How Do I Stay Mindful When the Present Isn’t Pleasant?

“If you notice any uncomfortable feelings while you’re trying to meditate, just invite them in”

Now why on earth would I want to do that?! That’s stupid. 

“Inviting discomfort is one way to learn how to stop fighting against them and accept them”

Well I don’t want to accept this – that makes me feel like I’m giving up. Plus, it’s just shitty. 

That was my thought process while listening to a guided meditation during a group session. Thankfully all of these thoughts stayed in my head – otherwise I would have disturbed a lot of people… and insulted the teacher.

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Photo by Carmine De Fazio on Unsplash

Sometimes, the present just sucks.

My last post gave us four reasons why we should try to live in the present moment. I pushed against the idea that mindfulness always leads to a special kind of calm – especially if you only meditate once, for example.

The little dialogue above demonstrated the personal resistance I had towards living in the present when the present becomes difficult. It’s normal to mentally check out of difficulty when we come across it because it’s normal to want to do the easier thing.

However, it isn’t always better for us. It can quickly lead to more stressful thinking patterns that make us feel worse. If I feel sad, it might be easier to start thinking about why I feel sad and what could have caused it and dig our way down that rabbit hole. Or I may try to distract myself and never address the thinking that consistently causes me to feel bad about something.

For example, you may begin to feel bad at school or work because you’re unknowingly comparing yourself to others. Even though it rests on a mistake.

You may become angry because you feel that you should be able to control something but with a bit more thinking, you’d find that most of it was out of your control.

And it goes on. How do we manage this?

How to stay mindful when the present isn’t pleasant

  1. Acknowledge it’ll feel uncomfortable 

You can say this aloud if you want. Negative emotional or physical feelings suck but we often begin our resistance here by refusing to admit that sometimes you’ll just feel uncomfortable.

It’s not always fair nor does it always have a grand lesson at the end. Acknowledging the discomfort is the first step to prevent our mind from running away from the uncomfortable.

This does not mean you’re giving in. It’s like observing a fact that’s simply happening.

“I’m in pain, yes but this does not mean I want to be in pain”

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Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

2. Remove yourself from the story and remove judgement – make everything neutral

Toni Bernhard in, How to Live with Chronic Illness, teaches a skill that I’ve found simple but useful.

Stop judging the moment and just describe it.

If you’re in pain try saying “pain is happening” rather than “I am in so much pain”.

If you’re sad, try “Sadness is present” rather than “I am in the darkness again”.

If you’ve experienced disappointment, try “Disappointment is present” rather than “I was really let down by my friend”.

I’ve found this takes away some of the bite from the negative emotions that arise and reduce the suffering that we can easily add-on top of ourselves. It gives us the opportunity to watch the emotion rather than feed it with more negativity.

This isn’t lying to yourself.

3. Ask yourself these four questions (and another one at the end): 

To help halt stressful thoughts, it may be worthwhile to asking yourself these questions offered by Byron Katie:

  1. Is the thought true?
  2. Am I absolutely sure it is true?
  3. How do I feel when I think the thought?
  4. Who would I be without the thought?
  5. Then turn it around – what if something else is the case?

This helps us respond skillfully to stressful thoughts that make the pleasant moment uncomfortable. Let’s go through this together with an example:

My thought here is that I am incapable of creating good work so I should never try.

  1. Is the thought true?

Yes, I’m writing this right now and it’s terrible – so many mistakes!

2. Am I absolutely sure it is true?

Perhaps not – I have a bad habit of being a harsh critic who refuses to see the good. 

3. How do I feel when I think the thought?

I feel disappointed and angry. I’m trying my best to create high quality work but my efforts don’t pay off. I become angry because I seem to be wasting my time. 

4. Who would I be without the thought?

A person who creates without expectation. A person who tries their best because they believe that is the most useful way to stick to their own values. 

5. The turnaround – how can the story be changed?

Here, we change the story slightly just to see what other possibilities are out there. Then think of reasons why it might be true.

Now, what if I’m a person who creates helpful work and has the ability to get better if he keeps trying? 

  • My blog posts have improved from a few years ago and I’m more comfortable in my own voice. 
  • If I never try, I’ll never have the opportunity to improve. 
  • My academic writing is better than it was when I started. 

Will you always believe this turnaround? No. Sometimes you’ll need someone else to tell you these things. But it’s a start – and a reminder that the negative thought you have now isn’t the only possibility in the world.

4. Remember, it takes practice. 

I’ve written these pointers in the hopes that you’ll be able to live in the present even when it’s difficult. With time will come acceptance and a clearer mindset to make useful change happen.

Yet, it doesn’t all come instantly. I try to remind myself of points like this regularly because negative thinking, when times get tough, is a difficult habit to break out of.

We all have positive and negative thinking habits. This does not mean our ways of thinking are permanently broken.

And finally… 

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

(and shake it all about)


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

How do you handle unpleasant feelings? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

 

 

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4 Actual Reasons Why We Should Live In The Present

Live in the present – be mindful – meditate – be grateful  and so on.

It’s great that “mindfulness” had enjoyed an explosion in popularity. You can now find colouring books and apps that will help you stay grounded in the present moment.

But with this rise in popularity comes over-saturation. We’re told to live in the present moment to reduce anxiety. To appreciate the world more.

Does this still hold much weight when we’re all told the same thing over and over again?

Mindfulness isn’t a cure – it’s a practice

Given the way it’s marketed, mindfulness practice can be seen as a cure.

Meditation, colouring books and the like are no silver bullet. It can be wonderful the first time we make a deliberate effort to calm down but there’s often little use in that if we do it once and move on the exact same why we were before hand.

There are many reasons to be stressed and rarely does it all come down to a lack of mindfulness. Job insecurity, long hours at work, lack of autonomy are all reasons. It’s difficult to say all you need to do is breathe for these problems to have little impact on your well being.

So this is why being mindful and grounding ourselves in the present moment need to be practiced regularly if the stresses of life are also regular. It won’t cure everything but it might make things a bit easier.

But why practice living in the present at all?

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Maybe she’s living in the present – Photo by Delaney Dawson on Unsplash

 

  1. We stop living in explanation

One of the main themes in The Obstacle is the Way is to take action.

Worry less, act more.

It is easy, when faced with a mundane problem, to spend the majority of your time thinking about what to do and all of the possible outcomes in the future.

Of course, there might be tens or hundreds of possible outcomes (if you think for long enough, I suppose) which all seem equally likely and catastrophic. Yes, we need to think about future consequences before acting. Doing otherwise would be foolish.

However, if that’s all we do then our minds become a theatre for worry rather than measured consideration of the future.

Indecisiveness is an easy way to never do what you enjoy.

When we live in the present with purpose, it’s easier to understand the challenges that we’re impacted by right now. From there, it’s easier to take intentional steps forward to making a solid decision.

We reduce the stress of feeling as though we have control over nothing by realising we can control the something in the present. No matter how small it is.

2. We stop thinking about whether “it’s fair”. 

Holiday writes:

“We aren’t content to deal with things as they happen. We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, what’s “behind” this or that, and what everyone else is doing.

Then we wonder why we don’t have the energy to actually deal with our problems. Or we get ourselves so worked up and intimidated because of the overthinking, that if we’d just gotten to work we’d probably be done already”.

Maybe I’m hypocritical for talking about this because I have a bad habit of thinking about the fairness of my pain. It took me a year to agree with Nietzsche when he says people hate meaningless suffering more than suffering alone.

However, most problems aren’t existential. Even so, I’ve noticed that in the moments I’ve stopped thinking about whether it’s fair for me to be in pain, I’ve found a bit more peace. Maybe it just doesn’t matter but a problem to be dealt with.

Fairness does matter. However, when that’s all we think about while doing nothing but worrying about it, perhaps we’re causing more suffering than we need to.

So we bring ourselves to the present moment. How can we get past this obstacle and use it to become better?

3. We become better friends with ourselves

Practicing mindfulness and meditation regularly for the past four years or so has taught me a few things. The most important one is that thoughts pass and emotional states leave.

Emotions and thoughts are best thought of as “phases” rather than permanent states of being. Even in the large overall states of being like depression, personally, I’ve noticed that emotions aren’t constant. Even if I’m a bit less sad than a few hours ago – that’s a change. To me, it demonstrates that change is possible.

This is enough to keep slivers of hope around.

Because of this, we can remember that the hatred we have for ourselves based on the past or the future can leave when we return to the present. If the hatred continues in the present, we can try shifting our focus to starve our ego of attention or ride the wave and watch the emotion leave.

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Photo by Joshua Clay on Unsplash

4. It teaches acceptance

The present moment is not always pleasant. The present can suck just as much as thinking about the past can – not every moment grounds you in peace or happiness.

What if you’re in pain? What if all you can hear are sirens in the background while you’re stuck in traffic? There are many ways we can simply dislike where we are no matter how present we try to be.

To me, this is where a big mistake comes from in the marketing of mindfulness – the idea that mindfulness solves all stress.

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Sitting on rocks all the time is uncomfortable anyway – Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash 

I wish we focused more on acceptance. Plenty of the discomfort that comes from uncomfortable experiences is the mental resistance against it. Nancy Colier writes:

[…] as long as we are “checking out” on the moments that we don’t like, we are an extra step away from being able to change them.

We may not be able to change the sirens disturbing us on the drive home but we can begin to accept that it’s difficult to be there. Acceptance does not mean losing the will to change.

Living in the present helps us accept what is may not always be what we want. That can be painful and disappointing. But it’s a worthwhile realisation that will be forgotten and remembered again and again as we continue the practice.

And finally… 

Living in the present moment can be difficult. Sometimes it’s just better to escape into fantasy or light conversation.

But it’s also remarkably helpful. It can reduce stress and anxiety, help us act on problems rather than think about them endlessly.

Most importantly, it can help us practice acceptance. And with that comes more peace, more compassion and more engagement with our everyday lives.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Do you find it easy to live in the present?

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

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.


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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.

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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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Simply Be.

This is my birds and the b talk

We sit, stand, lie and stay still. We close our eyes, relax our face and breathe in deeply to the slow count of three. Hold it and notice how everything stopped, if only for this moment, for you to focus on this one breath.

Now the time to breathe out begins. Again to the count of three.

We notice how the calm air feels on our upper lip or how our chest falls as our lungs slowly empty.

The world has slowed to the beat of One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.

That’s what it means to simply be.

Taking the time to find pockets of stillness in your day is important for it is one of the few times where we cannot be consumed by the anxiety of the future or beaten up by regrets of the past. No longer living at the pace of other people’s agendas or taking the frequent journey into our negative thoughts.

The thoughts that bombard us and attempt to dictate how we feel are allowed to pass for what they are. Unimportant.

As with many people, I’ve had multiple moments when I begin to worry nearly endlessly about what the future holds and my inability to control what’s ahead of me. It drags me away from the good things that I’m probably experiencing right now, no matter how small. But sitting down to meditate reminds me to notice the present. To enjoy it for what it is.

It does not force calmness onto any person but it begins to cultivate a habit of staying calm in the face of stressful moments. The act of remembering to appreciate the present instead of getting lost in the future. Taking time to be instead of imagining the worst.

The worrying slows because we don’t attach judgements to the thoughts that fly through our heads, nor do we linger and follow them. When we are still, the thoughts leave our minds with the same speed they joined us with.

Observing this is remarkable. It separates us from the thoughts we have about ourselves and the other things out there in the world. Ever so slowly I begin to understand why there’s so much joy in being as still as possible. There are many really convincing thoughts that fly through our heads – usually about how bad we are at something or a flaw that’s “obviously” irreparable. Spending more time building pockets of stillness into our day forces us to slow down. And more importantly, it doesn’t mean that we analyse the thought in order to determine whether the thought it true for that is a battle easily lost.

We can let it pass. Attach nothing to it. No judgement, no reaction just acknowledgement.

By doing this, we come to better understand that so many of the thoughts which plague us leave our heads then join us again. Then leave again. They aren’t stitched into the fabric of our minds.

This isn’t easy. Stillness doesn’t cure depression or anxiety. It builds appreciation of slowing down and experiencing the day more on our own terms.

We Simply Be. We do not live for the future nor dwell in the past. We experience how we are at the present moment.

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Pockets of stillness can be difficult to make and difficult to sustain. Especially if you can’t find an immediate reward to the practice. To that I say, simply keep trying – it’s worthwhile.

Meditation is a practice not a solution. It’s something you do and keep doing. In the process, you appreciate its rewards. The journey doesn’t end when you’ve reached your first “moment of stillness” – these pass too. With stillness, you won’t find perfection every day. What you can find is a separation from hectic thoughts and negative judgements. For all you do is be.

How can you build more pockets of stillness in your day?

  • Meditate for 2 minutes in the morning.
  • Slow down when you eat, appreciate the flavours and smells of your food.
  • Take 15 minutes of your morning and make it yours. No time for emails, messages, or mindless web browsing.

And so on.

Remember, to simply be, we…

…sit, stand, lie and stay still. We close our eyes, relax our face and breathe in deeply to the slow count of three. Hold it and notice how everything stops, if only for this moment, for you to focus on this one breath.

Now we breathe out. Again to the count of three.

We notice how the calm air feels on our upper lip or how our chest falls as our lungs slowly empty.

The world slows to the beat of One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three.


As always, thanks for reading :)

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Care About The Important, Intensely

Create more. Consume less. Add value.

I live by these values because I believe they help me contribute to the world in an important way. Everyone is in this world together, and there’s something special about helping others without retreating to malice or hatred. Adding joy multiplies happiness but adding darkness only subtracts.

Of course, I ask myself (probably too often) for the point of living by these specific values. I haven’t been moved far beyond finding it helpful with creating a better world. Why spend my time creating instead of consuming? Why care about people other than myself?

Perhaps these values aren’t necessary but they are important, to me and I think extremely helpful for many others. So, I’ll keep them up and live my life accordingly. That’s the aim at the end of the day. To be a person of integrity.

Having this conversation reminded me of the book I recently finished. When Breath Becomes Air.

Paul Kalanithi, an upcoming neuroscientist-neurosurgeon who found he had terminal lung cancer, wrote a book. He spent his time in his life trying to understand what makes life meaningful. To do that, he wanted to wrestle with death and the mind. And he did so with grace and did so with quality. That alone is special. Just caring intensely about your craft because you think that it’s a moral duty. He didn’t view his work as a job but he viewed it as a calling. Even while he had cancer.

From all the pain he suffered, a question arose. Can you live with integrity while visiting the doorstep of death?

He answered that question with a resounding yes. Not with his words but with his actions. He never once said that he was going to fight cancer and beat it. For it’s somewhat of an unhelpful metaphor. To beat cancer. What if you lose? Does that mean you lost a battle? Apparently. But were you really participating in it in the first place? It does seem like something that just happens to you rather than something you engage with. The same seems to follow for many illnesses.

Despite the decision to not use such metaphors, the book showed me you can be a bit more generous here. Perhaps the focus of beating cancer or suffering in pain isn’t on whether you survive or the suffering ends. This way, your actions aren’t defined by something you may not control. Rather, it is on finding your values and making sure that you live in accordance with them as best you can. It means spending your time thinking about what is important to you and following these things intensely.

By living your life as such and always pursuing the good, by caring about people around you and never letting them out of your mind, by finding yourself and living as yourself the best you can, that is when you ‘beat’ whatever it is you’re facing.

It’s difficult to say that when you fail to live as yourself, as the values you care for, as a person who does good, you lose. Some things you simply cannot control and for those things, you should not be blamed for. In some cases, you can’t even control your efforts to do so.

But with the things you can control and hold dear to yourself, it is those things which define you. Don’t let illness or negative life events make you malicious or cynical. Don’t let it tear you away from the values you hold dear and most definitely don’t let it steal integrity from you and throw it into the night.

As the poem goes: “Do not go quietly into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I’ve found that ‘rage’ doesn’t have to mean anger. There are always going to be many moments of pain, suffering and death but this does not mean we must lose our will to care. I’ve found there can be so much more to the day if we try to care about it. Whether that’s talking to a friend and enjoying their smile, finding your favourite spot in the library, walking to work and hearing friends enjoy a joke or waking up and thanking yourself for trying to just get by for another day. These are small and my desire to care more isn’t accelerated by the fear of death. Kalanithi’s work is a helpful reminder that it is possible to live with integrity in good and poor health. And for that, I thank him.

We start with finding what is important to us and caring about it intensely.


I haven’t written in a while. I apologise – I’ll be back at it soon enough.

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Why we sabotage our goals (and how to stop it)

 “The best plan is only good intentions unless it degenerates into work.” – Peter Drucker

We all have good intentions. Whether it’s intending to lose weight or intending to donate to charity, they exist but as we’ve probably experienced, our intentions don’t always translate to action. Some studies argue that up to 50% of our intentions are never realised through action.[1]

To put that into perspective, let’s say that your doctor wrote a prescription and intended to sign it the next day for you to pick up. Would you think they’re good at their job if there was a 50% chance it was never completed?

Of course not.

Yet, we do it to ourselves all the time.

Intending and only intending to complete personal projects is a great recipe for guilt and lowers the credibility we think ourselves as having. Good intentions – without any action to follow – have much less value than they otherwise should have.

Failing to follow through on things reluctantly is understandable. Sometimes things that are out of our control prevent us from doing things.

But why, with all the best intentions in the world, do we wilfully sabotage our own goals?

 “I deserve a treat!”

This phrase pops up in a variety of different forms and it turns out that this thinking is what explains why we happily put our goals on hold for a “treat”. Even though it probably isn’t warranted, helpful or even wanted.

Cat Taylor, Thomas L. Webb and Paschal Sheeran decided to find out the different justifications we use to undermine our intentions.

99 university students were asked to nominate an unhealthy snack they ate too much of and record how much they ate during a week. At the end of the week, they asked how often they used certain justifications just before eating it.[2]

There were six groups of justifications:

  • It’s available
  • It can be compensated for
  • It’s different
  • I deserve it
  • I’m curious
  • It’s irresistible

These are all very familiar. Red Velvet milkshakes are rarely available but different, irresistible and pique my curiosity. I certainly believe that I can compensate for it later even though it’s quite difficult to do so.

The justifications above explain our tendency to indulgence and undermine our intentions.

The final part of this questionnaire asked them to rate how much they intended to halve their consumption of the unhealthy snack on a scale.

Four weeks later, they answered how much they ate of the nominated snack. Thankfully, they ate much less.

However, after some fancy stats work, I don’t need to (and can’t…) explain right now, their findings became very interesting.

Firstly, if you used one justification, you were far more likely to use more.

Secondly, the stronger the intention to not eat food, the greater the effect of these justifications on how much they ate. For those with weak intentions, justifications mattered much less.

“The more people justified indulgence, the more snacks they consumed despite holding strong intentions to avoid doing so”

Even if you hold strong intentions to not eat certain snacks, it’s extremely easy to run away from that intention. Simply use a justification that melts away all potential guilt.

How do we stop the self-sabotage?

For one, realise that it’s happening. I didn’t make much sense of the categories before I had read this study but now I notice it happening all the time.

They just creep up on you and can happen quite quickly. It’s even worse when you’re with other people who come up with random justifications on your behalf. Does this sound familiar to you?

self sabotage

 

Tell your friends to help you stick to your goals instead of enabling the opposite. It might require some tough love and you might dislike them for not allowing you to do something briefly. But you’ll benefit from it.

These justifications appear because there is a clash between short term and long term desires.

Should you have the cake now or not? You want to have the cake but also lose weight. You can’t do both at the same time so the justifications come out of the woodworks to make choosing the short term desire easier.

Of course, in the long term, it’s unhelpful and you’ll have to pay for it later.

Let the urge pass.

Urge surfing is one of the most helpful concepts I’ve ever come across. In short, you notice an urge and just stay with it. You don’t act on it as soon as it happens – you just watch it. Notice how it feels. Does it make you feel anxious? Angry? Worried?

Whatever it is, it passes with time. And usually quite quickly – they don’t tend to last for longer than half an hour.

Yes, it’s difficult. However, it helps you understand that you don’t need to act on every want that pops into your head. Many of these wants are caused on purpose by advertising but understanding that they don’t need to control your every action is liberating.

You can focus on the goals you truly want, at your own pace.

Daily takeaway

When you notice yourself wanting to procrastinate, eat too much, lie in bed all day or anything that might stop you from achieving your very important goals be sure to ask yourself:

  1. Is this what I really want?
    1. Is it part of the big picture for me?
  2. Does my justification make sense?
    1. It’s unlikely you’ll compensate for a big mac by walking up an extra flight of stairs

Then:

Let the urge pass.

You’ll slowly stop sabotaging your own goals and finally follow through with your personal intentions.


[1] Sheeran, P., Intention-Behaviour Relations: A Conceptual and Empirical Review, 2002

[2] These justifications were found during their first study – they weren’t forced upon the participants. Otherwise that would be a huge framing problem.

[3] Study used: ‘I deserve a treat!’: Justifications for indulgence undermine the translation of intentions into action by Cat Taylor, Thomas L. Webb and Paschal Sheeran

[4] Interestingly enough, there was a third study which showed that the justifications weren’t just ad hoc explanations for their behaviour. They can be primed to appear again. If you spend your time justifying your actions in a completely unrelated activity, you’ll be more likely to do the same in future activities.


As always, thanks for reading.

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Celebrate Your Effort – The Outcome is Less Important

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying.”

Dalai Lama XIV

Many of us, at some point in our lives have been obsessed with accomplishments and what it takes to get there. We have goals that we really want to achieve and then say that we’re going to do as much as we can in order to get there.

What happens when we don’t?

Do we blame ourselves for not doing enough or just accept what happened and become proud of our efforts?

It’s likely the former and that is a problem.

The end is all that matters

There is an unfair emphasis on the outcome of the work rather than the work itself.

For example:

“If we don’t win, what’s the point in trying?”

“If I didn’t get an A on the paper, why did I bother working so hard on it?”

“Since didn’t get that internship, I’m not trying for something so competitive next time.”

When we make the outcome of our efforts the only important part of the goal we have or project we try to complete, we become disappointed. This discourages to trying again in the future due to fear of simply being disappointed again.

The obsession with outcomes is a problem.

It’s can important cause of anxiety (what if I don’t get to where I want to be?), strong self-criticism (I’m terrible for not getting to where I want to be), anger, sadness and the like[1].  Failure is far more likely to be ego shattering:

It hurts a lot

 

As a result, we will be better off slowly removing our stringent attachment to the outcome of our actions and simply experiencing things as they are and as they come.

The Myth of Control

In a very American Dream fashion, many of us believe that if we work hard, we will be successful. For all the Olympic swimmers, thriving business women and award-winning students, the reason for their success is because they worked hard. Clearly, a part of that is that if you don’t work hard you won’t be “successful”.

Are both sayings true? Let’s think about them.

  • “If you don’t work hard, you won’t be successful”.

If we think of success as accomplishing something by yourself, it’s unlikely you’ll accomplish anything if you do nothing. It would be like saying you want to write a book but never sitting down to write. In The Aspiring Writer, we can see two writers having the intentions to write but continually avoiding it.

Of course there are a few outliers who can get extremely lucky. Donald Trump. To a number of people, he is a successful businessman who owns a number of luxurious real estates. However, lest we forget that he was given a very generous small start of $1 million. No one picks where they were born and as many philosophers say, it is a “lottery of birth”.

Onto the next one:

  • “If you work hard, you will be successful”

By saying this, we argue that hard work is the sole cause of success. It’s short and snappy but runs very close to telling the future[2]. There is no guarantee that working hard will lead to success especially if we take extremely risky ventures.

For some events, you have more direct control over them. Losing weight is an example. If we work hard to expend more calories than we consume, we will lose weight. The path to the goal is clear and laid out for you – though not easy to achieve.

For others, you have much less control over what happens even if you think you have a lot. Academic grades are an example. They do not reward effort, but content. You may work hard on an essay (or inefficiently and make the work very hard to do), and still produce a poor essay. Or you could work hard, but have a particularly harsh marker who allows their personal bias to affect their grading. You couldn’t have controlled that at all.

Or you apply for a job, spend ages on the application, but have your desired job taken by a personal friend of the CEO.

Or you could train for years in a sport, only to get injured or beaten by people who are have genetic advantages.

A large number of hidden factors affect the outcome of events in ways you cannot control. Blaming yourself for something that you cannot control is a great recipe for near uncontrollable self-loathing because there is no path for action. Only a path for thinking about your apparent short-comings.

This isn’t to say that we should say if you’re successful you were only lucky. That’s going from one extreme to the other. Rather, it is saying that success definitely comes with some good fortune and it ignore that influence is unfair on those who haven’t received similar luck.

Allowing yourself to commit to something and working at it consistently is likely to open yourself up to more opportunities. Those opportunities, you might view as lucky but it would be you who put yourself in the right place at the right time.

A helpful way to put it is this:

Your hard work makes your desired outcome more likely but never guaranteed.

Because of this, we should celebrate and assess the effort that we put into achieving things without hating ourselves if we fall short.

After some calm reflection, perhaps you realise there is more you can do. Slow down, assess the things you can improve upon and pledge to take action. Then do so.

If there isn’t, then there isn’t anything to do apart from accept things as they are and as they come.

Defining yourself by the outcome of your actions is unnecessary. It regularly leads to an over-inflated ego or excessive self-criticism.

Spend time celebrating your effort and your actions. It’s the one thing you have the most control over.


[1] I asked my GP who in turn asked a psychologist – I don’t know how to reference this otherwise. One method for identifying this was bad events or failures tend to become personal (this is my fault) and permanent (this because of who I am).

[2] Which none of us can do.


More reading:

Create without expectation

Let go of your attachment to the outcome

Zen habits – attachments


As always, thanks for reading.

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