Here is why productivity doesn’t matter

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Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

One question that has, for some reason, bothered me quite a lot is: what is productivity?

Throughout all the different personal development and productivity blogs I’ve read, I’ve learned a number of ways to be more productive. Eliminate distractions, exercise, don’t have long meetings and so on and so on.

However, I never really took time to understand what productivity is.

Perhaps this is because the first answer is quite mundane.

The ability to produce stuff.

It’s a keystone behind David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” system which has sold millions of copies and inspired a host of productivity blogs out there.

The more productive you are, the more stuff you produce or complete.

Is this helpful? Anyone can be extremely productive if you take this definition because you can complete a lot of small, relatively meaningless tasks and say you’ve had an extremely productive day every day. This is why answering a bunch of emails or cleaning the house might feel productive even though you’ve put off something more important.

Simply producing more stuff isn’t a helpful definition in a lot of contexts we’re now in. What about…

The ability to produce important stuff.

This is a bit more focused. If complete more important stuff you’re going to be more productive than the person who just completes a bunch of meaningless tasks, right? For example, if you decide not to answer a bunch of emails and instead write the important report or calculate the important calculation, then you’re producing more valuable stuff.

While we’re getting closer to a more usable definition, we’re not there yet. What happens if the tasks you’re working on aren’t important to you but rather someone else? Am I being unproductive because the ‘important’ goals aren’t important to me?

Possibly. But many of us will work for other people and on important tasks that do not completely align with our personal passions. It’s a normal part of a working life in whatever capacity. The importance of the task depends on the context but then we may want to think in more depth about the kind of context we find ourselves in the majority of the time.

We may think about productivity in personal terms – getting stuff done that’s important to you. Doing this might be quite drastic because we could find that we’re largely unproductive despite doing brilliantly at your job or studies. We do want to make distinction between business and personal productivity because not everyone is at the luxury of being able to quit their jobs and focus on things that are only important to them. But it’s a helpful tool when coming to think about your priorities and how you can ensure you’re focusing on them as much as you can.

However, I don’t want to keep on twisting and contorting the definition of productivity. Working on and creating things that are important to you whether that is in a personal or business sense. This discussion leaves us a more important question.

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Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

Does your productivity matter?

The simple definition of productivity – getting stuff done – is unhelpful. Thinking about getting stuff done in terms of their importance is much more helpful. Yet, the more I think about it, the less I think it actually matters.

In the short term, of course it matters. You don’t want to lose your job or fail university because you’re too busy watching videos on things that barely interest you. In the long term, I think the value of an action might be better judged by its ability to help you live with integrity or overall satisfaction.

Focusing on things that are important to you isn’t good simply because they are productive. Instead, it results in matching the things that matter to you and the actions you complete every day. In doing that, we live with greater presence and a movement away from chastising yourself for “not being productive enough” or “lazy” or “wasting time”.

If we judge something as a waste of time because it doesn’t help us live in line with our values instead of whether it is helping us be productive enough, it helps us do a few things.

First, we stop micro managing our time. Doing this helps us stray away from being overly critical of how we spend our time.

Second, it gets to the deeper cause of our disappointment. We can spend a day with a very difficult problem and not write a single word yet still feel like we’ve done something useful. We can spend a day writing rubbish all day, and feel remarkably unsatisfied with everything. It’s the lack of personal importance that seems to drive this disappointment.

Third, we think honestly about the bigger picture – and make steps towards them. My yearly integrity posts are an attempt to slow down and reassess what is really important to me and how I can mould my life and my days in that direction. Doing this places a useful urgency into my days.

So, if not productivity, what is important?

Seneca complains that

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. Life is long if you know how to use it.

we say life is short yet treat it as though we will live forever. Regularly returning to important values instead of getting lost in thoughts about what is productive and what isn’t, I think, is more helpful overall.

Thinking about productivity is useful but should only come second to thinking about actions that help us live in accordance with our values.

To do this, we have to slow down and remember what is actually important rather than going so fast you’ve been running in the wrong direction for ages.

As always, thank you for reading.


 

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What Does ‘Improving Slowly’ Mean?

In the time that I’ve spent writing about various elements of improving slowly, I haven’t sat down with you and spoken about what it means. I hear the cries already.

“It’s bloody obvious! Rather than improve quickly – improve slowly!”

But I promise, there is more to it. I want to talk about the values of improving slowly and why they’re important.

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Photo by Cameron Kirby on Unsplash

The principles of slow self-improvement

Self-improvement is important to a lot of people. Especially to those who feel bad about their skill set and general abilities. Or to those who want to live happier and more fulfilling lives.

The literature is broad – much of it very good (and terrible, but we can ignore that for now). The experience of self-improvement is not spoken about as often as it could be. Largely because blogs and books tend to give advice (as my blog does too) without talking about what it’s like to actually live that advice.

I started my blog so I could do that but I feel that I’ve strayed from that (or never really started). So I’ve been thinking:

What are the principles of slow self-improvement?

When we challenge ourselves to go as quickly as possible (for whatever reason) it’s easy for that doubt to become more and more intense. It’s helpful to slow down, be mindful and enjoy the process of improving as much as we can.

This brings us to the first principle – We are working drafts

I explored this briefly in the last post on self-forgiveness. When we decide to improve certain things, we do so because we believe it could be better. However, it’s easy to slip into perfectionism without noticing. As a result, we might see how quickly we can learn something (in order to get rid of the deficiency quicker) or become overwhelmed by the task and never start.

There’s nothing wrong with learning quickly if we have the right foundation. If we start with the belief that we aren’t perfect and need to be, learning quickly will not solve that.

We take a mindful breath, assess our intentions and remember that we’re a work in progress. We always will be.

And that’s OK.

With this in mind, it becomes much easier to catch those harmful storylines which can often plague our thoughts.

“I’m not moving fast enough!”

“I’m not smart enough to learn this so quickly”

“I’m falling behind!”

And instead of focusing more on the improvement and being kind to ourselves in the process, it becomes much easier to lose ourselves in the storyline or give up when we realise that learning a language or writing a book isn’t as sexy as we first imagined.

Improving slowly is about improving with compassion.

Self-forgiveness is one facet of self-compassion. There are a many others. Small things such as:

  • Cultivating kinder thoughts towards yourself
  • Allowing yourself to relax
  • Appreciating how far you’ve come and your courage to keep going

In the journey of self-improvement and as a result improving the world, it helps to start from a foundation which isn’t infected with hate. Of course, this takes time – I struggle with it every day. But it’s a worthwhile struggle.

One day I’ll see myself in the same positive light that I see my friends and family. I hope the same for you.

Another important principle of slow self-improvement is a deeper adoption of helpful habits.

When we improve slowly, we spend more time with the habits we want to adopt. As a result, we’re far more likely to keep the habit than for it to be a fad.

For example, a study from University College London showed that it can take an average of to 66 days to form a habit rather than the conventional “21 day challenges”.

Next, we resist apathy and cynicism – and fight against it.

Apathy and cynicism are only around the corner and come knocking when we experience multiple setbacks. We must remember that we cannot give up on ourselves. Especially when it is most tempting. Simply remembering that we can be champions for ourselves is a helpful reminder to remain engaged with the world.

Even in the simplest form. There have been times when all I’ve done is reminded myself “I want to be engaged in my own story”. Then gone back to bed.

It can be difficult, but on reflection I’ve understood it as an act of compassion.

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Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

Lastly, we become better one step at a time.

It is better to work with focus instead of attempting everything at once. To do this, we slow down, take a mindful breath, and take it step by step.

Conclusion

This journey of improving ourselves and adding value to the world is a life-long one. Our time is valuable but this doesn’t mean we try to complete things as fast as humanely possible.

I ask that we slow down. Savour our improvement and as a result develop a healthier relationship with setbacks and disappointments.

While we improve, we’ll experience many of our ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.

And that’s more than OK.

Onward we go to improve ourselves and improve the world. With presence and mindfulness.

We improve slowly.

Here are the principles again:

  • We are working drafts
  • We improve with compassion
  • We spend a lot of time with positive habits
  • We resist apathy and cynicism – and fight against it
  • We become better one step at a time

As always, thank you for reading. If you found these principles helpful, please share! Let me know what you think of them below :)


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How to improve your life: self-forgiveness 101

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

In my last post, Meditation is a Practice, I wrote about slowly inviting some compassion into the way you treat yourself when you lost focus. For a short while, I’ve been trying to introduce that into more areas and I want to share how that works.

It begins with a surprisingly difficult task.

Forgiving yourself.

I’m trying to lose weight. I’ve been successful in the most important aspect so far (weighing less, obviously) but it has happened a lot slower than I actually expected. I have messed up many many times. If I’m in a lot of pain, I might try to eat the experience away (even though it literally never works) then feel guilty:

I shouldn’t have done that

I’m never going to lose weight at this rate 

Despite knowing overeating doesn’t make me feel good nor is it particularly good for my health, it still happens. As a result, I begin to hurl insults my way without resistance. They are brutal and a lot of the time, I think they are true (even if they aren’t upon honest reflection). It makes me feel bad about the things that I haven’t achieved and dismiss the things that I have.

So I feel bad about everything I’ve done regardless of whether it is good or bad. Obviously, it isn’t very fair.

We are all working drafts

Inviting compassion is pretty difficult to start with. Believing what you say is another question – it’ll all seems fake. Forgiving yourself is an important tool because it emphasises to us that we’re all works in progress.

None of us will ever be perfect but we can all improve slowly. While we do that, we’ll make mistakes, fall off the track and sometimes even go backwards. But there is a cruel voice in our head encouraging hatred because of mistakes that are bound to happen anyway – it is unhelpful and harmful.

To quieten it, we forgive ourselves our mistakes and try again. When we make mistakes, it’s a decent signal that we’re stepping out of our comfort zone and challenging ourselves. That is the path to improving. Not playing it permanently safe and hoping you get things right all the time.

Self-forgiveness creates a healthier environment for us to work and create in. As mentioned earlier, it shines light on the idea that we’re all a working draft. With this mindset, we are more likely to challenge ourselves in the future because we accept the idea that mistakes happen and they are much less worse than we thought.

Rather than improving in an environment of hostility, we improve with compassion – it simply makes the whole journey more enjoyable. Imagine this:

You’re about 10 years old and you’ve been asked to talk in front of the class. You’re nervous and hate public speaking (like most people apparently). You’ve started speaking and make a big mistake – which of the following are you more likely to try again?

1. *laughter from the class* – you hear murmurs of “I’m better than him” or “that was really stupid”. After the class, no one talks to you.

2. Your class is patient. You see encouraging nods and smiles prodding you to continue. After the class, a few people you say well done for talking in front of everyone.

The second (I hope). Even if you don’t get over the mistake straight away, at least you know people don’t care that much about the mistake and those who spend their time criticising you over a human error aren’t worth your time.

I’m not expecting a ten-year-old to get this straight away. But the second environment is something you can create for yourself by slowly silencing the internal critic and forgiving yourself.

Does forgiveness make us complacent?

No.

In a study titled “Self-Compassion and Reactions to Self-Relevant Events: The Implications of Treating Oneself Kindly”, it was shown that it makes us see the world more accurately without all of the unnecessary harsh judgement. You actually become more accepting of criticism and see it as a chance to improve.

As a result, you can have more responsibility over your mistakes, fear failure less and continue working towards your goals with more drive.

Rather than hating ourselves for our mistakes (and implicitly assuming that we can’t get better because of them … even though we “should”) we begin to view ourselves in a more accurate light – a work in progress!

Rather than being welcomed by a growling dog who’s ready to bite every time you fall over, you’re greeted by a friend who helps you up and encourages you to try again.

Who is the only person in your life who is available 24/7 to provide you with care and kindness? You.

~Kristen Neff

Nor does it encourage ignoring mistakes.

When we forgive ourselves, it doesn’t mean that making mistakes is a good thing – rather, they are acceptable but they can worked on. There really is no point in hating ourselves for not being perfect – we’ll never reach that stage anyway.

How do you begin forgiving yourself? 

First, identify the lack of compassion then label it.

When you make a mistake, you might find yourself falling down the similar hole of self-criticism. If you notice the story beginning to play, label it as such.

“I am criticising myself for a mistake I made”

Then you can do one of two things. You can investigate it or let it be then watch it go. I prefer letting it be.

I found it helpful to say a few phrases to begin. My favourite is from our meditation friend, Joseph Goldstein “And simply begin again”.

• “Ok, I forgive myself for that, I’ll try better next time”

• “Mistakes are OK, I’ll try again next time”

• “I’m simply a work in progress – I can improve and I have improved before”

• “I’m improving slowly, not perfectly”

• “This criticism is unhelpful – mistakes happen. They aren’t permanent.”

We observe the initial frustration and notice it slowly melt away with the warmth of compassion. I will warn you, you’ll even make mistakes with forgiving yourself. You can forgive yourself for those too. It’ll become easier the more you practice. The more you practice, the more you can begin to enjoy your path to wherever you’re going.

I’ve said this many times – we’re all just a work in progress. We can improve slowly and improve with compassion.

“Will you call out, “I’ve got this,” and do your very best to be your very best?”

To do this, you forgive yourself for mistakes made in the past and get back to it. Think progress, not perfection.


As always, thank you for reading.

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References:

  • Barking Up the Wrong Tree – Eric Barker
    • For studies on self-compassion and forgiveness.
  • The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday
  • How to wake up – Toni Bernhard
    • For the method on identifying and assessing negative criticism.

Meditation is a Practice

“I can’t clear my mind – it just isn’t for me”

“My mind is too frantic to meditate properly”

When people talk to me about meditation, those are the most common sources of resistance I come across. To meditate correctly you need to be able to clear your mind and only focus on your breathing without interruption.

This is one of the biggest misconceptions about meditation.

It’s easy to imagine that the well-practised meditating monk can sit down and clear their minds without any problem. The belief is – for us to be able to meditate, we must do the same.

Mindfulness Meditation is a Practice.

First, let us understand mindfulness.

Toni Bernhard views it as paying attention with care. 

Not carefully paying attention. Paying attention with care.

The difference is slight but important. When you carefully pay attention, you spend your energy on making sure the object of your attention always stays that way.

When you pay attention with care, you begin to invite small amounts of compassion. Bernhard tells us, if you see a child run into the road, you don’t simply remark “A child in the road in front of a speeding car.” Your first instinct is to make sure that the child is OK because you care.

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of focusing on your breathing (or another anchor like sounds, your chest rising and falling etc) and separating yourself from your thoughts.

We try our best to notice when thoughts occur and bring ourselves back to our chosen anchor. And we do so with care. Without judgement.

Joseph Goldstein has a wonderfully simple phrase that helps us when our mind begins to wander.

“And Simply Begin Again”

It’s what minds do 

Our minds will always have thoughts flying through them! Always! They come and go. Meditation helps us appreciate that they leave instead of getting lost in the story line they present.

I’ve been meditating reasonably consistently for over four years and I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve had this moment of complete clarity and an empty mind.

Even when this moment of complete peace does happen, it is interrupted by my wandering mind. And that’s fine. We softly bring our attention back to our anchor and continue. At the beginning, we might have to do this a lot. It’s also tempting to become angry at ourselves and determine we’re bad at this whole ‘meditating’ thing.

You’re not.

It’s what minds do. With practice, as we become better at paying attention with care, we will notice that it still happens.

From the perspective of mindfulness, it doesn’t matter what arises.

Joseph Goldstein

The important difference between the novice and the person with years of practice isn’t that they have the clearest mind in the world or that they are always in the present.

They know it’s OK to simply begin again. To refocus their attention to their anchor with the appreciation that thoughts come and go.

It’s OK to not have a completely clear mind when meditating. With practice, you’ll slowly learn to compassionately bring your attention back to the place you choose.

It’s something you continuously do.

You focus on your anchor. Have a thought wander into your attention. You notice it.

Then you simply begin again.

So you definitely can meditate if you want to. It’s a practice – over time, it’ll be easier to focus.

Your mind will wander – it’s what minds do. Pay attention to that with care. Then simply begin again.


Here’s more on meditation and mindfulness:


As always, thank you for reading.

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The Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows

At some point, we will all experience one of the ten thousand joys, and ten thousand sorrows.

Hearing of the “ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows” was important to me. It brought me back to one of the biggest aims I have for myself.

To be whole.

To be with emotional experiences rather than avoid them. To appreciate that sometimes, I’ll be sad, other times I’ll be happy. Neither of them will last forever and that’s OK.

We all experience a large variety of emotions. Whether that’s sadness or happiness. Anger or grief. Disappointment or excitement. A lot of the time, we try to resist the negative ones and prolong the positive ones. Underneath these experiences, we might have a small story building in our heads about how “this must end because it’s not fair” or “I wish this will last forever”.

These stories demonstrate a resistance to our emotions rather than an acceptance of them. I’ll demonstrate:

If I’m happy because I’m out with friends, I may begin to think to the future about how this night will have to end or why I don’t do it more often. The effects of this might not be obvious in the moment, but it can easily hit us at the end. We wanted it to last longer.

If I’m sad because I’m in pain, I might begin to grow angry at life. Why must I hurt so much? Why must this happen to me? I want it to hurry up and end. Unfortunately, this eagerness to avoid the emotions I’m currently experiencing prolongs it. I’m adding emotional suffering on top of physical suffering.


wholeness 1

I’ve been forced to be a bit more introspective and live with my thoughts a bit more because pain can leave me bed ridden for hours on end. The world is presenting me a great opportunity to be sad. One that is near impossible to refuse. The door is open and I’m already halfway in.

This is the usual part of the story where one might say that you fight against it and become happy again. The constant desire to be happy makes us more likely to resist more negative emotions rather than accept that they are only one of the ten thousand sorrows. Thankfully, we will also have ten thousand joys.

The constant desire to be happy can result in significant disappointment when it doesn’t happen. Sadness becomes an enemy rather than just an emotions that comes and goes with time. Often, I found that I would miss moments of happiness in fear of it being taken away.

When people go on to say that their life goal is to be happy, I’ve realised that it isn’t something I want to aim for.

I want to be emotionally whole.

It means to accept and acknowledge the wide range of emotions that we have. We’re allowed to be sad, angry, happy, loving, all sorts of things. I do not believe that we should think of these emotions in reference to happiness (And how they’re either not happiness or just an extended form of it) but rather, we can just accept them.

Because we’re going to experience them anyway.

Placing yourself in the position of a fighter is a helpful story to tell yourself when you’re in a bad place. You’re fighting against the negativity with positivity and good vibes. But what happens when that fails? Does that mean the sadness is winning and you’re failing?

I’m not sure. So it’s worthwhile to think about the story you tell yourself in a bit more detail. Do you really want to spend your time fighting against negativity with positivity? Is that a positive thing to do?

Rather, we might want to adopt the metaphor that we let the sadness in, warm it up with acceptance then see calm embrace the room.

In some sense, we’re lucky to be able to feel such a large range of emotions. In many ways, it shows us that we’re capable of caring about things instead of feeling complete and utter apathy either towards ourselves or towards the things that we want to care about.

I’ve  disliked apathy for a very long time. Primarily because there have been pockets in my life where I’ve experienced it for so long. Accepting the wide range of emotions that we have, helps soothe the negative emotions away and appreciate the positive ones. We give these emotions our attention rather than being passively consumed by it.

wholeness2

If you’re feeling sad, you can simply say “sadness is being experienced by me” or “sadness exists”.

If you’re feeling happy – “happiness exists… and I’m happy that it exists”

Separating yourself from the negative, even in your speech, can be the start no longer being overwhelmed by the emotion.

Separating yourself from the positive helps you acknowledge it and not let it pass without your attention.

Doing this really does help us move closer to the “goal” of appreciating the range of our ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.

Striving to be happy is noble but I think, if taken too seriously, strips us from the richness other emotions can have.  To do this, we need to slow down and live our days with a bit more mindfulness.

So that is the quest for wholeness. It is difficult and does require practice – I’m certainly nowhere close. However simply reminding myself of this desire does have a calming effect on me. I hope it does for you too.

The quest for wholeness. It requires we pay a bit more attention to ourselves and how we’re feeling. We will be happy and we will be sad. We will be angry, and we will be excited. And that’s OK – they all pass and change with time.

Engaging life challenges us to be fully present and actively involved in our moment-to-moment experience, without clinging to joy and without resisting sorrow.

~ Toni Bernhard

As always, thank you for reading.


 

I will add – this certainly isn’t to say all negative emotions are good. Please do not misconstrue my message for that. I have nothing to say about the qualities of depression yet for I haven’t arranged my thoughts on it. I will some day and it’ll be here for you to read.

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I’m 22

It’s been a while since I last posted. I have reasons, many of them are bad. But I’m here now, and that’s what matters.

I’m also a month late (again) for my own birthday post. Some things just don’t change.

As usual, this is an integrity report. What do I care about and have I been living towards those values?

I started doing this after seeing Scott H Young write birthday posts and James Clear write integrity reports and combined them. I’m not creative, I just borrow a lot.

Living a life of integrity is incredibly important to me. One of the greatest sources of unhappiness I’ve found in my days is where my expectations and actions don’t match. Of course, expectations can and should be managed to be reasonable so you’re not perpetually unhappy. Perhaps then, it was a problem of expectations. Instead, living in line with values is important because they determine your actions and your expectations.

Living in accordance with my values is satisfying because they ask me how I can improve myself and contribute to the world positively. This doesn’t need to be through large political rallies – it can be something as simple as letting someone know they look nice in their shirt.

So I will ask:

  1. What are my values? Has anything changed?
  2. How am I living towards them?
  3. What can I do better?

create more consume less

What are my values? Has anything changed? 

Last year, I explained all of them in a bit of detail. If you’d like to read that, you can find it here.

Growth

  • Anything worth doing is worth doing well
  • Improve slowly with compassion
  • Exude grit in the face of adversity
  • Examine the world honestly

Well-being

  • Give myself permission to be content
  • Eat healthily and exercise
  • Take time to slow down, often
  • Make steps to becoming the person  I want to be

Compassion and Contribution

  • Make the world better for others
  • Contribute to the world rather than simply consume it
  • Speak with kindness and leave negative judgement behind

To summarise: Create more. Consume less. Add value.

I haven’t had much reason to make drastic changes to the values that I want to live by. However, there is something I’d like to add under the “compassion” category.

Forgive myself.

We have thousands of thoughts flying through our heads all the time. Unfortunately, many of them negative and those thoughts are the easiest to latch onto. They seem to identify us because they appear permanent and personal.

“I’m an idiot” “I’ll never be able to produce good work” “My body hates me so I hate my body”

While I try to be a good friend to others, I can’t say I do the same for myself. If my negative thoughts were said by a separate person, I’d think they were terrible. Why must I do it to myself?

So I want to exercise a bit more self-compassion. Forgive myself for mistakes, bad working days, displays of rudeness, whatever it is. If I want to care about the important, I think I would like to regard myself important. At least to me.

Am I living with integrity?

I’ve learned a significant amount from over the course of the past year.

How have I grown as a person?

From the time between 21 to 22, I have finished a Philosophy degree and started a Master’s degree.

The pain is still a big problem so when I think of being more “gritty” I suppose I can point to that. I’ve pushed through, reminded myself that I’m capable and continued. This isn’t to say that I just grit my teeth and endure the pain. That would be dishonest. Rather, I’ve taken it upon myself to learn more coping mechanisms to help me get through it. They aren’t all perfect (or positive) but it’s a useful step that I’m happy I’ve taken.

I’m most proud of learning how to swim. For the longest time, I was petrified of swimming. I was certain that I could drown even if my face was completely above water. The water was lava. Everything was lava.

And I looked stupid in speedos.

fishes drown

I ditched the speedos and picked up adult swimming lessons. I think, in part because I was truly determined to learn how to swim, I overcame my initial fears quite quickly. The water wasn’t lava, it just stung when you forgot to put goggles on. To my surprise, you don’t float as easily as instructors sometimes say but that’s the point of swimming, I suppose.

After many weeks of flailing around in the water, I swam a length (then told everyone about it) swam another two (and shouted it at anyone who would listen) and determined that I could finally swim.

I enjoy swimming a lot now and go regularly. I’m currently trying to swim a mile. But the real victory for me was taking a fear and figuring out how to get through it rather than ignoring it because I could.

I’m not even good. I’m just glad I can swim. We’re all capable of improvement in one way or another. I’ll be faster than Michael Phelps one day.

I can say I’ve been eating healthily and exercising. I’ve lost over 20kg, slipped up many times but improved slowly with compassion and appreciating that I’m a work in progress rather than the finished product. Believing otherwise will always create disappointment. I prefer to think of myself as a person capable of improving rather than a perfect human.

I’ve been growing in many ways. I’ve grown academically and in fitness. As a result, my well-being has generally improved in the long-term.

Compassion and contribution may be the most important set of values for me. If there’s anything for me to be remembered by, I’d rather it was a memory of helping others rather than “wow he could swim 5 miles”. Life’s too important to ignore others completely or make it harder for others.

One of my ways of contributing to others has been through my writing. This blog. My aim is to now write about ideas of practical significance, and thought-provoking but useful pieces. Despite my perpetual doubt in this area, a surprising number of people exclaim their enjoyment of my work and that it proves helpful. I have written some important pieces such as: Care About The Important, Intensely, You Are Stronger Than Your Pain, and Sisu – Developing mental toughness in the face of adversity.

I started meditating consistently again to enjoy some moments of peace and to help manage my pain. I volunteered briefly for Certitude – a charity helping people with learning disabilities. I have cut back drastically on negative judgement and definitely refrained from negative gossip as much as I can (even though it is wildly addictive). Instead, it’s lovely to praise people behind their backs – it always raises the mood of conversations.

What can I do better?

In the spirit of being kinder to myself, I will try not to be too harsh.

Last year, I said I want to write regularly, stay in for the long haul, be more proactive and continue meditating.

I haven’t written regularly. There have been far too many gaps in content because I spend too much time in my head expecting perfect posts then not posting at all. Or simply not writing for the blog.

It’s disappointing because I enjoy writing this blog and the content. It makes me even happier when I notice that my friends and readers enjoy the work too. The kind words are often etched into my mind because I’m so grateful for them. I’m not simply chasing more praise. I hope to create more consistently because it is much more satisfying than binging YouTube videos.

To achieve this, I think I need to stop expecting perfection or fearing the worst from readers. Some posts may miss the mark. Others may do extremely well. I’m not the best at judging that I’ve realised. I should heed my own advice and create without expectation.

On a slightly different note, there is definitely more space to make life better for other people. Whether that is participating in more charity events, donating to charity, offering help without being asked first, whatever it may be, there often is still a way to improve someone’s day.

Since I’ll be taking a leaving academia (without any intention of returning to do a PhD), I suppose I’ll be forced to be more proactive and stick to things for longer.

And that brings me to the end. I’m 22. I’ve grown in different ways and stalled in others. Reflecting on this has helped because it’s reminded me that I, along with everyone else, will keep on improving slowly.

As always, thanks for reading.


 

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Resist Apathy and Cynicism

The problem of apathy has been on my mind for years. Especially during the times when I don’t care about anything including myself.

The almost chronic absence of care towards others, events in the world and yourself – apathy. But it often does not dance alone. Its partner – cynicism – usually takes the lead.

It’s a state that we’ve all experienced at one point or another for varying lengths of time and during the longer stretches of time where apathy was at its strongest, I started to think more about just how damaging it can be for how we view the world, other people and ourselves.

Maria Popova puts it well. Apathy is a “symptom of resignation” and cynicism is a convincing self-protection mechanism against it.

The problem with cynicism is its ability to convince us of truth where none is to be found. “oh the world is complete shit”, “it’s never going to work out anyway” “There’s no point in trying”. Tired phrases yet we’re enticed to believe them because we no longer have to try or care if they are true. Of caring. We no longer have to spend energy on finding the good or changing the world for the better because our efforts will be futile.

Cynicism becomes tempting when we surround ourselves with negativity and as a result “prove” to ourselves that the world is shit and can never get better. It becomes believable because it is based on something even if that is a very skewed and narrow perception of the world. Often, if we lose ourselves in the news without the understanding that negative news sells better than the positive, we mistake it as the only way to view the world and other people. From this we utter misguided statements like “being positive is presenting a false perspective of the world” when it could be making it more balanced. It would be a grave mistake to assume that the only facts in the world are presented in newspapers and 24 hour news cycles.

However, this mustn’t be mistaken as a plea for blind optimism. Such mindsets can be as harmful as blind pessimism as hope for a good world without any critical eye is naïve. This is a reminder that examining the world honestly does not mean we should examine the world negatively. It is very possible to be rationally optimistic about the world or at least not assume everything is so bad that there’s no point in caring about it.

We shouldn’t fall into the trap of normalising the bad because we assume that’s all there is then convince ourselves to stop caring. This becomes particularly pronounced in the world we live in at the moment. Western politics seems to be growing more divisive at the front line of things and also within personal discussions. It creates barriers (figurative ones, President Trump) and these needn’t be strengthened by the simple fact that they’re allowed to stand in the first place.

We can afford to care. We can afford to be optimistic when the facts allow it. We can afford to ensure that bad doesn’t prevail over good by allowing the bad to become normal.

It’s unhelpful to think that we’re powerless for that does not grant enough credit to the good that we can do to each other and on smaller scales. We we allow for good acts to become a habit rather than the rare accomplishment, they can also become as common as we say please and thank you.

It requires we keep people other than ourselves in mind. Whether it’s as simple as not interrupting the other person or buying them a coffee for no reason other than you want to, you can do good for others in way that’s appreciated greatly.

It’s something I’ve tried to include more in my personal days and I believe it has paid off. Not because I’m waiting for a special thanks at the end of the year. It’s a valuable habit that fights and actively resists against the prey of cynicism, apathy and hate.

These do not need to fill my day. Nor do I need to drag others down. For I want others to care. To appreciate the world and the helpful people in it. It helps keep us away from darkness and cold. We move closer to warmth, appreciation for the small and a desire to change things on a bigger scale.

To end, I quote Maria Popova directly:

Yes, people sometimes do horrible things, and we can speculate about why they do them until we run out of words and sanity. But evil only prevails when we mistake it for the norm. There is so much goodness in the world — all we have to do is remind one another of it, show up for it, and refuse to leave.


As always, thanks for reading :)

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