable. 

Failure isn’t what stops most people from achieving their full potential. It’s the fear of failure that is the real issue. It’s something that can be dealt with, and I’ll explain what I did to get past this. In fact, the goal -for me at least- was to become comfortable with failure, and know that I can get past it.

It’s important to fail because I know that if I’m not failing at least a few times every so often, that means I’m not trying anything new, working hard enough, growing, or taking enough risk.

My grandmother gave me a pivotal piece of advice when I was in my mid-teens. She quoted Henry Ford, who famously said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”. I have this quote plastered up on my goal-setting board (I know, what a creative name) and I live by this principle.

When it comes to achieving higher grades, many students fail before they even begin. The majority of battles are won and lost within the mind. Many of my friends have said some variation of the following to me when I ask them why they don’t aim for higher grades:

“If I don’t expect too much, then at least I won’t be disappointed if I fail. And If I end up succeeding, it’ll be a pleasant surprise”.

Getting Rid of Fear

Why be afraid of some disappointment and failure? That’s literally the worst that could happen. So why not aim really high and try your best to achieve it? What happens if you fail? You’ll come away knowing that you put in your best effort and that your tried everything within your power and therefore have no regrets.

You’ll definitely fail if you don’t try, so what do you have to lose if you do?

The “What do you have to lose?” question is incredibly powerful. Really ask yourself and list down some answers in your head or on paper. You’ll find that it’s really not as bad as you think.

People tend think that they have so much to lose and that the disappointment will be crushing if they fail. However, when I ask them to tell me exactly what it is that they’re going to lose, they usually don’t have much of an answer.

The feeling is psychological, and that’s what prevents them from trying. Once they realise that there really isn’t much on the line, and so much to gain just by trying, they usually end up much further than they expected.

Overcoming My Struggle with Math

Back in middle school, I was terrible at math. My friends could easily achieve a 90 percent in tests while I struggled in the low 40s. As many students in that position would, I decided math just wasn’t my subject and gave up.

This became a self-fulfilling prophesy. I believed that I was bad at math, and that’s exactly what I got. What you believe, you become. The secret is simple, alter the way you think.

Let’s go back to the quote by Henry Ford for a second. If I went into something, already convinced that I was going to fail, do you suppose that I’d somehow end up succeeding? 9 times of of ten, the answer is no. I might get lucky, but that’s the exception, rather than the rule.

Realising this, I changed the way I approached math in high school. Rather than think of it as horribly intimidating and difficult (which was pretty much guaranteeing failure), I began to consciously tell myself that math was easy and I was good at it. Of course, you probably won’t believe yourself at first and might even feel stupid doing it, as I certainly did.

It just needs to be an internal dialogue with yourself, so don’t be embarrassed and worry that you might fail and disappoint yourself. This seems pretty obvious when I say it, but most people seem to have an inbuilt system designed to prevent themselves from “bragging”, even to themselves. In this case, you need to brag. Just to yourself at least. Fake the confidence, until you start to believe it, and eventually it will become real.

This trick actually worked for me. After 3 months of repeating this to myself, I had literally convinced myself that math was easy and began to notice a dramatic improvement in my understanding of math, which translated into much higher grades. I applied this same trick to physics and chemistry in high school and the exact same thing happened. I went from barely scraping a 50 percent to averaging 80s and 90s.

It’s All About the Small Wins

I realised something else soon after this experience. I started having to study a lot less and put in a lot less effort. The reason was an increase in confidence. As a result of these early, small wins, I had begun to believe in my own ability, and I had removed the mental block that so many students, including myself, struggle with.

This has nothing to do with natural intelligence or talent. Of course, some people are naturally inclined towards these kinds of subjects, but I certainly wasn’t. I was extremely frustrated with myself until I started using this technique and I found that I could attain the same if not better grades than my peers whom I am still convinced were genetically tuned for excellence in math and science.

The power of belief is often underestimated. I’ve since applied this to almost everything in my life and noticed that it always works. Try this out for yourself and see how it goes. The caveat however, is that you have to try your absolute best to convince yourself until you really do believe in your ability. Doubt is always normal, but do your best to shove it into a corner, punch it until it loses consciousness, and leave it there.

Look to fail, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.

It’s lonely at the top. Ninety nine percent of people are convinced they can’t do great things, so they aim for mediocre.

            – Tim Ferriss

 

Seeking a Natural High

A quick post today on my thoughts about why many people experience general down cycles in terms of happiness. This is different from depression, although the thoughts in this post could well be applicable to it.

My theory is that the sedentary lifestyle that most people live today has given rise to this issue of feeling unhappy all the time. It’s common knowledge that exercise makes you feel better, but I didn’t quite realise the impact it actually had on my quality of life until I started working out consistently.

I spent the majority of my university life in a state of constant unhappiness. Of course, there were ups and downs, but I’m talking about a general level of unhappiness. There were times when I would be feeling down for no apparent reason whatsoever. I never questioned this, and even thought it was normal. After all, why would you feel happy for no reason, right?

The 2-Week Experiment

At the start of summer, I decided to try a 2 week experiment. I changed my sleeping habit and started waking up at 6.30 every morning and going either for a bike ride or to the gym. At the end of every session, I would feel a natural high that allowed me to go through my day feeling relaxed and happy. I constantly felt lethargic, unmotivated and unhappy, but since I made this change, I’ve never felt better at any other point in my life.

In fact, I enjoyed the experiment so much that it’s become my daily routine. It’s pretty much an automatic process now, compared to before, when I would struggle to motivate myself just to go to the gym.

Working Out Provides the Natural High

Exercise is the secret to happiness. Or at least, it’s a big part of happiness. A potential reason for this is the release of endorphins into your system. Endorphins provide an effect similar to that of opiates – a euphoric feeling, or a natural high.  This is the feeling you get after a solid workout session.

I’m sure everyone knows that exercise has been linked to a diminution of stress levels, better health, etc. Before I started the 2 week experiment, I severely underestimated the impact it would have on my quality of life, and working out was always an “option”. I no longer consider it an option. I use my workout as part of the scaffolding for my day.

Mental Health Issues

I think that if society led a more active lifestyle, it’s quite possible that there would be a significant reduction in mental health issues (I don’t know if research has gone into this, at this point it’s simply an opinion based on my own observations and experience). As part of my mental health training, I noticed that a common pattern to recovering from mental health problems was the “Trinity of Happiness” (I don’t think anyone actually calls it that, just me); exercise, nutrition and sleep.

People greatly underestimate the effect that these activities have on them and I think it’s a terrible shame. Part of the problem can be remedied with education, but as usual, this needs to come from within. The individual needs to be open to the idea and willing to try it out.

Essentially, if you work out consistently, you’ll be significantly happier.

Disclaimer: I am not professionally trained in psychology, and these ideas are simply for discussion purposes and to encourage further research. 

TL;DR

  • I think our society leads a lifestyle that makes us highly susceptible to feeling unhappy.
  • My theory is that exercise could be the remedy for this.
  • The post workout “high” can help you get through the day feeling relaxed and happier
  • Exercise is very often underestimated (I would know, I underestimated it), and it has an incredible impact on quality of life
  • Don’t make it an option, make working out a part of your lifestyle
What Makes a Person Great at What They Do

What Separates the Average from the World-Class?

I’ve often wondered what separates the average from the phenomenal.

Why is it that certain people are able to achieve an elite status compared to the vast majority? I examined a multitude of individuals across various disciplines and tried to determine the common factors that could explain their success.

Factor #1: Discipline

Top performers all have one thing in common. The discipline to keep at it. No excuses, period.

I had the UFC on, and watching the way the two fighters moved, it wasn’t hard to see the years of practice that would have gone into their art. Every jab, perfected only after hundreds of thousands of strikes on a punching bag, hours of grappling practice on a mat, the strict but essential diets, and endurance training for days on end.

Applying this to ourselves, discipline is one of the toughest things to master. The key, however, is to block out a time for whatever it is you need to do. For instance, I never stuck to my bike rides because I would only go whenever I felt like it and it was easy to blow it off. After I blocked out 7.15 – 9am every day specifically for that purpose, it became very easy to stick to it. If you don’t do this, it’s deceptively easy to say:

“Oh well, I have plans now. Guess I’ll just do this another time”.

Having a set time for working out or studying, etc, will allow you to plan your day around it rather than over it and skipping it altogether.

This was and still is one of the toughest obstacles for me; finding the discipline to keep working even when you don’t want to. Something I realised is that if you have intrinsic motivation, discipline comes easily. However, if you don’t have this (usually because it’s something you have to do rather than want to do), you need to find some form of extrinsic motivation. If you want to be able to achieve something, it’s going to depend on how badly you want it.

With things like studying, intrinsic motivation is very hard to find unless you love your subjects. In this case, what you can do is to set up external stakes which I will get into in another post, but for now I’ll provide a brief example:

Hold Yourself Accountable by Making a Bet

  • If you lose the bet – meaning that you didn’t achieve your goal – you’d have to go out in public and do something highly embarrassing. Your friend would have to be someone who would hold you accountable for this to work. Tim Ferriss talks about this in one of his interviews, and I believe he called it “fear-setting”. People tend to work much harder if they had something to lose, than they would work in order to gain something.

Factor #2: Loving what they do

Perhaps, the more important of the two factors, I initially thought that this was pretty self-explanatory, but then I realised that perhaps it’s not as simple as it sounds. The thing is, there is a difference between becoming “good” at something and being phenomenal.

That difference is loving what they do almost to the point of (healthy) obsession. To illustrate this, John Mayer’s parents took him to a psychiatrist because they thought he was far too obsessed with the guitar. However, he was deemed to be completely healthy. It was simply his passion for the instrument that drove him to become phenomenal.

I’ve noticed that in many biographies of top-level performers, most of them were almost if not completely obsessed with their skill or sport, be it chess, swimming, culinary arts, acting etc. They didn’t just “like” doing it. To me, that’s what you’d call a hobby. Loving what you do with an undying passion is the difference that will set you apart from the average.

This is where all of the greats put in at least 10 000 hours of practice in order to master or perfect their skill. This is different from the 20 hours it takes to become good at any skill . This involves complete mastery, and takes much longer than 20 hours.

If you want to become world class at anything, you need to find something you truly love. If you don’t know what that is, you can attempt new things until you find something that simply clicks, and once it happens, you’ll know it beyond any doubt.

TL;DR

  • The two factors which separate the great from the average are self-discipline and loving what they do.
  • Discipline comes from setting a block of time to practice your skill and sticking to it.
  • Intrinsic motivation makes sticking to the routine easy, if you don’t have this, find extrinsic motivation. For example, set up stakes that will keep you motivated.
  • People tend to work harder if they have something to lose, compared to the effort they would put in to gain something. Keep this in mind when setting up stakes.
  • Most world-class athletes, musicians, actors, etc are almost obsessed with their skill. This is perhaps the most important difference between the average and the phenomenal.
  • Liking what you do is something I consider a “hobby” while an undying passion for what you do is what sets you apart.

 

Open-Mindedness and Being Receptive

On Being Open-Minded and Receptive to New Ideas

To start off, I’d like to welcome you to my new blog. This is essentially my way of putting down all the thoughts I have into an easily accessible, useful and shareable resource. The primary purpose of this blog is to facilitate and encourage an open discussion about pretty much any topic. Nothing is off limits and everything is purely for educational purposes and interest in knowledge.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of topics that we will likely get into: 

  • Meta-learning (something I’m extremely interested in and will definitely explain in greater detail)
  • How to’s on a variety of things I have discovered or learned over the years
  • The education system
  • Ideology
  • Philosophy
  • Finding your motivation
  • Confidence and body language
  • Books
  • Music
  • Politics
  • Religion

With all of these interesting topics, I am considering starting a podcast where I delve into these topics in much greater detail. If I do decide to go ahead with this project (it’s a lot more time-consuming than I had imagined), I will definitely link it to this blog so you can stay updated with all the episodes.

Controversial Topics? That’s Part of the Fun

The main emphasis here is not to pick fights with anyone, in fact, it is to find people who may or may not agree with my views and learn from them. If I am wrong (and I’m sure I will be on numerous occasions), I will freely admit that I am wrong, or made a mistake and either learn from it or change my mind on a previously-held view.

I think that something people severely lack nowadays is open-mindedness. I really feel that the best way to approach any kind of discussion with people is to be open-minded. At least give them the benefit of the doubt, the chance to explain their views and really just hear them out.

All too often people rush to their own conclusions and quite frankly, they reject anyone else’s opinion if it differs from their own. This blog is the exact opposite. Everyone is welcome to give their opinions and engage in discussion and constructive criticism. As long as there is no ill-intent, the discussions are open to everyone and I would love to hear your views.

Essentially, it boils down to being open to listening to the views of others.

This is something, as the title says, that will literally set you apart from others. The ability to listen and weigh both sides of an argument in a fair manner is the hallmark of intelligence in my humble opinion.

The point is to try and understand where someone is coming from and why they are saying what they’re saying. I don’t think there’s anything else you could ask for when it comes to a discussion. You’d be surprised, you may end up learning far more than you  bargained for.

What are your thoughts on this?

I highly encourage you to leave a comment and engage in discussion on any of the topics on the blog. Looking forward to hearing (or reading, in this case) your thoughts! Thanks for reading!