If you are anything like me, you’ve read a ton of great books and articles about how to live well. Learned tips and tricks from masters about how to achieve what you want in life. But honestly, I’ve probably forgotten more good ideas than I remember. Some idea I’ve had to relearn more than once. Some would’ve made my life much easier if I had just remembered them. Which is why I’m so inspired by Derek Sivers idea of Directives.
Derek takes notes while he reads, when he finishes something, he summaries it. Then he takes what he’s learnt and adds it to a Do’s and Dont’s list. The list becomes an ever evolving set of strategies to live a better life. I think this is a great idea.
We live in age of overwhelming optimism. Everyone’s life is maical, and every experience awesome. You can’t buy cereal without being promised a soul uplifting and life affirming spiritual experience of purest joy. And yet, people are unhappy. Why is this?
Optimists are right in being wary of negativity. Most negativity simply hides fear, it creates barriers where there are none, making sure we don’t try something because it can’t be done or because what would people think? Negativity is a sneaky way for us to make ourselves victims. Pessimism is useless, we should never be victims.
But at the other end of the spectrum is the almost maniacal optimist. The person who’s so enthusiastic at all times it’s is simply beyond reason. Well, what’s wrong with that?
Forcing enthusiasm has two major issues, as the journalist Oliver Burkeman outlines in his excellent best seller The Antidote.
Fail at Life
Firstly it sets you up to fail. How we talk to ourselves about things has a very real influence on how we feel. It sets expectations on the situations we find ourselves in, and life will simply never be a barrage of awesome and amazing experiences. It can not be, because the human mind isn’t made to handle that. It would simply stop registering the good things. How many times have you been reminded to count your blessings, only to realize life isn’t so bad? By expecting daily life to be amazing, we’ll constantly face being let down or surrounded by haters. Not because the world is actually like that, but because we‘ve created an impossible expectation.
Use it or lose it
Secondly it seems we actually lose the ability to experience real joy and happiness when we’re constantly forcing the simulacrum of those emotions. According to burkeman “fake it til you make it” is not just incorrect, but is actually the opposite of how your mind is built to work. Counter-intuitively looking at things from a negative point of view, a bit sceptically or even critically, you’ll set yourself up to be positively surprised often. And prepared for the situations when you’re not.
We should never limit ourselves with artificial barriers of negativity and fear. But if we want to experience real happiness, we also shouldn’t buy into the cult of enthusiasm. Don’t force enthusiasm, look critically at the world and enjoy the ride.
I’ve witnessed and anguished over the decline of my favorite social media, Twitter, for years. Now it seems everyone is talking about the implosion of Facebook and all the algorithmic feed platforms like Instagram.
Today I realized just how much people crave chronological feeds of what people wish to say. I’m sure you’ve seen stories like this:
It turns out that while social media is dying. The reason it exists in the first place is still just as valid:
“Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation…” — Oscar Wilde
Whatever made these companies think it was ever about anything else?
Cultivating a selective focus is the only way to make real progress towards your goals in life. This is an excellent article by James Clear based around investment advice by Warren Buffet. Advice doesn’t get much better than this.