You are matter brought together by physics, chemistry, and time into a self-contained open system: a simple replicating machine.
Once accomplished, the organism multiplies and moves, competing with other replicators to extract energy from its environment so it can survive long enough to spread its genes.
Errors happen during replication. Some errors lead to early death. Some lead to longer survival or more efficient replication. Those successful "errors" are passed down. Soon it seems as if the replicators were designed to fit their environment.
Give this process a few billion years, and here you are.
You're the replicator. A baby-making food tube at the core surrounded by a meat machine that helps get food in the tube to fuel the machine long enough to make babies so the genes can survive after the machine breaks down. Genes plus environment equal behavior.
You're built to consume energy and reproduce genes. Even the most complicated aspects of you (your consciousness, for instance) can be explained as a tool for helping you survive and reproduce more effectively. You have no obvious purpose besides this.
But your brain has adapted to produce a sense of a solid identity and other animating purposes in order to motivate you to continue surviving and reproducing. The secondary by-products of these purely biological drives are art, religion, and everything else that colors culture.
This is life. It's ugly. It's beautiful. It's all you'll ever have. You can try to rebel against it, or you can go with the flow. See what you can do.
Your programmed drive to survive is the foundation of all your behaviors. You don't have to survive. You can always kill yourself. But you probably want to stay alive because you're programmed to want that.
All of your preferences and motivations ultimately boil down to survival. Why do certain things cause pleasure and others cause pain? Probably because you've evolved to produce pleasurable sensations in response to things that'll help your genes survive and produce painful sensations in response to things that'll hurt your genes' chances of survival.
People overcomplicate pleasure and bury it in fancy concepts like meaning, religion, love, and legacy. But life is much simpler than people want to admit.
Is danger nearby? Run away. Are you low on resources? Learn how to be valuable to others so they'll exchange your value for something you need. Are you exposed to the elements? Cover yourself with shelter and clothing. Hungry? Eat. Thirsty? Drink. Tired? Rest. Lonely? Find people to interact with. Bored? Seek entertainment. There are only a handful of basic needs you have to fulfill to be satisfied enough with life that you want to continue living.
Sometimes you'll feel bad and it'll be hard to understand why. No body is perfect. You might have a dysfunction that seriously challenges your ability to survive or enjoy life. But that doesn't change your basic needs. It just adds one to them: keep your unique body chemistry balanced.
Don't hesitate to seek professional help if you feel something's wrong in your body. There's no weakness in getting help. An untreated mental illness can be just as deadly as an untreated illness in any other part of the body. The sooner you seek help, the more likely you'll improve and survive.
Sometimes, survival seems complicated only because you're stressed. Give your brain some quiet time to rest and do nothing, and the simplicity of survival will become clear again.
Usually survival is a simple trial-and-error process. As long as you keep track of what works and what doesn't, you're careful not to repeat your mistakes, and you don't make a deadly error (which is rare), you'll get the chance to continue surviving and learning.
Don't do reckless things with your body. You're fragile. Get hit in the right place at the right velocity and you can be irreversibly paralyzed, disfigured, comatose, or dead.
Whenever you're suffering, think about which of your basic needs isn't getting fulfilled. If you've been lying to yourself about your needs, then it'll be hard to figure out what to do. Be brutally honest with yourself. What's your body screaming at you that you need right now? Write out a step-by-step plan to get that need met in the healthiest way possible, and work on that plan a little bit every day. That's all it takes. Stay safe out there.
You're your body. You have no existence outside this cellular island. As far as you know, when your body stops functioning, you stop being you. Come to terms with this fact now and take appropriate steps to be nicer to your meat-vehicle while it lasts.
Your body is adapted to have enough movement and energy to keep your genes alive and ready to multiply. You can't control your DNA, but there are many things you seem to be able to control.
Be nice to your body every day. If you don't make self-care and exercise a daily habit, you'll procrastinate and your body will slowly deteriorate.
You're basically one big food tube, from mouth to anus, surrounded by a mass of meat, bones, and organs designed to gather food and break it down into nutrients to power itself so it can survive and successfully create another meaty food tube in which to copy its genes.
Every single thing you put in your face-hole can either improve your health or hurt it. Think twice about what you're shoving into your mouth.
Don't get obsessed with your weight, which is only one small factor of your overall fitness. Weight is simple. If you consume more calories than your body gets rid of through excrement, exercise, or basic metabolic processes, you gain weight. To lose weight, consume less calories than your body burns away. Increase the burning or decrease the calories. That's it.
Beware of food addiction. If you get addicted to taste or the process of eating, you might know that your diet is hurting you, but your addiction will make it harder to change things. Never eat to soothe stress. Eat only when you're hungry.
It's okay to appreciate a variety of healthy foods, but beware of overvaluing the pleasure of eating to such an extent that you exchange your future health, or the life and suffering of other sentient beings, for a 20-minute meal. Think deeply about this exchange. It's most likely possible for you to be healthy and enjoy delicious affordable food without causing any suffering.
Follow science. Don't get distracted by health fads, trends, or pseudoscience. See what the accumulated research says about how to optimize your health, then try it.
If some dietary remedy doesn't work for you, trust the signals your body is sending and try something else. Your body might have particular needs that aren't found in the research. Consult a doctor.
Besides morality and allergies, your diet is limited only by your creativity. Eat a variety of whole foods. Eat everything in moderation. Use supplements if you need to. Drink water throughout the day.
Learn to cook for yourself. Don't always depend on others for your food preparation. Buy raw ingredients and experiment. Cook and eat with 100% of your attention. In this way, you'll multiply the pleasure of every mouthful. Follow your taste buds, and be nice to your body.
Move your entire body every day in as many ways as you can. At least 40 minutes of vigorous daily exercise (running) or 90 minutes of moderate daily exercise (walking) is ideal. Get your heart pumping often. Sit as little as possible. If you don't move it, you'll lose it.
Stretch daily to keep your body limber and prevent injuries. First thing in the morning or right before bed are great times to stretch.
Your brain is just part of your body. Improve your physical health, and your mental health can improve, too. Many mental health problems are exacerbated by excess physical energy that has no outlet. Excess energy can cause agitation, stress, and negative thoughts and emotions. Exercise can purge this energy in a productive way while simultaneously releasing mood-boosting hormones. If you feel stressed and don't know why, exercise for 30 minutes, then see how you feel. It's hard to feel stressed after a long, vigorous workout.
Exercise doesn't have to be monotonous. If lifting weights bores you, listen to music or a podcast. If running is too robotic, try dancing. There are many options.
To continually progress, keep track of your routine and gradually increase the intensity when it starts feeling too easy. If you're sore or injured, rest until it doesn't hurt anymore.
Above diet and exercise, sleep is the cornerstone of all your other activities. If your sleep suffers, the rest of your life suffers. So get at least 8 hours a night. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. Make your sleeping environment as quiet, cool, and dark as possible.
Prioritize health care. Get it any way you can. Don't neglect your body. Treating an illness sooner, even when it feels expensive, is almost always cheaper than waiting.
Strive for optimum health, not because you feel obligated, but because being healthy feels incredible. Your body will thank you.
Fear is trying to help you. It's one of the two main forces that power the engine of your life. The other is desire. You're constantly being pushed and pulled through life by your fears and desires.
Fear is probably the most fundamental and ancient emotion you can experience. It's been around so long and it's so powerful because it's so useful for your survival, which is your core desire.
Almost every organism has some kind of avoidance motivating system. But you have the special ability to override fear with your rational brain. This is a difficult skill to develop because your rational capacity is younger and weaker compared to your fear reflex. But you can learn to experience fear as an imperfect helper rather than an enemy.
Fear is unpleasant because it's trying to motivate you to pay attention so you can protect yourself. There might be something in your immediate environment that can kill you.
But fear can become overly protective and trigger in totally safe situations such as a public speech. Maybe you live in such a harmless environment that your fear is hypersensitive. Or maybe you've lived through such a traumatic experience that your fear response is raw and hypervigilant.
Befriend fear. When you feel it rising up in you, pay close attention. The feeling itself can't hurt you. It's only a notification pointing to something else. Assess your situation for danger. Take action to fight or flee or freeze if a threat is present. But practice gently dismissing fear if you realize no response is required.
That's the hardest part: training your animal brain to relax when there's no logical reason to be afraid right now or when you've done everything reasonable to reduce the danger.
Sometimes you have to take risks to get what you want. To help yourself take the leap, ask: "What's the worst that could happen?" Write down realistic answers. You might realize that your fears are greatly overblown and you're perfectly capable of handling the worst-case scenario.
Become more comfortable with fear by putting yourself in scary but safe situations then paying close attention. Watch the wave of fear rise then crest then fall. Gently acknowledge it, even thank it, and ask yourself if there's any actual danger nearby. Then allow the fear to be there in your body until it naturally subsides.
Anxiety is a deformed fear. Fear alerts you to legitimate dangers; anxiety alerts you to exaggerated dangers. Fear begins with a jolt of adrenaline. If you were a creature with a lesser memory or imagination, your fear would fade as soon as you realize you aren't in any actual physical danger. But, because you're capable of imagining the future, the fear response can be extended, and that's anxiety. Your body is keeping you alert to future danger.
If your fear mutates into anxiety, stop trying to feel better. Instead, completely accept the present moment. Anxiety is fueled by your resistance to it.
Anxiety is trying to help you. It's like a nagging, overprotective parent, or a serious but paranoid messenger. All it asks is that you acknowledge that there might be danger. If you logically know that there's no danger, you can thank it for its concern and then safely shift your attention to something else. If you actively try to ignore the message, anxiety will naturally talk louder, increasing the urgency of its symptoms until you pay attention.
As long as you believe its exaggerated message that you're in actual danger, the anxiety will continue to encourage you to escape that danger. But, it’s impossible for anxiety to continue indefinitely when you're embracing it as a friend rather than fighting it like an enemy.
When you indulge in anxious thoughts about a possibly unpleasant event, you suffer twice: once now because of anxiety and once later if the feared event happens. Why suffer twice? It's absurd.
The longer you're lost in "what if" scenarios, the more fuel you throw on the fire of anxiety. Do what you need to do to prevent the feared future event, plan what you need to plan, then relax. If the thing you fear happens, there's nothing more you can do. If the thing you fear doesn't happen, there's no reason to fear.
Anxiety is self-perpetuating: if you think the anxiety symptoms themselves are a threat, you feed the anxiety loop. Your anxious reactions to fear can convince your brain that there's something to panic about.
Never change your plans because of anxiety. Every time you do anything different or avoid a situation in response to anxiety, you strengthen it by telling your body that the anxiety was justified because it helped you avoid a supposedly dangerous situation. Instead, gradually expose yourself to increasingly anxiety-inducing scenarios in order to desensitize yourself to the feeling.
Anxiety is quicksand. The more you struggle against it, the more it can pull you down into its jittery depths. Break the cycle by practicing the opposite of resistance: acceptance. Practice completely accepting anxiety, no matter what you're feeling or thinking, and see what happens. Let anxiety pass through you like a slow but frightening ocean wave.
To go a step further, lean into anxiety. Tell yourself that you're excited by the anxious thoughts and sensations. Tell yourself that this sensation is your strength. It's pure energy that you can harness to your advantage. Encourage the anxiety to increase in intensity. Ironically, when you do this, the anxiety usually fades away because your body realizes there's no present threat.
Anxiety can cause many physical symptoms, but it can't kill you. Instead of trying to relax (which is a form of resistance), be curious about your physical anxiety while it lasts. Where is it exactly? How's it doing that?
Exercise, eat well, meditate, avoid sugar and caffeine and alcohol, drink plenty of water, stick to a strict sleep schedule, and watch anxiety fade away.
Whenever anxiety reappears, acknowledge it and accept it completely. Greet it like an old friend. Allow it to hang out with you as long as it wants. By genuinely accepting anxiety, you give it permission to go away because it knows you've got the message.
Once you've acknowledged anxiety, accepted its notification sensations, and logically determined that there's no actual danger to worry about, then switch focus. Climb out of your head and into the universe around you. Engage in some activity and experience this moment as fully as you can without resisting the wave; and, soon, anxiety will fade away on its own like it always does.
Emotions are the fusion of physical sensations and thoughts. They're not magical. Emotion without reaction is harmless. But if you react unskillfully to emotions, your reactions can cause harm.
Resisting emotions always hurts. It's like blocking an ever-growing dam: eventually it's going to burst and cause major destruction. Don't try to repress or stop any emotion from happening.
Instead, allow every emotion, even the unpleasant ones, to rise up in you while you simply watch them without reacting immediately. Keep your body relaxed and let the wave of it pass through you unobstructed. Or channel the emotional energy into a productive action.
Don't try to cling to emotions or push them away. The more open and accepting you are, the faster they can pass through you. Watch your emotions with serenity, like you'd watch storm cloud slowly passing by. If you aren't careful, you might automatically resist and overreact.
All negative emotions have something to tell you. Listen to your emotions so they can help inform your actions and alert you to blind spots in your awareness. But don't let them dictate your actions.
If you can express the emotion through words or movement or art without causing harm, then do that. It's healthy, and it feels good.
If you don't enjoy an emotion, don't expose yourself to situations that you know will trigger it. If you enjoy an emotion, figure out what stimuli trigger it and pursue those stimuli.
But don't get obsessed with an emotion because no feeling is final. All emotions pass. It's hard to remember this when you're in the climax of a strong emotion, but it's true. If you feel overwhelmed by a sudden emotion, ask yourself: "How long can it last?" Be curious. Watch and see. It probably won't last as long as you think it will. There's a rising, then a crest, then a falling. Sometimes there are multiple waves, but usually just one unless you try to block it.
There's no reason to let an emotion trigger guilty thoughts. Emotions are involuntary and guilt leads to repression. Immature people repress emotions. Mature people learn to express all emotions in a helpful way. So, be vigilant and practice.
Give yourself some time every day to allow any pent-up emotions to flood out of you unrestrained. Music, exercise, writing, and art can be useful tools for releasing emotions.
Surround yourself with people who accept your emotional expressions, or let your emotions shine in solitude.
You aren't thoughts. You don't have to believe any of them. You have permission to question every thought like you'd question a new voice that suddenly spoke in your skull.
If you pay close attention to thoughts, you'll notice the surprising fact that you aren't in control of them. They seem to pop into existence out of nowhere. You don't create them.
But, no matter how scary they are, thoughts can't hurt you if you don't react to them. No matter how loud or fast, you can simply watch them pass by or repeat with a smile on your face, knowing that all thoughts eventually fade away.
Writing your thoughts on a daily basis is the best way to know yourself intimately by learning the contents and patterns of your brain. Self-knowledge is the path to self-mastery. Write without editing or worrying about conventions of language. Be brutally honest. You don't have to show this to anyone. The morning or evening is usually the best time to unload thoughts. Writing forces your brain to slow down and allows you to dissect your reasoning. Journaling is a wonderful free therapy.
Or you can get up and engage in a physical task to move your center of awareness out of your head and into your body. The more challenging the movements, the more effectively they'll quiet thoughts. Take up physical hobbies you can practice daily. They don't have to be strenuous. Something like sketching involves little movement but uses a different part of the brain than the talkative part.
But do set aside limited time to watch thoughts. Because neglected recurring negative thoughts can change your life. Be especially suspicious of those.
Become a connoisseur of your inner movie. Practice observing thoughts without touching them. Let them slide by.
Other times practice responding to thoughts and guiding them in a positive direction. Can you lead thoughts where you want them to go? Try it.
Isn't it incredible that you have the ability to close your eyes and explore a universe limited only by your imagination? Imagine if that ability was taken away from you. Imagine if what was right in front of you was all you were able to experience.
Your imagination is such a gift. Don't take it for granted and don't let it control you.
Pain is the sensation of discomfort. Suffering is your interpretation of the sensations. Pain is inevitable; suffering isn't. You create your suffering by desiring an alternate reality.
Suffering means you're adding an interpretation on top of a sensation you can't stop. You interpret voluntary pain, such as strenuous exercise, as good, so it doesn't result in suffering. But you usually interpret involuntary pain as bad, so you experience mental suffering. The suffering is in your interpretation, not in reality. Can you interpret the raw sensations of pain just like you’d interpret a strong “positive” sensation?
If you're suffering, that means you either want what you don't have or don't want what you have. You can hack suffering by pretending that everything that happens to you, down to the tiniest detail, was chosen by you to happen. Pretend that you want what you have and don't want what you don't have. Or shake yourself out of suffering by asking: "Is there really a problem here, or am I just not getting what I want?"
Don't confuse the fear of future pain with your present sensations. Often, the painful part of pain comes from the thought that you won't be able to continue tolerating the current sensations. But, if you're feeling the pain, you're already tolerating it. So your fear is unfounded.
Whenever you feel mental suffering in response to a painful event, you're resisting unchangeable reality. What could be more insane than resisting something you can't change?
Every painful experience can be greeted with determination and gladness as a game for building your mental fortitude, which'll make future pain even more manageable. Use every insult, sickness, and injury as an opportunity to build endurance and strengthen mindfulness. It all depends on your interpretation. The same pain could be interpreted with gratitude or sorrow by two different people, depending on their mindsets.
Beware of your expectations. It's too easy to create future scenarios in your head, forget that they're completely imaginary, and then suffer when life differs from your mental movie. Remind yourself that your expectations are only imagination, and approach each moment with a mind open to any possibility. Suffering is born out of thoughts about alternate realities, the past, or the future.
On the other hand, it's helpful to mentally prepare yourself for the inevitable pains of life by visualizing them. Visualize misfortune, sickness, injury, disease, and death; imagine what the most skillful reactions to these events would be and then visualize yourself reacting in that way.
At some point, every thinking person must contemplate the absurd potential for pain in this universe. It's easy to get lost in this dizzying state of mind. But, if there's a way to eliminate your present pain, do it. No need for suffering. If you can reduce the chances of future pain right now, do it. No need for suffering.
If there's nothing more you can do to eliminate the present pain, try to appreciate the sensations while they last. If you can drop your resistance and just experience the raw sensations, you'll realize that what you thought was pain was actually your resistance to it.
Don't let the suffering of others infect your brain. You can ease their pain, but you can't ease their suffering. Every individual must contend with their own private suffering. This is a lifelong responsibility, so you might as well learn it now.
You can stretch your mental endurance by inflicting voluntary pain on yourself in a healthy way. Exercise your endurance like a muscle so that, when life requires you to flex, you'll be ready.
You can find a greater purpose for your pain. Pain can be a gift if you have a purpose in mind that can stop the growth of suffering. Some people become so skillful at interpreting even involuntary pain as good that they eliminate suffering almost entirely.
Strive to be a master of all sensations. Practice maintaining joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. Become a pain alchemist: transforming pain into a type of pleasure.
Dissatisfaction tends to be the default state of the brain because the brain is always searching for potential threats to eliminate to ensure survival. If you're not mindful, this low-level dissatisfaction can bloom into a daydream life of constant striving towards an imagined future that you'll never reach because you're never satisfied with now.
If you're always sacrificing your appreciation of the real present for the pursuit of an imagined future, you're stuck in an endless loop of dissatisfaction, because every later becomes a now.
But you can practice interpreting each moment as an imperfect perfection, with full satisfaction and also full awareness of the potential for improvement. This is the double-vision of optimism: your most precious psychological skill. You must practice it daily if you want it to grow. Optimism doesn't require blind faith or blissful ignorance, only a change in your method of interpreting the facts.
First, notice that your brain is constantly talking to itself, and this chattering influences your emotions and actions. Once you learn to tune into the inner voice, and you become intimately familiar with the patterns of this monologue, you can begin to gently inject new thoughts into the stream and experiment to see how new thoughts affect your subsequent emotions and actions.
You can start by catching thoughts that make you feel bad, rephrasing them in a way that's realistic but hopeful, then releasing them into your stream of consciousness. Instead of "I'm a failure," why not try "I'm good at trying" or maybe "I'm not a failure"?
Sometimes, it helps to question and analyze the negative thoughts in order to pry open mental cracks through which optimism can emerge. "What does failing mean anyways? Don't I always learn from failure?"
Then try increasing the optimism little by little, waiting for the brain to accept each thought. "Maybe I'm doing fine." Then "I'm doing fine." Then "I'm doing great." Adapt this method to other negative thoughts and create short memorable mantras that slowly transition your thoughts to a more helpful position of optimism.
Don't contradict known facts. Instead of saying something like "I'm debt-free," which your brain will instantly reject if you have debt, try instead: "I could become debt-free." That's at least within the realm of future possibility.
Write down a collection of your favorite optimistic thoughts. Save only the ones that give you a physical sensation of pleasure when you say them to yourself. Repeat these thoughts as often as possible. It'll take time for them to integrate into your stream of consciousness and become automatic because you've spent many years repeating the same negative thoughts.
Or use questions to change the course of a negative thought stream. When something "bad" happens to you and you start to react, ask questions like: "Is this actually going to hurt me over a significant period of time? How could this actually end up helping me? What can I learn from this experience that'll make me better off by preventing the same, or worse, in the future? What unexpected good things have happened to me lately that offset this bad event? Could something even worse have happened? Is this event darkly amusing or ironic in some way? Is this the kind of thing I can anticipate and build into my worldview moving forward? What would I say to a loved one if this happened to them? Do I think everyone who encounters a similar situation should also feel bad? If not, why should I feel bad? Is there any way I can overcome this problem? Have I survived a similar event in the past? Am I still stressed by those past experiences? If not, why should I be stressed about this experience now?"
But, the more you practice, the more you'll notice your mental space transforming from one of perpetual negativity to one of openness and optimism.
Mindfulness isn't a time-limited activity. It's a way of being. When you meditate, you're practicing how to be. You're molding your desired default mode of consciousness.
You're practicing all the time, but you aren't aware of it. You're constantly carving habit-grooves into your brain, and these grooves combine to form your mental operating system. The oldest, deepest grooves are the easiest to fall into. But you can edit these grooves with practice.
Mindfulness is paying as much attention as possible to the naked now without adding to it or judging it. The now is the narrow mental space between memory and imagination. Mindfulness is abandoning yourself to this present moment. It's the practice of being at the center of this universe of imperfections and finding it perfect even if just for now.
There are countless methods, books, teachers, and courses; and you can spend thousands of dollars and hours learning different ways to be mindful. But, essentially, mindfulness is effortlessness.
That doesn't mean it's easy. Trying not to try is surprisingly challenging because many cultures encourage a life of frantic, effortful productivity. Your body is rarely still, your brain rarely silent. To learn mindfulness is to train your brain to be still and silent for longer periods of time and under more various circumstances until you can drop into that still silence whenever you want.
When you start practicing, your brain might immediately begin trying to convince you that there's something urgent you should be doing instead. Or your brain might suck you down into a wormhole of thought, and you'll resurface minutes later wondering where the time went. You might spend an entire meditation session frustrating yourself as you strain to experience what you think mindfulness should feel like. Expect these challenges. Greet them with compassion.
Mindfulness feels like a grey shapeless no-man's land of effortless effort, a perfect awareness and acceptance of the whole moment, a full emptiness. You have to relax into it. Your mind is like a cup full of dirty water that you stir all day. Meditation is like setting the cup still on a table and watching the sediments slowly settle to the bottom.
When you practice mindfulness, you can become intimately familiar with your thought patterns. You can learn to more easily identify, accept, and reframe unhelpful thoughts. You might notice that your emotions don't last as long and aren't as strong as before. Anxiety can decrease. You can become less self-conscious and more outward-focused. When you feel distressed, you might be more able to tolerate it. You can simply watch a negative thought or emotion rise and fade away without reacting to it. You may become more patient with others. You can become more present-minded, only thinking about future and past when it's helpful.
But don't expect the positive effects to happen immediately. Meditate because it feels good in the moment, not for future rewards. Start by establishing a daily meditation routine at the same time and place for maximum effectiveness. The more you meditate in the same spot, the more it can seem to charge that spot with peacefulness and focus.
Start slow: 5-10 minutes a day until the habit is fully ingrained, until you feel weird skipping a day. Then you can slowly increase the time. Pick an easy time like right after you wake up or right before sleep when nothing else will interrupt or distract you. Silence your phone and set a timer for your desired duration.
Sit on a comfortable cushion, pillow, or chair that allows your back to remain straight. Imagine a string attached to the top of your head, gently pulling our whole body straight up. Cross your legs in front of you. Place your open hands naturally on your thighs with palms facing up. Gently close your eyes.
The easiest and most natural way to become mindful is to simply listen. Listen to the ambient noise around you as if it's a subtle kind of music. Don't try to identify the sounds; let them play with your ears.
Listen to your breath. Don't try to change your breathing. Just hear it. It doesn't matter if your breath is quick, shallow, long, or slow. All that matters is that you're paying attention to it.
You can focus almost all of your senses on your breath. Listen to it. Feel it going through your nostrils. Taste it in your mouth. Smell it. Don't visualize or add anything on top of the actual sensations. If at first you find it difficult to focus, start by thinking: "Breathing in. Breathing out." Over and over. Focusing your brain.
Whenever you realize you're thinking about anything other than your breath, gently guide your attention back to the breath like you'd guide a leashed dog back to your side. Each time you do this, be careful not to scold yourself. Think of it like exercise reps: every time you forget your breath and come back to it is one rep. Your control over your awareness will grow stronger the more reps you do. Continue focusing on the breath until the timer goes off.
Once you're meditating for at least 20 minutes every day, you can try expanding your focus to include all of the contents of the moment: the raw stream of sounds, thoughts, and sensations.
Then try to extend mindfulness by taking little moments throughout your day to center your attention on the breath and whatever's happening right now. If it helps, imagine watching yourself doing the things you do from an outside perspective. "He's walking." "She's eating." In this way, you can detach yourself from your mental drama.
You can extend mindfulness into sleep by keeping a dream journal. The more you write your dreams and contemplate them, the more you'll remember. You can even learn to becoming mindful during your dreams through the practice of lucid dreaming. You can induce self-awareness in dreams by being more self-aware in waking life through the use of reality checks like counting your fingers or asking: "Am I dreaming?" Your dreams are a window into your subconscious fears and desires. The journal helps you pull these fears and desires up to the surface where you can mindfully learn from them.
Practice accepting now completely. After all, there's no destination other than now. You'll never leave now. Future fulfillment is an illusion; past fulfillment is a mirage. This moment is the only heaven you'll ever experience. It's what you've been waiting for. Everything is possible now; nothing is possible in the past or future. You were born now; you'll die now. You can be distracted from now, but you can't leave now. Things come and go in and out of now. Now is perfect because it couldn't be any other way.
Truth can be defined as that which corresponds with reality. But what is reality?
It's helpful to learn to differentiate levels of reality so you know how seriously to treat different experiences, and so your suffering is proportional to the reality of the experience.
Start with the basic fact of solipsism (0): there's no way to know with 100% certainty that your experience of reality isn't some kind of illusion. We can’t know things-in-themselves or even if anything exists independent of our perceptions. Once you acknowledge this uncertainty that pervades all experience, you can either remain in nihilism or cautiously move outward in pursuit of more firm ground.
The next layer is subjective reality (1). Even if the nature of your experience is ultimately unverifiable, you at least know that an experience is happening. And your experience of the universe seems to be contained in a physical body. You'll always experience things from your unique point of view, which doesn't seem to be shared by anyone else. You can try to communicate your experiences to others, but you can't expect them to believe you unless you can also instruct them on how they can have the same experiences.
If they follow your instructions and are able to share your experience, then you're now balanced on a slightly more stable level of reality: consensus reality (2). The same experience seems to be happening to both of you.
One way to further solidify reality is to measure your shared experience with some instrument other than your limited sense organs. Once you use more than one method of measurement to verify a phenomenon, you're now at a third level of reality: scientific reality (3).
Now you're getting somewhere. If someone else who's skeptical of your scientific reality does an experiment of their own and they get the same results, then you have a scientific consensus reality (4).
Maybe there are things that exist independent of brains. Those things would exist at an even higher level of reality: objective reality (5). Unfortunately, you can't verify objective reality because you're always trapped inside your own head. But you can theorize about it. You can observe people dying, see that the sun continues to shine, and deduce that the sun exists independent of their existence or your existence. But you can never completely verify that because of the basic fact of solipsism.
This annoys some people who want to believe they know things for certain. There are many who'll claim to know things with full certainty because doubt scares them. But it doesn't have to scare you.
Discerning reality requires that you get comfortable using probabilities that never reach 100%. You're allowed to limit your concern for ideas that aren't likely to be objectively real. Things like the supernatural, nations, relationships, money, and identity.
Not all of these concepts are harmful. But all of them are probably dead without brains. People can change their beliefs about consensus reality and change their experience of these ideas. Some subjective realities or consensus realities may help your life run smoothly, but they don't merit you risking your well-being or causing suffering, especially if scientific testing contradicts them.
Ask yourself if you've fallen into the trap of allowing lower realities to negatively impact your well-being. If these lower realities start hurting you more than helping you, you can modify them, ignore them, or discard them entirely. Be open to reducing your concern or editing your reality when possible.
How do you know anything? How do you know the universe isn't an elaborate illusion? You don't know. Unless you're omniscient, there's always a chance you could have incomplete knowledge about the nature of reality. So proceed with caution. Minimize your beliefs so you aren't obscuring the truth under a pile of self-deceptions.
But without any beliefs, you'd be mentally paralyzed. Everybody has core axioms that are assumed without evidence. Like: "My senses are generally reliable." Or: "I should pursue my preferences." Examine your axioms.
Start with a simple hypothesis, build up from this core axiom, and measure your knowledge in terms of evidence-based probability estimates that you're constantly adjusting as you encounter new info. But evidence never provides certainty. It only changes your probability estimate, which will always be greater than 0% and less than 100%.
You're building a model of the universe in your brain as you navigate through life. The goal is to match your model as closely as possible with reality because an accurate model allows you to more effectively attain your other goals.
Some people solidify their model too early based on the beliefs of the people immediately around them. Then they refuse to adjust their model in response to new evidence. This mental hardening is disadvantageous because it prevents you from adapting your beliefs to changing situations.
Other people waste time by primarily consuming information that agrees with their already-established beliefs. It's comforting to hear others repeatedly confirm your beliefs, but it'll only slow your learning. When you get the message, hang up the phone.
To make your model more accurate, gather more data. Purposefully seek out worldviews unlike your own. Question them and try to discern how they might be correct. Practice listening to people without thinking about what you'll say next.
Every time you encounter new info, ask yourself: "How much more likely am I to encounter this evidence if my theory is true than if it's false?" If you're more likely to encounter this evidence if your theory's true than if it's false, then the evidence supports your theory.
The learning process is always a jagged staircase, never a smooth upward arc. Always two steps forward, one step back. Expect frustrations; they're part of the process. What if, as a baby, after falling down a few times, you’d forever given up on walking? This kind of premature surrender is just as absurd when applied to any other goal. Get comfortable with failure and confusion; these are essential for learning.
Have specific learning goals in mind. Focus on improving your weakest area. Rapid feedback and intense focus accelerate learning. Learn from someone slightly better than you. Always stretch your abilities a little past your comfort zone. That's the place where you grow. When learning, you don't want to be too comfortable or too stressed, just challenged.
When you don't know something, it's more helpful to admit, "I don't know," and remain open to new info rather than pointlessly believe a hypothesis without evidence.
Quick belief indicates insecurity. Do you feel like you need certain beliefs to be happy or secure? Beware of comforting beliefs. Question them more aggressively. Your emotions may be misleading you.
Common sense is an unreliable pathway to truth. Your brain is easily deceived by illusions and biases of all kinds, and what's considered common sense changes radically depending on time period and culture.
Logic is the game of fine-tuning your vague, biased language into an almost mathematical tool for deducing reality. Any argument anyone utters can be written as a sequence of sentences. Writing an argument can clarify it and help identify and remove ambiguity, contradictions, and excess.
The foundation of logic can be summarized as follows: everything is what it is, isn't what it isn't, and nothing is neither or both.
To elaborate: the law of identity: "A" is "A". The law of non-contradiction: "A" and "not-A" can't both be true in the same sense at the same time. The law of the excluded middle: "A" must be either true or not true.
Then there are a multitude of logical fallacies meant to help you make your language more precise and identify when the structure of your argument doesn't flow.
Your desire for something to be true or false has no bearing on whether or not something actually is true or false. Just because something hasn’t been proven false doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because you can’t understand how something could be true doesn’t mean it’s false. Ask yourself: “Are there other possible explanations for this phenomenon that I’m not considering?” Don’t jump to conclusions without evidence for each step. When presenting an argument you don’t agree with, always present the strongest, most accurate version of it before trying to refute it; this will save time. The source of information doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on the truthfulness of that information. When someone compares two things, make sure they’re not making a false equivalence. Just because a majority of people believe something, that doesn’t make it true.
Whenever you're making a claim, ask yourself: "Is my argument sound?" Are all the premises actually true? Do they all correspond with reality? Use careful observation and experimentation to find out. Also ask: "Is my argument valid?" If all the premises were proven true, would the conclusion necessarily be true? Use logic to find out.
Rules of logic are axiomatic: they're assumed to be true because they work for our purposes. You can't know that they're objectively true outside human minds, but using them produces reliable, helpful results and a better alternative hasn't been found, so you use them.
Intelligence is asking effective questions and knowing how to find, judge, manipulate, communicate, and transform information into effective action. These are the only skills school needs to teach.
Luckily, formal schooling is neither the only nor the best method of learning. Self-motivated learning is more efficient and effective than enforced or fear-motivated learning. Become your own teacher. Never stop asking questions or trying to prove yourself wrong.
Education doesn't stop when you graduate. You'll be tempted to become intellectually lazy when you leave school, and, in this way, your knowledge can become stunted. This is dangerous because people without curiosity are easily manipulated. Whenever you have a question, search until you find an answer or realize that there's no answer yet.
Be stingy with your belief. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Claims without evidence can be rejected without counter-evidence. The burden of proof is always on the person making the positive assertion, not on the person questioning it.
When listening to an argument, think about what the person isn't telling you. Think of the alternative possibilities.
The most skillful default starting position is skepticism until sufficient evidence is presented for a claim. Get comfortable asking: "How do you know?" Don't let anyone convince you that's a stupid question. It's the most powerful question other than the simpler: "Why?"
Make skepticism a habit so you don't believe every unverifiable claim that you hear or clutter your brain with nonsense. Reality can be stressed and tested without breaking. Truth isn't hurt by questions.
Solitude is an option, and it's not as painful as people might think. It can be useful for you to experiment with small periods of self-enforced isolation to prove to yourself that you can tolerate it. If you can be with yourself without trying to escape you, you can approach relationships with a clear head and complete honesty, knowing that the alternative isn't deadly.
Solitude can be either a heaven or a hell depending on your mindset. Most people are miserable in solitude, so they construct their lives around this phobia in order to avoid exposing themselves to themselves.
Your relationship with solitude will define your social life. Sometimes the presence of others can warp and stretch your consciousness like a ball of dough. Solitude can help you regain your original shape.
Solitude doesn't imply loneliness. Loneliness is an ancient biological warning message meant to prevent you from isolating yourself from the social group that helps you survive. But, if you know your survival needs are met, you can dismiss loneliness without concern. Beware the loneliness cycle: the feeling can lead to fear of isolation, which can lead you to hyperfocus on negative social interactions or misinterpret neutral interactions as negative, which can lead to bitterness, which can lead to purposeful isolation and more loneliness. Break the cycle by questioning your assumptions about other people's reactions to you and the dangers of solitude. You can't read minds, and solitude isn't as dangerous as you think.
Loneliness is also a lack of perspective, a forgetting that the only thing that separates you from the billions of other people is a little physical distance. They're all here. Just because you can't see them, that doesn't mean they've ceased to exist. In this way, all sentient beings are forever connected, trapped in this universe together. Solitude is an illusion caused by your limited vision.
Your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you'll ever have because you can't escape yourself until death. Imagine being chained to a person for the rest of your life. Wouldn't forming a pleasant relationship with that person be your most important social task? That's your situation with yourself. Learning to love your brain and body is paramount to living a happy life.
If you value your relationship with yourself more than your relationship with anybody else, it makes sense to spend more time with yourself than with any other. How are you to know yourself if you're always distracted by the presence of others? Are you capable of loving your own company and pampering yourself? Do you even like yourself? The only way to find out is to spend time with only yourself without any distractions.
Learn to speak to yourself like you would to a best friend. Learn to touch yourself like you would someone you love. Learn to see yourself as beautiful. These are all things you can train yourself to do with practice.
People can smell insecurity like bad body odor, and it'll only hurt your relationships. Loneliness isn't a proper foundation for any relationship. Don't ever start a relationship because you think the other person will complete you. They'll only disappoint you, but it's not their fault. You're the only person who can make you happy. You have the key in your pocket, but you're trying to shove other people into the keyhole. Happiness comes from the inside out.
Insecurity is feeling that your own company isn't enough. It's the fear that you need the acceptance of others to feel okay. But what if you could learn to think of others as an added bonus to your already 100% complete self? Then being alone could become a source of joy rather than a source of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. The only complete way to conquer insecurity is to learn to love yourself in solitude. And the only way to do that is to practice.
Language is a useful invention, but it's only a tool, not reality. Your consciousness is colored by language. If you don't have a word for something, it's hard to think about it. If you have a word for something, it's easy to oversimplify it. Language can point to reality, but it's always a rough sketch.
The only practical reason to communicate is to benefit yourself or others. If you find yourself making mouth noises or drawing symbols that represent mouth noises and you realize you aren't benefiting anyone, you're just wasting energy. Walk away. Separate yourself from the other person. Arguments are great as long as all participants are benefiting. Otherwise, they're a waste of time.
Language can't possibly hurt you if you don't believe the sounds. Can talking at a rock hurt a rock? Can talking at a tree hurt a tree? Words require your brain to believe in them for them to do any damage to you. So be skeptical of mouth noises. Either the words are true or false. If true, how can you be offended? If false, how can you not laugh?
If you find yourself bothered by someone's noises, try listening to them as if they're singing. Separate the meaning from the pitch and rhythm. Relax and enjoy until the speaker wears themself out. It's empowering to realize that you don’t always have to react to someone else's words.
The only reason to try to change someone's mind is if you think you can change their actions. Opinions are useless without action.
Often, the feelings your words evoke in the listener are more important than the specific words. The feeling you leave with a person survives long after the words fade from memory.
Honesty will save you substantial stress in the long-run. Every time you distort reality to yourself or someone else, you create a debt to the truth that you'll eventually have to pay. Every time you repeat a lie or suppress the truth, your debt grows. When you lie to yourself about who you are, you delay your personal growth. When you lie to others, you prevent an authentic relationship. When you lie about a problem, you hinder the search for a solution.
Honesty isn't just about words: every time you express yourself in any way, through your clothes, facial expressions, movements, laughter, or activities, you can either let your authentic self flow freely or suppress your authentic self. The truth can sometimes push people away or make them want to hurt you. If you're willing to endure the consequences of expressing the truth, do it.
To give yourself permission to truly express yourself, you must work towards social and financial independence. You have to be unafraid of poverty and solitude, otherwise you'll be tempted to exchange the truth for relationships and money. But, if you save up enough money and genuine relationships, or you train yourself to endure or even enjoy poverty and solitude, then you can feel secure expressing yourself 100% of the time. The only exception is if society prohibits your self-expression through laws. If you value your freedom of expression, help protect it for everybody.
Not all truths need to be expressed if you think the consequences would violate your preferences. The most important thing is identifying and obliterating your own biases and self-deceptions so you can at least admit the truth to yourself and act accordingly.
The universe is polluted with so much unnecessary noise, and talking is often a wasteful distraction from your thoughts. Communicate only what's essential. Say what you mean. Be clear. Use as few words as possible. Silence isn't scary; it's the natural state of the universe.
Culture isn't your friend. It's fruits might be fun, beautiful, or comforting at times; but it's not there to help you, the individual. Culture has the general effect of taming the individual and making one more predictable through the reinforcement of social norms. Culture causes people to forget their individual freedom to differ. The conflict between a person's inner desires and the culture's demands is a force with which you must daily contend, either pushing back or giving in.
Culture is just a collection of values that came out of other brains. Since you're also a person with a brain, you're free to accept or reject those values and propagate your own. The popularity of an idea isn't necessarily correlated with its validity.
Cultures are constantly morphing, merging, splitting, and dying. Most civilizations have come and gone within a short few hundred years. So, try not to attach your sense of self to any transitory culture.
People closest to you, or those with the most money and social connections, will have the most cultural power in your life. Your family has a culture. Your friend group does, too. Beware they don't infect your natural, individual culture just because of their proximity.
Media is the pill capsule used to deliver cultural memes to your brain. There are people who specialize in making these capsules enticing enough for you to swallow without worrying about what's inside. The isolation required to completely shield yourself from this media onslaught would probably be unhealthy. But, if you want to make sure your personal preferences and values aren't warped by culture, it helps to at least become aware of how influential culture is on you and take steps to prevent yourself from being just a cog in the cultural machine.
Question the media always. Every bit of information that reaches your senses is open for contradiction. You don't have to automatically accept anyone else's values. Most media is created for the purpose of convincing you to buy or support. Each message is an update to the cultural operating system already in your brain. You can either accept the update or reject it. Vigilantly limit your media consumption to only those capsules which directly contribute to your aims.
Another method for transcending cultural conditioning is to learn as much as you can about as many different cultures as you can so your brain grows accustomed to taking the outsider perspective. Your goal is to continually widen this omniscient perspective until any individual meme has no special power over you.
Once you feel comfortably independent from external culture, you can investigate and develop your own collection of values and establish your own culture of one. Most of your operating system was installed before you were old enough to critically examine the code. But, now that you're self-aware, you can set aside time to reflect on the values you think are yours, figure out where they came from, and see whether or not you want to keep them.
Everybody has parents. You might not know them, but, if you do, there's a certain time in your life when you have to come to terms with what they did to you: how they shaped your brain and body.
As a child, you take for granted everything about your family environment. But, as you age, interact with other families, and put some healthy distance between yourself and your family, you start to realize that aspects of your family that you assumed were universal are actually quite idiosyncratic. You realize that your family isn't the prototypical family, but is, in fact, a bizarre concoction of unique quirks that shaped who you are today.
It's probably easy for you to point out flaws in your parents, however it's not so pleasant to see those same flaws manifesting in yourself. But, it'll happen, despite your wishes to the contrary. You're the product of your creators. You can either consciously deal with what you've inherited or let it overtake you. There's no neutral ground.
There are so many possible reactions you could have towards your family once you start exploring independence: anger, hatred, gratefulness, fear, guilt, sadness. Let these emotions happen. Don't resist them. All of them are okay. The more you try to push down these reactions, the more they'll rule your life, the stronger they'll become, and the more likely you'll be to act out all of the worst aspects of your parents in your own life.
Once you've processed and released thoughts and emotions related to your family and realized the extent to which you've been trained by them, you can then see how you want to relate to them for the rest of your life. Do you ignore them? Cut them out of your life? Or can you love them despite their messiness? There's no right answer. You have to discover what's best for you. Your family doesn't own you. You didn't choose them, so you don't have to live up to their expectations. You don't have to live like them.
Explore other ways of thinking and living. Separate yourself as soon as possible. It could feel uncomfortable at first, but it's not healthy to get stuck living with your family as an adult. It will hinder your growth.
If you're legally an adult, and you can support yourself financially, then you don't have to interact with your family at all. Embrace this freedom so you can start creating an authentic life for yourself. If they do you more harm than good, don't feel guilty about living your life without them. Assert yourself as an independent person.
If you spend time with your family, practice being authentic around them. It's easy to slip into playing your expected role around them and censoring yourself to please them. But this behavior can fuel a boiling destructive resentment. If your family truly loves you, they'll accept you as you are. If they don't truly love you, that's important to know, even if it's painful, so you can move on with your life.
If you start a family of your own, always stay aware of how much potential well-being or suffering you could create depending on how you raise your offspring. Parenting is one of the most dangerous jobs you'll ever take on. Treat your child with respect, knowing that every interaction you have with them could dramatically impact their future well-being. Research best parenting practices. Try your best to find the perfect middle ground between authoritarianism and neglect. Know yourself and how your parents affected you so you don't pass down the mistakes of the past.
Nobody owes you attention or approval, and you don't owe these to anyone else. Start there. If you can accept this, you'll be much more socially secure. The default is solitude. Everyone else is extra. This mindset allows you to appreciate each genuine interaction and not grow bitter or entitled when people don't behave the way you want them to.
Relationships are temporary transactions. You're using them. They're using you. This isn't a bad thing as long as both people are satisfied. If you're dissatisfied with a relationship, ask yourself: "What am I using them for?" This question is the ultimate clarifier. Maybe the relationship has lost its original use. Maybe your other preferences are stronger than the preferences the relationship fulfills.
Each person enjoys others in different ways and to different degrees. A crucial life task is figuring out exactly what your social needs and desires are and how to best meet them, then being ruthlessly honest with yourself and others about your unique social DNA.
Why do you want relationships? Seriously think about this. Don't surrender to the natural drive towards social bonds without defining a clear purpose for those bonds. Otherwise, you'll be tossed around on the waves of peer pressure without any clear direction or goal. You'll move in and out of relationships without gaining anything.
Most people seem to desire the feeling that they belong to some kind of community, whether it be a family, friend group, or vague collective. If you don't feel that desire, you're one of the lucky ones. Go forth and live your solo life. But if you feel a longing for community, ask yourself: "How much trouble am I willing to put myself through to find or assemble this group of people?"
You might realize that you can live a perfectly happy life with only one good friend or maybe you require participation in many large groups to feel fulfilled. Identify your preferences and do what's necessary to fulfill them. All you have to do is find where the people are, get permission to join them, interact, and allow connections to naturally form. Don't try to force anything. Just put yourself around people on a regular basis, interact with them, and see what happens.
Initial interactions with people often involve small-talk, which might feel forced and awkward. The key to small-talk is to listen to the person closely enough to find at least one detail you can respond to with a question or a similar experience from your own life. Mostly, the content of small-talk is of secondary importance. It's about finding connections between you and the other person, and sometimes it's just an excuse to gaze into each other's eyes.
Once you find yourself with social options, consider making your relationships purposeful rather than random. Pursue relationships that enrich your life in some way. Swiftly and ruthlessly reject relationships that only drain you. Your time and energy are too fleeting for that. Befriend people who challenge you and encourage you to appreciate life and grow. You become the people you expose yourself to. Make sure they're shaping you into the person you want to become.
Define your own relationships. There isn't one way of being family, friends, or lovers. And those aren't the only options. They don't have to be permanent. They don't have to fit into anyone else's categories. They don't even have to be two-way: your consumption of the works of your favorite artists can be some of the most influential relationships of your life even though they don't know you exist. Don't be ashamed to cultivate this kind of one-sided relationship with people far away whose teachings you value. The universe is your social network. Relationships can be digital. All you're trying to do is spend time with people you enjoy.
If you stop enjoying them, you don't have to spend time with them. Ultimately, everybody is responsible for their own self and nobody else. So don't let anyone guilt you into maintaining a relationship if you no longer care about it. And don't criticize others if they move on from you. With every departure, you'll probably feel physical pain. That's okay. You're body is just afraid that your chances of survival or reproduction have been hurt. Allow yourself to mourn without wallowing, then keep yourself busy, and the feelings will pass. Become financially independent so you don't get trapped with people just because they help you survive.
When you're in a good relationship, clear and honest communication from the first moment of interaction will save you time and misery and will greatly increase the likelihood that the relationship will enrich your life. If you feel like there's a problem, ask the other person how the relationship is going for them. Sometimes you might feel pressured to sacrifice your preferences to please others. How much of yourself do you owe others? You didn't choose to be born. But it's in your best interest to increase the well-being of others in a way that simultaneously increases your own. Find your unique way of feeling good while making others feel good too. That's the essence of relationship: mutual enrichment.
Everybody ages and dies. No matter who you meet, no matter how confident they seem, the presidents and the paupers, the celebrities and the nobodies, the rich and the poor, each were born helpless and ignorant and are rotting away just like you. Everybody you meet is haunted by insecurities and fears just like you. Boost your confidence by reminding yourself of these ways in which everybody is equal.
You don't have to be intimidated by anyone unless they're threatening you with violence. If you start feeling intimidated by someone, imagine them pooping. Imagine them as their 2-year-old self. Guess what their insecurities are.
Perception is reality when it comes to confidence, so fake it until you make it. No one can read your brain, so you can pretend to be confident until you've practiced enough that you actually feel confident.
Confidence is a pattern of behavior. What does a confident person act like? Stand up straight. Walk with purpose. Speak clearly. Assume that people will like you if they get to know you. Smile liberally. Make solid eye contact. Make light of your weaknesses and reframe them as strengths.
Stay outward-focused in social situations. If you're struggling with insecurities, social anxiety, or low self-esteem, you're thinking too much about yourself. You're probably overanalyzing all of your social interactions and reviewing them afterwards to evaluate your performance. Stop. You're making it worse. Focus completely on the other person or your goal in the situation rather than your internal monologue.
After the situation is over, forget about it. Focus on another task. If you ruminate about the negative aspects of your interactions, it can lead you to isolate yourself because you assume people think you're awkward, which can make it more likely that you'll actually be awkward during your next social interaction, which can make you feel rejected, which can cause you to ruminate. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To break this vicious cycle, relax. Don't waste energy worrying about "being yourself." You're always yourself; you can't not be yourself. The paradox of authenticity is that the more you try to be authentic, the less you probably are. Let go and let your natural reactions flow out of you. Remember death. Don't be afraid of looking stupid. No one will probably remember. Practice laughing at yourself and moving on. It's all one big learning experience.
Positive attention feels good because you're wired to depend on others for your survival and chances to reproduce. Without a community around you, you'd probably die quickly. The only reason you have power, water, food, shelter, and every other object you own is probably because some other person worked to produce those things.
In a large, diffused society, the producers don't have to like you or even know you exist to do their jobs. They just need someone to pay them. But, you need money to pay for these goods and services. So, for you to survive, someone else either has to care about you enough to support you or think highly enough of you to pay you to do something. So, your well-being is somewhat dependent on the approval of others.
But how many people do you need to tolerate you to ensure your well-being? 50? 10? 5? 2? 1? Technically, if you find someone who likes you enough to fully support you, you only need that one person. But people get lonely. So maybe you need a handful of close friends. But do you need more than that? Do you require the approval of your neighbors? Community? Nation? Species? Why? Unless you're selling them something.
Your value as a person has nothing to do with the number of relationships you think you have. Life isn't a popularity contest. You only need, at most, a handful of people to know about and cooperate with you for you to be okay. Additional attention isn't necessary. There's no value in empty attention. Adoration, praise, and popularity without benefits attached are useless, dying eyeballs. And the more you change yourself to please others, the more enslaved you are to their approval. Attention doesn't equal importance.
People waste so much time and effort trying to gain attention without knowing why. Do you want to be famous after you die? Why? You'll be dead. You won't know your fame. Do you envy others who are famous? You know nothing about their inner lives. Do you think fame will prove that you're valuable? Your subjective feeling of value is determined by you. You can perceive yourself valuable without fame.
Be wary of this greedy desire in yourself, realize the happiness it's costing you, and minimize it as much as possible.
Sex is the ultimate source of shame and pleasure. People make such a big deal about sex. Lives are ruined because this biological drive to procreate doesn't care at all about ideas of morality. It's insane when you realize the extent to which people are manipulated by this simple urge. Marriage, family, porn, sex scandals, fashion, divorce, dating, contraceptives, abortion, prostitution, rape, advertising, et cetera. Sex infects every corner of culture.
But it's really one of the most basic things you're capable of doing. It’s on the same level as eating and defecating: virtually every living organism is capable of having sex. Sure, sex can be pleasurable, can be decent exercise, can relieve stress, and can help connect with (or create) another person. But the act itself isn't a big deal.
You might feel relief after the first time you do it, but it won’t change your life, fix any of your problems, or make you a different person. Angels won’t descend from heaven and transform you into a greater being. Maybe you'll feel a bit more confident, less afraid of people, or less ashamed of your body. Maybe.
But one thing’s certain: you won’t “lose” your “virginity”. You can’t lose an imaginary category. You won’t lose or gain anything except maybe a child if you aren't careful. The category “virgin” implies that you’re lacking something essential as a person until you’ve had sex. But, if you stop to think about it, you’ll realize this is magical thinking at its worst.
There's nothing metaphysical about sex. Forget all the fairy tales and sex scenes you’ve ever seen: it’s all fake. Even so-called “amateur” or “reality” porn involves people who know they’re being recorded. They're performing for a viewer. Even people who aren’t being recorded sometimes put on a performance when they have sex because people complicate everything including the most basic things.
Go watch other species having sex. There’s nothing happening there except an automatic, pragmatic, mechanical act for producing offspring. But some species are capable of draping layers upon layers of meaning over even the simplest actions. Your brain can chain a simple physical act to all sorts of abstract concepts other people have invented: love, sin, intimacy, self-worth, manliness, sexiness.
One of the strangest things is that, biologically, you’re ready to have sex early, but culture says you have to wait a few years until you’re fully conscious of the consequences of your actions. But then that same culture can turn around and give you an imaginary deadline for having sex. And, if you don’t meet that deadline, you're tempted to think you're doomed to loneliness and failure for the rest of your life.
Go ahead and figure out what's actually important to you about sex. Intimacy? Pleasure? Reproduction? Abstinence? Then don’t compromise on your values. If you care about intimacy and monogamy, find someone else who cares about those things, too. If you only care about orgasm and don’t mind some kinkiness, find people who care about those things, too.
Don’t lie to people you’re having sex with about what you truly want. You’re only delaying the inevitable reveal. Be honest with yourself about what turns you on. Don’t be ashamed of any of it unless your fetish involves causing suffering. Don't repress your sexual urges. Find a healthy outlet. Sex isn't dirty, shameful, or sinful. If you run into someone who makes you feel guilty for being who you are, for getting turned on by what turns you on, get away from that person. Life is too short for repression.
Sex isn't a performance. The less you think about it while you’re doing it, the better. Follow your bliss while paying attention to your partner's responses.
If you try sex and you find that it’s not pleasurable for you, don’t feel any pressure to engage in it. You have no obligation to obey your biological urges. There are no requirements in life. You won't get a reward for the amount of sex you have. There's no bucket list. Just live.
There's no way you can wrap your brain around the billions of people living right now. Each one of these creatures exists, not of their own free will, but because two people in some brief moment of passion, or no passion at all, exchanged fluids, causing cells to meet, multiply, and grow into a third independent self-aware animal. You're an accident waiting to unhappen, forced into a reality you didn't create, thrust onto an absurd roller coaster of pain and pleasure, guaranteed to die.
The universe doesn't need more people. Every additional average person probably burdens the people around them more than they contribute to them. The carrying capacity of each planet is finite. It has limited resources to sustain life.
If you believe your life is going to be miserable unless you push a fetus out of your vagina, then creating one child makes the most sense. You die and the child replaces you. But, once you've had that experience, will the additional pleasure you gain from more children outweigh the unnecessary burden those children will place on others? Was your first child not enough for you?
Not creating children will save you heaps of money over your lifetime, which you could use to increase the well-being of yourself or people already alive. You'll have much more free time to spend on yourself and others.
Adoption and foster parenting allow you to take care of a child who's already here and in need. Some parents-to-be might object saying, “Adopting and fostering aren't the same as having my own child.” But is your offspring really your own? No matter how much you try to control your kids, they won't be the people you want them to be. At times, they're going to annoy you, anger you, disappoint you, and eventually grow up and leave you. Hopefully. Is the initial illusion of ownership worth the inevitable disillusionment you’ll face when they grow up?
In creating a person, you risk creating a lifetime of suffering for them if they're born with some kind of birth defect or congenital disease and suffering for you and others who'll then be chained to this helpless creature for the rest of your lives, taking care of them. Caring for others isn't a bad thing, but, if that’s what you feel called to, why not seek out the millions alive who already need help?
In creating a life, you're somewhat responsible for every moment of pain, loneliness, sickness, sadness, depression, stress, anxiety, and eventually death that your offspring will experience. If you never create them, none of this'll happen. You could create a person who embodies the combined worst aspects of you and your sexual partner. Are you prepared for that?
The process of pregnancy and childbirth is, in the best cases, months of mild discomfort, and in the worst cases, traumatic and even life-threatening. Is that experience worth it when there are so many people already in existence for you to interact with and enjoy?
Good parenting is probably the hardest job a person could undertake. Any schmuck can breed, but few can raise a child into a confident, responsible, well-adjusted adult. Children are so fragile. Brief occurrences during childhood can cause negative consequences that ripple through the rest of their lives. Do you really want that kind of responsibility?
Unwanted pregnancies are part of this problem, too. But there's no shame in abortion or other birth control techniques. Some say abortion is a complicated issue, but do you remember being in your mother’s womb? Do you remember anything from your first year of life? If someone had quickly and painlessly killed you before you were out of the womb, would you have even experienced it? Without an experience, what wrong could have been done?
Is abortion objectionable because the fetus had the potential for life? So does a fertilized egg, which is the size of a grain of sand and has no possibility of feeling pain. Would you feel guilty crushing a grain of sand if you knew you weren't causing any suffering but that the grain had the potential to become a living being that could feel and create suffering? Which is worse: the small amount of pain that a fetus might experience during an abortion or the amount of total pain that fetus could experience and inflict during an average lifetime?
Unless there's currently a realistic threat of extinction, it's better for everybody if you focus on making the universe a better place for yourself and the people already here rather than making more.
Love is a pleasant sensation of deep acceptance and appreciation of a phenomenon that triggers a desire to help that phenomenon thrive and continue. All of your other preferences can be perfectly fulfilled, but, if you lack love, life can feel barren.
The three main focuses of love are: love for self, love for other sentient beings, and love for reality. This trinity of love has to be full and balanced or else suffering can occur. You can love others so much that you forget to take care of yourself. You can get so obsessed with a career or hobby that you forget to love others. You can fall victim to an ideology that teaches you to love others but view the universe as corrupt. Love requires balance.
The two enemies of love are nihilism and hatred: the twin black holes of suffering. The gravity of nihilism can be reversed by recognizing that nobody could convince you that the violation of your preferences is good. Everybody shares this core bias against suffering. Love is a method for minimizing suffering. Love for reality can remove the suffering from pain. Hatred often comes in a subtler form: resistance to the present moment. Wanting unchangeable reality to be different: that's not love. You love reality by accepting it exactly as it is. Sometimes reality presents opportunities for increased well-being; sometimes it doesn't. You must love reality especially when it can't be changed.
You love others by fully accepting them and working to increase their well-being. You love yourself the same way. It's easier to love others if you can imagine yourself in the other person's brain. Ask yourself: if I had their body, memories, and experiences, would I be any different? It's only chance that separates you from the other person. Another trick is to treat everybody with the same compassion you have for a family member or best friend. You can broaden your definition of family to include every sentient being. We're all children of this universe.
Jealousy or envy can't coexist with love because they imply that well-being is a zero-sum game. "They can't be happy because I'm not happy." Be happy for them! We're all connected. You can increase your well-being simply by watching other people be happy, as long as you don't allow feelings of possessiveness or entitlement to cloud your brain. Joy is a free gift and can easily be multiplied by being shared.
You can stretch your compassion further by practicing loving-kindness meditation. Focus your mind on someone you know who's easy to love and silently send them wishes of health and happiness. Then shift focus to a neutral acquaintance and repeat. Then try it with someone you despise. If you have difficulty, you can switch back to someone easy to love.
The concept of love can be twisted to cause suffering. If you say you love someone but desire to control them, you don't love them. If you say you love someone but depend on them for all your pleasure, you're just a slave to them. You're using them. Many times, when a person says "I love you", it's more of a question than a spontaneous expression of feeling. A reply in the affirmative is treated like an eternal verbal contract. Hesitation or silence is treated like rejection. The phrase demands the identical reply and would be better stated: "Do you feel the same way about me as I do about you?" Which begs the question: "How exactly do you feel about me?" Often "I love you" implies ownership. It's the verbal equivalent of slapping handcuffs on a person or branding them with your name. What are you using the other person for?
Love doesn't require pacifism. Sometimes it's necessary to love someone while simultaneously working to make sure they don't hurt themselves or others, because you love the others, too.
The word can also lead idealistic young people on an endless search for an impossible relationship, and, consequently, a lifetime of disappointment.
In all these cases, the balance has been lost. Love for self is overflowing, but love for others has devolved into exploitation, and love for reality has morphed into resistance. But, if you're able to maintain the balance of love, suffering can be thwarted. Love can be learned. It's a skill you can practice daily, even when it doesn't feel natural. The more you practice appreciating all present phenomenon, the more natural love will become.
Everybody is born blind, naked, and absolutely helpless. It’s everybody’s first time alive. Everybody is living their rough draft life. Nobody really knows what they’re doing; they’re just trying to make themselves happy before they die.
But, as they grow, some people develop the belief that certain things about them make them fundamentally superior to others. And so, these misguided people begin to believe that, because of these differences that they didn't choose, they should possess special rights and privileges. And others, blinded by their admiration for the "superior" ones, consent to this hierarchy by subordinating themselves.
Of course, there are some who are more skilled in various activities or who know more about certain subjects than others. People come up with various games then rank competitors based on their performances. But the dangerous belief is that certain people are superior in a way that gives them the right to force others to submit to their will, the belief that there's some invisible, objective hierarchy to people that gives some the right to inflict violence on others.
Beware of those who believe they have this right. The only way to reinforce this kind of authority is through violence. An illustration: you and Bob crash land on a deserted island. Bob declares himself king of the island. Bob is hungry, so he commands you to gather coconuts for him. You’re tired, not hungry, and you don't see any special reason Bob should be king, so you refuse his request. How is Bob to enforce his self-appointed authority? His options are: use words to convince you to do what he wants, exchange an object or task to convince you to do what he wants, or use physical force to make you do what he wants.
In your everyday life, you probably don't believe you have any special authority over people you encounter, so you don't feel justified using violence to force them to do what you want. If non-violent persuasion doesn't work, you give up and move on. But, when a person harnesses the belief in hierarchy, they won't stop at words. Eventually, they'll feel justified using violence or convincing others to use violence against you.
The only protections you have against those who believe in their superiority are physical barriers and violence. Since authority is a mental concept and doesn’t exist like a rock or a person exists, the most important question is: “How effectively can this person enforce their so-called superiority through violence?”
The only way parents can reinforce their authority if their child doesn't cooperate is through the threat of force, financial blackmail, or the support of the government’s use of physical force. The only way the government can reinforce their authority is through physical force. Teachers are authority figures by proxy. They can only defer to parents and government-funded police, both of which are justified, according to society, in using force against children.
What about subtler forms of authority that you give to others? What about experts, gurus, or spiritual leaders? You might be tempted to submit to these “experts” because you believe they hold knowledge about the universe that you don't have or can't understand on your own. If you're not careful, you might find yourself surrendering your lifestyle, critical thinking, and, in extreme cases, your possessions and body to obtain the guru's wisdom.
But, in a society where the universe of information is available to any person with an Internet connection, what use do you have for fleshy experts? Some might say you still need experts to help you interpret and apply the universe of information. Maybe. But be careful not to slip into thinking that, because a person knows how to explain something, that means they're fundamentally superior.
What about personal relationships? Do you give family, friends, or significant others authority over you because of your shared past experiences or emotional attachment to them? Do you feel obligated to them even though these obligations only exist in your brain and not in the external universe? The longer you're in a relationship, the more likely you are to submit to their manipulation because you believe in the phantasms of memory or you've grown dependent on them. Do you willingly submit yourself to people in a way that humiliates you as a free and equal individual?
If no one voted, what authority would the government have besides violence and the threat of violence? Imagine a universe in which politicians who make speeches are met with skeptical silence or laughter rather than applause. Every time you clap for a person in power, or encourage them in any way, you're reinforcing their belief in the legitimacy of their authority. Can you see the danger in that? But people love their tribes. They love surrendering to leaders who can make the tough decisions for them.
The only authority any person has is the authority you give them plus their ability to inflict force on you. Some people have genes or experiences that others don’t, and you might be tempted to admire them because of their actions, thoughts, or experiences, but admiration is nonsense when you realize that nobody created themselves. Also, you can admire someone without subordinating yourself to them or forgetting that they can be set on fire just like anyone else.
Why enslave your beautiful aliveness to a flammable opinion? How can you push the boundaries of self-expression and challenge the rules with which others try to restrict you? What can you do to become a freer individual today?
Participation in most of life’s competitions is optional. People invent games, and they love telling others which games they should be playing and how best to play them. They'll make their favorite games sound so serious that it's easy to forget that all games are optional.
The career game, marriage game, reproduction game, religion game, relationship game, money game, popularity game, power game, health game, morality game, knowledge game, spirituality game, experience-collection game, sex game, et cetera. You don't have to play any of them. None of them are necessary or ultimately fulfilling.
Be careful not to create imaginary scoreboards in your brain. Some measure their happiness in comparison to other people, suffering when they fall short and rejoicing when they rise above. But as long as your needs are fulfilled, you can avoid so much stress by refusing to compare yourself to others. If you must compare, compare yourself to your past self to measure progress towards your goals.
If you feel envy for someone you imagine is scoring better than you at whatever game, simply imagine them as a useless corpse rotting in the ground, because that's exactly what both of you will be in probably less than a century. No matter how you "perform" in the "arena of life", everybody gets the same prize: death. Total annihilation as far as you know. Even if you leave something behind, eventually everybody forgets you. It's not a good or bad thing, it just is given nearly infinite time.
So it seems best not to create unnecessary suffering by opting into the games of others unless they're genuinely fun for you. Even the most common game of avoiding pain and death is optional: you didn't choose to be alive, but you could choose to die. It's surprisingly easy. Even suffering is a game: it's a struggle against the present. If you can surrender to whatever's happening now, the suffering game ends.
Be warned: people won't like it when you stop playing games with them. If you opt out of, or even worse, if you dare to make fun of the games they're playing, they might try to hurt you. Most likely, they'll only talk bad about you. They might declare you a loser, a drop-out, a freeloader, et cetera. Don't mind them. Your non-participation, or non-serious participation, might remind them that the games they're so invested in are actually optional, arbitrary, and ultimately unimportant. And that scares them because they might've invested much time and energy into a game. It has to be important! It just has to be. Right?
It's completely up to you. Play games if you must. Even try taking a few seriously for a while to see how it feels. But, if you find yourself stressing, ask yourself: "What games am I playing right now? Are they making me happy? If not, then why am I wasting my precious time alive playing them? What are the realistic consequences of me quitting this game, and can I handle those consequences?" If you can handle the consequences, quit the game. Create your own. Make your own rules. Blaze your own trail. Maybe someone else will want to play with you.
The main conflict of your life, besides surviving and learning to enjoy yourself, will be dealing with the fact that people don't automatically do what you want. People are natural-born control freaks in a universe where each individual is primarily pursuing their own desires and needs. This is the source of all conflict: billions of narcissists bumping into each other. Even war is just people fighting to see who gets to enforce their preferences. This isn't necessarily bad. It's just the way things are. And there are ways to get others to do what you want them to do.
Violence is a weak method of control. The changes you desire will only happen as long as violence can be applied, and, obviously, the other individual will resent you for your violence, and negative consequences can pour back onto you later when power shifts.
Government is an organization used to manage these competing interests, hopefully in a way that benefits the majority of the individuals living under the government's rule. One possible goal of a government is to create a society that, if you knew everything about it, you'd be willing to enter it in a random place. The evolution of a government is generally controlled by the two competing forces of conservatism and liberalism. Conservatism emphasizes the roots (tradition, rules, boundaries) of civilization and liberalism the fruits (social welfare, progress). Conservatism prevents society from changing so fast that it breaks apart, and liberalism prevents society from stagnating. There's a wisdom in the balance of both approaches.
On an individual level, the more permanent option for changing the behavior of others is persuasion. How do you convince others to do what you want them to do? Words or actions. You can't force someone to change their mind because belief isn't a choice. You have to massage them to the point of agreement. Changing someone's mind could be a simple matter of one convincing conversation.
Tell them how you agree with them. Acknowledge their reasonable rebuttals. Express your own doubts honestly. Then, gently elicit doubt in them by asking lots of questions. If they start getting defensive, be even softer. Let the other person arrive at your conclusion in their own time. Ask yourself: "What does the other person want, and is there any way I can help them get that?" You have to intimately know the person you're trying to persuade. What are their preferences? Can you help them make their preferences a reality? Or can you convince them with words that the enactment of your preferences will also make theirs more likely to come true?
You can also use subtle positive reinforcement to get others to do what you want. This works on most species: immediately reward behavior you like, and ignore behavior you don't like. Pointing out, with a smile, what you like about what the person is doing is the simplest reward. Some friendly type of physical touch, if appropriate, is another simple reward. Or you can customize rewards based on the person's preferences. But they have to be awarded right after the desired behavior. Reward even small steps toward the behavior you desire. Once the behavior has been established, continue rewarding it occasionally so it doesn’t die.
But what if the conflict involves someone else trying to control you? Life itself may have been born out of conflict, but so many conflicts you'll encounter in your daily life can be avoided without losing anything. Avoidable toxic conflicts include physical fights, angry arguments, ignorant prejudices, and vicious rivalries. You have to develop the self-control not to engage in them unnecessarily. Yes, in evolutionary terms, the one who triumphs in a conflict can survive and reproduce, but so can the one who avoids the conflict altogether.
Many parts of culture will tell you that a real man or woman fights for what's right and walks unflinchingly and enthusiastically into any storm they may face. But this begs the question: what are these "right" things that are worth fighting for? Which storms are worth facing and which can be avoided? Is bravery preferable when escape is an option? Sometimes, you'll be tempted to engage in a conflict to prove yourself to somebody else or maintain your reputation. But these things are so imaginary. Better to let go and move on than to exit a conflict bloody, bruised, and realizing you just spent your limited energy trying to obtain an abstract concept.
Become a master of conflict avoidance. When you can't avoid them, navigate them cautiously and with detached kindness. Guilt, anger, and other energy-sapping emotions are more harmful than helpful once you're engaged in a conflict. Just do what you must do. Hatred towards your adversary is distracting and unhelpful. If conflict is truly unavoidable, there's no shame in defending yourself or someone else. But escape is almost always an option.
Verbal disputes are almost always avoidable. You're never obligated to respond. You can walk away or wait for the person to stop talking. Sometimes, controlled silence is the most effective conflict-finisher. Keep your mouth shut, and the other person might resolve the conflict all on their own.
When someone "wrongs" you, there are several questions you can ask to prevent yourself from starting a conflict: "Can I see a way that what they’ve done would have been reasonable from their perspective? Is there any way of interpreting their behaviour that doesn’t imply that they were purposefully malicious? Could they be missing some relevant information? Could they have failed to foresee this outcome? Or could they have just been unlucky? Has this person ever done any nice things for me that help offset the harm they’ve done here? Have I ever wronged someone else in a similar way, either intentionally or unintentionally? Is this person actually less considerate than me, all things considered? Can I avoid this person in future or just ignore them?"
People love conflict in their entertainment. Every good story needs it to be interesting, but, for many people, this excitement about conflict leaks into their actual lives band causes real suffering for themselves and the people around them. You'll encounter people who seem to be magnets for drama and stress, and who seem to create their own conflicts because conflict gives them a feeling of personal significance. If you don't enjoy conflict, learn to spot these people and avoid them. People have a way of spreading their stress like a virus to others around them. Don't fall in love with a black hole of conflict.
Don't allow drama to muddy and complicate your life. Drama may seem exciting at first, but those who seek drama tend to receive more than they want. Strive to keep all of your conflict in your entertainment and none of it in your real life.
There’s no verifiable evidence of any kind of evil supernatural being or entity in the universe. The universe itself doesn’t appear to be evil. It just happens. Hurricanes aren’t evil. They have no moral agency, no concept of right and wrong. Diseases aren’t evil; they aren’t conscious. Animals aren’t evil. They just follow instincts. People are just animals. Wait.
Maybe what's called evil is actually instinct: the natural unraveling of an individual’s unique circumstances. Maybe, if you had their body and you'd experienced their life, you'd do the exact same things. Maybe each person is a self-conscious hurricane.
Try thinking of people who do “evil” like you think about natural disasters. Do you hate the hurricane? Do you feel the hurricane deserves punishment? Do you waste any energy worrying about reforming the hurricane or making it remorseful? No. You move out of the way and try to minimize the damage. Maybe that’s the most skillful approach to so-called evil.
Justice is a fictional concept. You can live a destructive life and die happy without repercussions. You can live a compassionate life and still be hit with horrifying catastrophes and suffering for no reason. There's no karma. Reality doesn't care about your concepts of good and evil.
The closest you’ll come to “evil” in your life will probably be through an encounter with a psychopath. One day, you'll cross paths with one or several. They want what they want, just like you. But, they won't let your pain stop them from getting what they want. Know how to identify these people and react skillfully to them.
Educate yourself on the various ways people inflict suffering on others. Study evil like your life depends on it, because it could. But be careful not to overexpose yourself to graphic content. Some sounds and images aren't easily shaken from the mind. Just get the minimum necessary facts. This knowledge can increase your confidence and decrease your paranoia.
Your reaction to a psychopath can be similar to your reaction to a hurricane: know the dangers and get the hell out of their way as soon as possible. You won't reason with this person. Your love won't transform them. Get away from them as soon as you can, or they'll suck you in and spit you out. But remember that you also have the potential for evil given the right conditions.
Worrying never helps solve your problems. It only distracts and complicates. If you find yourself worrying, write down a plan, then stop worrying. If 'A' happens, then you'll do 'B'. Write a plan for each probable scenario. Once you know your planned reactions if the feared event occurs, there's no need to think about it.
You might be stressed because you're putting far too much effort into every waking moment. Watch yourself. When stressed, practice unclenching. Practice gliding around inside your head, letting your body easily make the motions necessary to get through the day. Can you still be productive while staying completely loose and relaxed? Play with that.
Listen to your body. It knows when you need to rest. Make sure you're not neglecting your physical health. Biological imbalances will often distort your thinking. Don’t take your thoughts or feelings too seriously when you know that you’re hungry, tired, or stressed. Beware of collecting obligations. Your health is more important than anyone else's feelings. Make a list of ways you unwind and consult the list when you feel your body stressing.
Experiment. Do nothing for a while. Sit and stare into the distance. Stop trying to feel better. Stop people-pleasing. Meditate. Block out your five senses. Block your ears with ear plugs. Lie in a dark room.
Leave your house. Spend time in nature. Spend 10 minutes in the sun. Spend time near or in water. Feel the soil under your feet.
Distract yourself. Practice a challenging activity. Create a meaningful daily routine. Talk out loud about your feelings. Talk back to your thoughts. Write them down. Smile at yourself in the mirror. Name 10 things you're thankful for. Indulge in nostalgia.
Do something nice for someone. Make art. Harness the power of music. Dance. Sing or chant. Find something to laugh at. Try therapy or medication.
Avoid sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. Or drink a little wine to loosen up. Try 10 minutes of abdominal breathing. Take a cold shower. Exercise until you're exhausted. Masturbate. Sleep.
Pretend stress is a game of endurance. Pretend this is your last day alive. Do what feels natural.
Every person needs a private space to call their own, a sanctuary to return to when rest and replenishment is needed. Whether it's a single room or a sprawling mansion, your home is the place where you assert control over your environment and freely express yourself absent the tyranny of social pressures.
Where you live is so important to your development as a person. The influences of your environment, whether you're aware of them or not, are constantly pushing against the natural unfolding of your genes. To change yourself, change your environment.
During the early period of your life, you'll have minimal or no control over your environment. But, hopefully, at a certain point, you'll have the opportunity to build your own nest, one that matches your preferences and aids in the pursuit of your goals. In this searching-and-shaping process, every detail is important. You'll probably be spending most of your time in this place. What kind of mold do you want to fit yourself into?
Start with what's outside your walls. Do you have the ability to move to an area with a government, climate, and community that'll better support your development? Does the location have clean air and water, or can you use filters to purify the air and water you consume? Does the location have high crime or a history of natural disasters?
Once you pick your best location, focus on the walls. Does the building you live in provide you with quiet, safety, the basic necessities, and the freedom to customize it to promote your well-being? Is the building secure or can it be made secure so you don't have to be paranoid? The simpler, the better. The more variables your home contains, the more that can go wrong.
Once you pick a building, focus on what's inside the walls. Every aspect of the interior can be transformed to promote your preferences, goals, and desired default state of mind. Lighting, colors, smell, temperature, humidity, decorations, furniture, flooring, emptiness, arrangement: everything your senses detect is important and can be intentionally controlled.
First, do what you can for free. Keep your environment clean and sanitary. Then, make a list of changes that cost money. Order the list from least to most expensive and start purchasing the needed materials when you have the spare money. Make sure every item you allow to stay in your sacred space is useful to you. Trash, sell, or donate every useless or counterproductive item without hesitation.
Resist the urge to make changes to your home solely to please others. Your home doesn't belong to them. Your home is your temple for the promotion of your well-being.
You're a creature caught in time, immersed in the current of cause and effect. To make sense of this chaos, you probably think of your life as a story: a selective sequence of subjectively significant events gathered together into a cohesive structure. As you journey through life, you're constantly crafting your narrative. But it's helpful to step back occasionally and view it for what it is: a fiction.
Most of the details of your life are discarded as unimportant and are forgotten. The details that are remembered are distorted by time and your value-system. But that's okay. Because, if you're aware of its limitations, even a distorted narrative can be useful to you.
One of the most popular and helpful ways to organize this narrative is adventure. The concept of adventure is a map that guides you towards growth through the process of skillfully framing and reacting to the challenges life presents. Most stories are based on the adventure framework: the eternal cycle of descent into chaos and return to a better order.
You start in a comfortable stasis, the ordinary world, the status quo, home. But you perceive a problem, a deficiency, a need.
You hear the call to adventure: the possibility of a solution. But, in order to obtain that solution, you must leave your comfort zone and travel into an unfamiliar situation. You can either refuse the call, and miss the opportunity for growth, or leave home and begin your journey. If you're lucky, you'll meet a mentor who can help you along the way.
Eventually, you have to cross a threshold into the strange special world where you struggle to adapt. You'll meet allies, enemies, tests, and challenging external forces. If you react skillfully, you might find what you seek: the treasure or elixir.
But to earn it, you must pay a price: slay the dragon, defeat the inner demon, or overcome the ultimate obstacle. If you survive this ordeal, you win the prize.
You're resurrected as a new person and can linger in this special world, even get lost in it, or you can return home with your treasure, which you can use to enrich your life or share with others for their benefit. Those who successfully complete this journey are called heroes.
The magic of this idea is that you can superimpose it over almost any aspect of your life, and it can guide you through stress and hardship towards the fulfillment of your goals.
The idea of adventure is flexible. Every day can be an adventure. Each morning, you start in bed, venture out into the world, and return to bed ideally with something you didn't have in the morning: new knowledge, perspective, relationships, or money. Each job can be an adventure, each conversation, each relationship, your entire life as a whole. Adventure can be internal. You can pursue an inner quest with inner knowledge as the prize. Every meditation is an adventure.
Or you can reject the whole idea of heroism as an ideal. Maybe adventuring is vanity. Maybe everything you need is right here, right now. It depends on your preferences.
But, if your life feels stagnant, maybe you're resisting the call to a beneficial adventure. Maybe fear, anxiety, or depression has paralyzed you. Start small. A short trip outside your home can be an adventure, depending on your comfort zone. By making adventuring a habit, you can stretch your comfort zone, build endurance, and grow more heroic with every new cycle.
There's more information in existence than you could ever possibly know, more places than you could ever see, more people than you could ever meet. Each action you take is a trade-off between the chosen action and every other possibility. It can be absolutely paralyzing to contemplate the uncountable pursuits you could engage in each day. Sometimes, it can make you feel like giving up. How do you spend your time given your limited lifespan and unlimited options?
Priorities. Your attention can be your most valuable resource; be picky about what you give it to. You can live a chaotic life flitting from one preoccupation to the next until you die, or you can focus your limited time and energy on the categories of life that you actually find meaningful. How do you discover these categories?
Think about your life up until now, and write a list of activities that have made you feel most alive. Spend a few days contemplating this. When you can't think of any more, look at that list and ask yourself, "How many of these types of activities can I fit into a daily routine?" That's your challenge. If you prefer, make a weekly routine. Whatever works best for you. Treat every day like an experiment. Each day is only a series of habits book-ended by sleep.
Besides sleep, try making your mornings your top priority. The first moments of your morning color the rest of your day. A good morning routine is like a work of art, every step like a dance. Make your morning routine refreshing and smooth, and it can propel you through your day with ease.
What about the rest of the time between sleep? Think of all the hours you're awake every day. You might think you have no free time, but you do. Everybody does. Busyness is often self-imposed and indicates a failure to prioritize what matters most and eliminate what doesn't matter.
Start with an empty page. Make a row for each hour. Fill the rows with your obligations. Fill the remaining blanks with activities that move you into the state of being that you most prefer. Tomorrow, try your experimental day. See how it goes. Identify commonalities behind your activities. This could reveal your priorities.
Having a clear picture of your priorities makes organizing your time simpler. Do you value freedom? Health? Creativity? Pleasure? Knowledge? Solitude? Relationships? If you're not sure, pick an activity you enjoy and ask yourself why you enjoy it, come up with an answer, then keep asking yourself "why" until you can't dig any deeper. Or, imagine you're going to die in a year. What would you do with the next 365 days and why? How would you rank your priorities? If you had to eliminate one priority at a time, in what order would you eliminate them? Your ranking can speed up your decision-making process.
Practice quickly saying "No" to any activity that won't contribute to your priorities. This could upset or confuse people in your life, but try not to worry about them. You're not living their life; you're living yours. Practice asking yourself, "Is this really my priority or am I suppressing my true desires out of fear?"
Practice your new schedule, and change whatever doesn't feel right. Your new routine might feel awkward at first, but, soon, you might experience a fresh momentum to your days. Over time, you can perfect your prioritized day until it feels natural and fulfilling.
Once you know your priorities, how do you most effectively move in the direction of their fulfillment? Continual improvement. Every morning you can ask yourself, "What can I do right now to make tomorrow better?" And every night you can ask, "Did I make progress today?" Each day, resolve to continue the lifelong journey upwards, one step at a time, towards new heights of well-being.
Every time you feel lost or miserable, you can realign yourself with this goal: aim upward now. Your starting point is irrelevant. The final state to which you're aiming is completely up to you. Focus on what you can do next to improve, not on how far you are from perfection. Complaining about your situation will only slow your ascent.
You may think that death makes this striving for improvement futile, but would eternal life make it seem any less futile? Just because you can't enjoy something forever doesn't make its temporal value zero. Just because a song lasts a few short minutes doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it while it lasts. The quest for improvement can be intrinsically valuable because it feels good in the moment and reaps benefits in the future.
Ask yourself, "What are my challenges right now?" Make them specific in your mind. Write them down. Then, for each challenge, dispassionately ask, "Is it a real threat?" If "Yes," continue. "Will it resolve itself?" If "No," continue. "Can I do anything about it?" If "Yes," continue.
If you make it this far in the process, you can start brainstorming possible paths towards solutions. Write them all down specifically. Eliminate impractical plans, find the most efficient one, then expand the plan and break it down into smaller steps, or goals.
Make each goal positive (rather than something "not" to do), challenging but not impossible, specific, measurable, something you can start on immediately, and deadlined.
Determine whether or not the people you currently interact with, the physical objects you claim, and the technologies you use are actually helping you pursue your goals more efficiently than your body alone could or if they're actually distracting you or serving someone else's goals. Identify technology that could help make the journey easier. Find people who've been down the path before you, and learn from them. What slowed them down? What sped them up?
The further out you plan, the more likely you'll be wrong about the future, so don't plan too far ahead. Stay tuned into the present opportunities, your present preferences, and the next logical step in the direction of your paths.
Don't linger in the planning stage. Sometimes you'll have to take a leap of faith based on your current knowledge, offer your plan up to reality, and let reality either guide you in a more realistic direction or demolish your unrealistic plan.
Start one step at a time, like you're following an instruction manual. Amend the directions when new information presents itself. Check in periodically to reassess your plans. Ask yourself: "Where have I been? Where do I stand now? What is my biggest, most important challenge right now? What does perfection look like? What’s the next logical step towards perfection?"
Face inevitable setbacks with a smile. What lessons do they have to teach? Frustration accomplishes nothing. Pivot and move forward. Keep your eyes looking upward. Rest when needed, but don't grow stagnant. Collect the rewards along the way. Continue the climb. Optimize.
Most of your day is made up of habits that you've cultivated, consciously or unconsciously, to such an extent that you can go through the motions while only partly aware of what you're doing. A solid habit happens effortlessly, without the need for willpower. This is your brain conserving energy.
If, every day, you had to carefully concentrate in order to complete mundane tasks like brushing your teeth, you'd be so mentally exhausted that you wouldn't have the energy to do much else. Conversely, the longer you do something, the harder it is to stop. You can use this momentum to develop healthy daily habits.
Every day, you're planting seeds in the garden of your life. Every time you repeat an action, you're watering that seed and helping it grow and become more stable and permanent. With every action, you're strengthening pathways in your brain and allowing others to weaken.
Depending on the habit, repetition can lead to either mastery or addiction. Addiction is simply mastery of destructive habits. You might even find it difficult to drop non-addictive activities you've already put a great deal of time and effort into but that you know deep down aren't benefiting you. You can't change the past, but your continuing participation in burdensome habits is optional.
So plant healthy seeds and take care not to water the poisonous ones. If you already have large poisonous habits in your life, the only time you can start killing them is right now.
None of the plants in your garden can grow on their own. Every day you ignore the plant, it wilts ever so slightly until, one day, it's nothing but a withered memory. Ask someone you know to help prevent you from watering the poisonous plants or planting new bad seeds.
Use strong, established habits to support new ones. To establish a new habit, schedule it immediately before or after a strong or pleasurable habit so your brain can link one habit with the other.
Focus your attention on healthy seeds, and, soon, your garden will be a paradise.
Productivity is all about having a clear system in place for getting things done. If you don't have a system, you'll find your days flying aimlessly by as you float from distraction to distraction. The most disorganized people are also usually the most stressed because they primarily react to their days rather than proactively planning them. Juggling a list of future tasks in your head depletes mental energy that could be used for the task at hand. Having a written productivity system frees your brain so it can be more focused, calm, and efficient.
The specifics of your system are up to you. It's important that you feel comfortable with it. You can experiment with the systems of others, but don't feel obligated to follow their formulas exactly. The two main system prototypes are the calendar and the to-do list. Use elements of both in your system to account for activities with and without deadlines.
Pick one space where you record everything you want or need to do. It's important that your system be in one place and not spread over several platforms; because, then, it could be easy to forget things. Organize your unified productivity space so it's easy to access, read, edit, and search. Either check your system on at least a daily basis or make sure your system can send you reminders when deadlines are coming up.
Have a specific workflow for your system: know how you'll input new tasks, how you'll prioritize tasks once they're in the system (Will you complete tasks based on their difficulty, deadline, duration, or some other ranking or grouping?), and what you'll do when you complete tasks (Do you archive them for later, delete them entirely, reward yourself, et cetera?).
Some people work best when they complete the most difficult task first thing in the morning so it's no longer hanging over their head. Try facing the most difficult tasks during the time of day when you’re most energetic. Others like to knock off their easiest tasks first so the feeling of progress helps them power through the more difficult tasks later. Experiment to find your ideal momentum.
To overcome procrastination, prepare for it. Assemble a toolkit of motivational tricks you can use when needed. Motivation equals expectancy times value divided by impulsiveness times delay.
To boost your motivation, increase your expectancy of success (expect success or a learning opportunity, reward yourself, practice positive thinking, and record and refer to past successes), increase the value you place on a task (mentally connect this activity with your larger goals, gamify it, or focus on what you like about the task), decrease your impulsiveness (eliminate distractions and create habits, make failure painful so you’ll avoid it), or decrease the delay until you’re rewarded (break tasks into smaller steps and create fast rewards for completion).
First, you have to notice you’re procrastinating. Then, guess which part of the equation is causing you trouble. Try several methods for reacting to that specific problem. If you’re still procrastinating, reexamine the equation.
The simplest system that incorporates all of these ideas is a single file that contains a single list with timestamps on deadline tasks. Today's tasks go at the top, and tasks descend in chronological order. Tasks that have no deadline can go at the bottom until you assign them a deadline. It's helpful that the file is digital so you can easily edit and rearrange tasks when needed. Keep each task description as short as possible. Break large projects up into smaller tasks for greater ease of completion. Tag items that fall under a larger project with some kind of project name so you can search for the tag and see them all at once. Make note of rewards you'll give yourself for completion of key tasks.
If necessary, add a reference to a separate folder or file name that contains more information about a complex task. Keep the list as concise as possible so you can see your entire life at a glance. Check your list every morning to make sure you aren't forgetting anything. Keep a pocket notebook with you at all times to record tasks to add to the list.
That's only one option. You might prefer a calendar with to-do list attached, or a series of alarms, or some other configuration of your own design. The important thing is that you have some system for organizing your time and reducing your stress.
Do only as much work as is necessary for your survival and well-being. No more, no less. In life, there are activities you want to do for the intrinsic pleasure that the activity gives you, and there are activities you don't do unless you're pressured to for reasons external to the activity. Work consists of activities you don't intrinsically want to do but that you do to ensure the fulfillment of your preferences.
In ancient history, work was mainly hunting and gathering. In modern society, work is mainly sitting at a desk to collect a paycheck, which can be exchanged for stuff you want like food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. Minus the arbitrary inventions of culture, is survival and well-being more complicated now than it was thousands of years ago? Do you really need that much more to survive and be content? You only have a handful of main desires: food, clothing, relationships, shelter, healthcare, and entertainment.
The only thing stopping you from living the nomadic life of your ancient ancestors is the government. Even if you wanted to totally give up money and work and live the rest of your days as a wandering nomadic hunter-gatherer, bookfuls of laws would prevent you from doing that. So, you're forced to conform as far as the law requires, but there's no need to voluntarily conform any further than that.
There are some people who enjoy doing what they get paid for. But, statistically, you're not one of those people. If you treat your job like a game, there's a surprising amount of mental wiggle room to trick yourself into having fun no matter what your occupation is. But, remember that you're basically a temporary slave, and your ultimate goal is to earn your freedom as soon as possible so you can live the rest of your life in freedom.
Doing the minimal amount of work necessary for independence seems obvious and simple, right? Yet look around. You're probably surrounded by overworked and miserable people. They work all the time, but still seem to be struggling to either make ends meet or remain relatively happy. Why? Of course, there are many born into situations out of their control that keep them trapped in a whirlpool of poverty, but, the surprising thing is, most people become overworked and miserable over a long period of time and as a result of many short-sighted decisions. Most people are trapped in a slavery of small choices. How can you make sure you never find yourself in these chains? Either use politics to try to change the economic rules or rebel against the culture of consumerism and competition.
Culture encourages you in so many ways to stress yourself out. You're surrounded by advertising that subtly frames life as a competition. So many companies are on a mission to convince you that your life isn't complete until you buy their product or service. The education system instills a competitive worldview from an early age. The cultures of workplace and socializing encourage it, too. At some point, you have to step back from the noise and ask yourself: how much of this is just people one-upping each other? How much of this consumption is necessary for my survival and well-being?
Question the idea that work will provide you with your life purpose. Many are duped into thinking that their career will be their life passion. Many books are written about this. You might be sucked into the endless search for the magical job that'll provide you with your life mission. A lucky few might find that job, but usually not on purpose. Like most great things in life, it usually happens by chance. But, statistically, that won't happen for you. So, instead, view work as a necessary evil for survival, well-being, and nothing more. Dispense with the romantic corporate fairy tales. Work to earn enough money until you can stop working.
Assess your cost of living, add inflation, then multiply to figure out the exact amount of money you need to sustain yourself for the rest of your life. Write that magic number down, then start tracking your progress towards it. Start saving and investing as much and as soon as possible. Don't obsess. Just be diligent.
When you reach your magic number, safely invest it and stop working. It's deadly simple, but only a tiny percentage of people actually do this because they get sidetracked by social "obligations" and unnecessary expenses. Question the standard life templates that your culture offers you. You don't have to follow the narrative of birth, childhood, primary school, secondary school, college, job, car, marriage, house, kids, career, retirement, death.
You don't have to clutter and complicate your life with financial obligations: student loans, car loans, mortgages, junk to fill your mortgaged house, kids, pets, fancy possessions with no purpose other than to impress your acquaintances, expensive gifts to bribe your significant other to stay with you, et cetera. These "obligations" keep people slaves to their jobs until society gives them permission to retire then die when they're supposed to. It's not impossible to find happiness in the standard template, but there are alternatives.
To reduce the amount of work and stress in your life and maximize the amount of free time and calm, keep your life simple. Figure out right now what you actually need to survive and be happy. Minimize your expenses. Learn to enjoy living as far below your means as possible. It takes planning and discipline not to become a debt slave, but nothing beats freedom.
Stare at a dollar bill until it no longer looks familiar. What is it really? A symbol built on trust. An efficient metaphor. A useless bit of cloth made useful by the shared belief that it's valuable for the exchange of goods. The value of anything depends entirely on your goals. Depending on your lifestyle, you'll probably have to use money to survive. But over- or under-estimating the importance of money can cause you major suffering.
If you think you might be overestimating money, remind yourself that most species survive perfectly fine without money. Who's to say you can't survive without it, too? Pay attention to every single time you spend money. Question every expense. "Do I really need this? Would I survive without that?" How much can you minimize your desires? What do you truly need in order satisfy yourself? The less you desire, the less money you need, and the less drudgery you'll have to endure.
If you think you might be underestimating money, remind yourself that money might not be everything, but it's close to it. There's almost nothing you can't do with enough money. Money can buy temporary pleasure. Money can save your life. So, don't take it too lightly.
If you're an average person, your life can probably be split into three stages regarding money: 1) living off the money of others, 2) gathering your own money, and 3) spending your money until death. That's the penny game. Sometimes the steps overlap. None of us want to play it, but you have to play unless you want a life of total dependence on others. When you rely on anyone else to provide for most or all of your needs, you're forced to swallow the rules of your caretaker and, thus, whore yourself out for money.
Debt equals slavery. Avoid it at all costs. Don't spend more than you earn. If you must take on debt, pay it off as quickly as possible before you pay for anything else.
Figure out how to do something that people will pay you for, and you'll graduate to stage two. Learn to be useful. The more skills you gather, the better. Start playing the penny game as soon as you can. Some people never make it completely out of stage one because they wait too long to begin stage two.
Time is key in stage two. Use compounding interest to your advantage. Save as much as you dare. Live as far below your means as possible until you have enough money in safe investments that yields enough yearly interest to pay for your yearly expenses, plus a 6-month emergency fund stashed away in a safe bank account in case your investments fail.
Which is more important to you: the admiration of others or financial independence? Don't waste money to appear average when you could save money to be extraordinary.
Keep track of your money daily. All you need is two spreadsheets: one sheet for your net worth (all the money you have minus all the debt you owe) and one sheet for your expenses (everything you repeatedly spend money on). As long as your net worth continues to rise, there's nothing to worry about. If your net worth starts to drop, look at your expenses and figure out how to minimize them. Learn about taxes and pay them.
Good investing is boring. If an investing opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never risk more than you're willing to lose. Diversify and invest regularly and your net worth will most likely grow in the long-term.
Don't forget to enjoy your money along the way, because you could die any moment, and the value of that money would plummet to zero for you. If you're smart about this game, you'll reach stage three where you can release yourself from the chains of money and start enjoying a life of freedom.
Is there anything wrong with doing nothing every once in a while? If you quickly answer "No," try an experiment: Start a timer. Hide the timer. Sit and stare at a blank wall for as long as you can. Pay attention to the feelings that rise up: that frantic demon in your skull that starts rattling off an unending list of urgent things you should be doing. When you can't stand another second, check the timer and remind yourself how enslaved you are to the conveyor belt of doing. Where does this guilt-fueled tug towards productivity come from?
Part of it is your biological drive to survive. But, even when your basic needs are met, you might still experience this restlessness. Maybe you convince yourself that one day, when the conditions are just right, you'll give yourself permission to relax. But that day never comes.
Observe the other creatures. Does a cat fret when it's not being productive? No. It does what it needs to survive, then it rests. People tend to diss other animals, treating them like robots doomed to follow their programmed instincts and momentary desires. But is that not what you do, too? Minus cultural pressures, all you're left to do is follow your instincts until you die.
Part of it is your social programming. Do you remember feeling guilty for not being productive as a child? Probably not. What changed when you grew up? Over time, you're convinced that aimless relaxation is a bad thing, something you're only allowed to get away with when no one's watching or on weekends or holidays when culture says it's appropriate. But on a weekday? Heaven forbid! Adults might've chastised you for sitting around doing nothing. "Find something to do! Be productive! Get a job!" Eventually you're thrown onto the demoralizing conveyor belt of the education/career system, which whisks you away on an uninterrupted lifetime journey of doing until you die.
Even in your off-time, there's a social pressure to do. Often, people force themselves to fill their free time with activities they don't enjoy just so they can impress others. You might experience a fear of missing out, which obligates you to stay up-to-date on the latest everything so you're never left out of a conversation.
Part of it is culture-induced fear. You believe that if you don't do well in school, you won't be able to get a job, and, if you don't get a job, you won't be able to afford to survive, and, if you can't afford to survive, you'll die in the cold streets lonely, sick, and miserable. An idea like that can keep you strapped into the stressful conveyor belt ride for a long time.
But no matter how hard you strive to live correctly according to others, and no matter how productive you are, you know you'll end up worm food. So really it's the potential misery that worries you most. You want to choose when, where, and how you'll die, and you might think playing by the rules is the best way to protect yourself from discomfort.
Your survival instinct has been injected with steroids to serve culture's purposes. Culture rewards doing. Doers are virtuous, valuable winners. Losers are uninformed, noncontributing do-nothings. How dare they simply exist! If you're not busy living, you're busy dying. You don't want to lose your competitive edge!
This kind of thinking leads straight to burnout. Periodic rest isn't a sin or a waste of time; it's essential for being a functioning person. Your body requires time to heal and assimilate new experiences. Productivity requires downtime. You can't separate the two. Equating purpose with non-stop productivity will lead you to misery faster than inactivity ever can. You can't possibly be productive all the time. Some days, the most productive thing you could do is rest, even if it feels strange.
Once basic food/clothing/shelter needs are met, there's nothing left to do but rest and enjoy life. Listen to your body. Schedule regular "do nothing" time to avoid burnout. Dare to do nothing. See how you feel. You'll be better for it.
You can prevent so much stress and mental exhaustion by training yourself to be satisfied with simplicity. The universe is chaos. Your brain is a filter. Embrace minimalism. Use it to sift through the endless information and present your awareness with only what's important for survival and well-being.
Start with one room. Get rid of what you don't need. For each object, ask yourself, "If I didn't have this object, how much would I pay to obtain it?" If you wouldn't pay, throw it away. Organize what's left. An organized home is an organized brain. The more you eliminate the things that cloud your awareness, the brighter your passions will shine.
More stuff equals less free time. Every object you claim requires attention and maintenance. The more daily information your brain has to process, the less energy you'll have left. Pay attention to everything you put in your brain, and eliminate everything useless.
How long can you go without spending money and still enjoy yourself? Make this a challenge. How long can you sit and stare silently into the distance and still enjoy yourself? Make this a challenge. How many of your possessions can you give or throw away and still enjoy yourself? Make this a challenge. Then, if life ever deprives you of money, entertainment, or possessions, you'll be prepared.
Slowing your pace on the treadmill of consumption and training yourself to find happiness in the simplest moments can save you a lifetime of searching, longing, grasping, avoiding, spending, and working for satisfaction that's already available here and now. No matter what's happening to you, the ability to mine simple happiness out of any moment is a free gift you're given simply for being alive.
Minimalism is a continual process: how simple can you make your life and still be happy? Ease yourself into the freedom of simplicity one day at a time by refusing to participate in the hurricane of distractions. Ask yourself, "What do I really need right now?" Eat when you're hungry. Sleep when you're tired. Take care of your body. Everything else is optional. Step back. Be quiet. Simplify.
Make cool stuff. Let it pour out of you, unfiltered at first. Later, think about how others might view it, and edit for them if you want. Sharing is optional. Art can be a private show just for you. The value of art isn't only in the appreciation of the finished thing; it's also in the act of creation itself.
Every day of your life can be your art. It can be the unique way you walk, dress, talk, sing to yourself, or the way you love others. Everybody has the ability to be creative. Your brain has a particular way of filtering reality that no other brain can replicate exactly. Art is the act of distilling, magnifying, and projecting your unique reality into the external universe, either for the pleasure of creation, or the pleasure of others, or both.
To steal and mash together old ideas into something refreshingly new: that's art. There's no such thing as 100% original. You're constantly collecting experiences that can be turned into art. Extract the interesting bits of life, and project them through a medium: paper, canvas, pixels, the body, camera, language, vocal chords, stage, architecture, stone, glass, ceramic, fabric, instrument, or a combination of options. Find a method that feels natural, and start pouring your brain into it.
Why? Because making art feels good. Do you need any other reason? Besides surviving and maximizing well-being, what else is there to do but create and enjoy the creations of others. Think about how much of your daily enjoyment is due to someone else's creativity. You're probably surrounded by art.
Use art to enhance your life. It's a tool for mental transformation freely accessible to almost everybody. Be picky about the art you consume. Don't be a passive observer. The more attention you give to a piece of art, the more it gives back. Treat it with a little respect, and it'll benefit you more.
Art is like vitamins. If you're feeling depressed, absorb uplifting energetic art. If you're feeling anxious, absorb carefree relaxing art. Seek out engaging art when you're lonely. Seek out poignant art when you need a good cry. Seek out complex art to stimulate your thinking.
Take music for example: most people don't think about maximizing the benefits of music. They put it on in the background. But try deep listening for a change. Invest in a quality set of headphones. Close your eyes and lie down if you can. Let your brain wander freely across the soundscape of images and feelings. Let the sounds transport you to the inner universe unique to every song. Apply this level of dedication to any art form to get a similar effect.
Don't be an art snob. Don't consume art only to judge and compare it. Stay open to its natural influence on you. Explore new art often. Who knows if an artist unknown to you now has created something that'll radically transform your consciousness.
Art isn't meant to be rational; it's designed to bypass that part of your brain. Art is instinctual, emotional. Surrender and allow it to flow through you.
If you don't feel the urge to create, that's okay. There's no obligation. Maybe you enjoy curating, critiquing, or simply enjoying the creations of others that color the universe.
If you display your art, get ready for criticism. They can't see what you see in your head. They only see their interpretation of your rough translation. If you get negative responses, maybe you didn't do an effective job translating, maybe your particular vision is impossible to remove intact from your brain, or maybe you didn't pick the right type of canvas. Or maybe they've never had a similar experience in their head. If you make art primarily for the effect it has on others, take criticism seriously.
But, if you make art for only you, who cares what they think? Gag the inner critic! Create, explore, test the limits, break the rules. Play!
Do you feel beautiful? Most people don't. Most people wait for others to tell them they're beautiful before they give themselves permission to feel beautiful. Most never realize that the face you see in the mirror is warped by your brain's reflection of your inner opinion of yourself. The more you accept yourself, the more beautiful you'll find yourself. Because the perception of beauty is purely mental, and because you can train your perceptions, beauty is a gift you can give yourself.
Most of the time, it doesn't matter what others think about your physical appearance. The ultimate waste of energy is constantly wondering how people are evaluating your appearance. Even if you could read brains and see what their brains think, that doesn't have to have any effect on your self-worth. Isn't it possible that everybody you'll ever encounter thinks you're repulsive while you believe that you're beautiful?
If you polled every person in the universe, and 54% of people think you're attractive while 46% think you're unattractive, what's the value of that information? Should that change what you think about yourself? All it tells you is that one set of brains automatically interprets your physical structure as attractive, and another set of brains doesn't.
Initial physical attraction isn't something you control. Your eyeballs process visual data - light, shadow, color, symmetry - and your brain either produces pleasure and interest or it doesn't. This is an automatic response. Why should you feel angry or ashamed if this process doesn't happen when people look at you? Why should you feel that way if their brain produces disgust? Seeing someone as beautiful is simply a chemical pleasure-burst. It has nothing to do with the objective value of another person. You have the same existential value as any other conscious creature, no matter if you're obese, anorexic, handicapped, or disfigured.
Of course, there are certain easy things every person can do to make themselves less repulsive on average. Regular bathing, washing hair, brushing teeth, wearing deodorant, and taking good care of your body can make it easier to feel beautiful. But, if you can't change it, don't worry about it. If it's something you can't control, there's no reason to feel ashamed or proud.
Don't judge yourself for your own beauty preferences. It's okay to admit that some people are automatically attractive to you and others aren't. You can always remind yourself that you're not judging that person's worth as a whole, only a small temporary aspect of them.
The unexpected thing about beauty is that it seems to be a skill that can be improved by the perceiver. You can develop the willingness to continue to search for something attractive in a person or object and to continually broaden your appreciation.
Let's say you meet someone who's missing a nose. The first time you see their face, your brain might automatically react with repulsion because your brain is used to seeing faces with noses. But, as you get to know the person, your brain will quickly learn to expect their face as it is, and you can begin to discover other aspects of the person that can be appreciated: their story, their personality, their philosophy, their dreams, et cetera. That's the process of beauty.
Beauty is a verb. You "beauty" something when you fully appreciate it as perfect in this present moment. It could be no other way right now.
Beauty is the middle road between lust and disgust. If it feels wrong to think of yourself as beautiful, pretend. Practice. Stand in front of a mirror for a couple minutes every day and tell yourself with a smile, "I'm beautiful." Try it. Experiment with yourself and others, and beautify your universe.
You're never an orphan as long as there's sky and wind and grass and soil, never friendless as long as there's warm sun on back of neck and cool stone underneath feet. Nature is one of the best free gifts you receive just for being alive. The medicine of wilderness requires neither prescription nor money, only a step outside.
Away from people-clutter, the brain unfurls. Every rock can be a reminder that the confusion of people is temporary and limited. People think they've conquered everything, but a casual meteorite or a gentle sun flare would correct that misconception.
You aren't separate from nature; you are nature. You're a flower of nature rooted in nature. The idea that there's someone separate is nature's idea. You have an effect on the rest of your environment; take care of it so it can help you survive. It's a symbiotic relationship.
Observe yourself: the tiny person amongst a crowd of living tree-giants. Observe the other species who'll never be trapped in your prison of self-consciousness, who'll never care about your legacy or social status or personal dramas. They only know right now, whether it's another ordinary day or the last second of their lives.
You can't unplug your troublesome brain, but you can practice tuning it out for a while by stranding yourself in the desert of the eternal now. You can experiment by staring at a tree without forming a language-screen between you and it. Try to see it without words, without thoughts, without memories. Experience it for the first time again. Let it engulf your brain.
An hour of silent retreat in nature beats almost any therapy session. You might discover that there are no problems for you right this moment. So relax. Observe the rock. Observe the flame. Observe the water. Observe the wind. No tension, no resistance, no clinging. Just flow.
What is happiness? Is it an idea or thought? Is it a belief? No. Happiness is the collection of sensations you feel while accepting and loving exactly what's happening right now.
Your ability to feel happy can be influenced by all sorts of factors including safety, stability, gratitude, meaning, optimism, absence of stress, loving relationships, and mental and physical health. But, without acceptance of the present moment, you won't feel happy. And acceptance is possible in the absence of all of those factors.
There are different strategies for maximizing pleasure. Some risk future suffering in exchange for immediate happiness by engaging in dangerous but pleasurable activities. Others endure immediate discomfort in order to increase the chances of future happiness, assuming they won't die before they reach this future. The key is to hedge your bets by discovering those activities that are both intrinsically pleasurable and that increase the probability of future happiness. The goal is to maximize your pleasure over your entire lifetime, regardless of its length.
Learn to savor each moment of happiness that comes your way. Savoring doesn't come naturally. The brain tends to want to shift focus quickly from pleasure to potential problems. But you can train the brain to stay present and soak up each small pleasure like it's your last. It just takes concentration and practice.
When is happiness? Is it yesterday? Is it tomorrow? No. You can only experience happiness right now or not at all.
Where is happiness? Is it contained in an object? Is it in another person? Is it a few miles away? Is it a few light years away? No. Striving for happiness is like running away from it. Happiness can only happen right here inside your brain.
Are you capable of relaxing and accepting this moment? Every moment? Some people claim this is possible: to stretch the limits of your appreciation until it can accommodate every possible phenomenon.
Is that actually possible? You can ponder happiness. You can research happiness. You can debate happiness. But the only way to find happiness is to try it yourself right now.
First ask yourself: "Which god am I thinking about?" People have spoken of thousands of different gods, so it's essential to define "god" and have evidence to back up each aspect of your definition. Once you've settled on a specific definition, be brutally honest with yourself.
Forget what other people say. Forget books written by dead people. Stop reading for a minute, look up at the sky or close your eyes, and talk to the god out loud or in your head. Ask the god if it's there. Ask the god to say something. Ask if it loves you. Yell at the god a little. Beg the god to give you a sign. Dare the god to strike you down. See what happens.
The best you can hope for is a brief, ambiguous experience that only you find meaningful, or nothing at all will happen, which means that if the god exists, it doesn't care about you enough to clearly show itself to you. If some "miracle" has moved you in the direction of belief, make sure the event is actually a miracle (something impossible according to the laws of nature that we currently understand) and not just an unlikely but possible event. Someone surviving a catastrophe when many others died is never a miracle; it's a tragedy. In a godless universe, it's to be expected that physics and probability will collide to create extraordinary events on rare occasion. Also, how could you ever know if the phenomenon you witnessed was caused by a specific god you know about or by another god, entity, or some advanced technology you don't know about?
Almost all believers in a personal god fall into one of two categories: indoctrination or desperation. If you started believing in a god as a child, you were probably indoctrinated by your religious family or a church. If you started believing as an adult, your belief was probably preceded by some kind of desperation: substance abuse, trauma, loneliness, loss, pain, depression, then belief. The fact that these two patterns are so widespread and predictable raises suspicions about the validity of belief in a personal god. Indoctrination and desperation don't lead to the truth.
Study the history of forgotten deities and you'll realize that the god you believe in will most likely be unknown in a few thousand years or less. Do you really believe that you were lucky enough to be born during the time period of, and in contact with, the people with knowledge of the one correct god? Do you believe in a god because the evidence naturally led you there or because the belief fulfilled an emotional desire for you?
Unfortunately, your desires don’t dictate reality. Your desire for something to be true isn’t evidence that it is. If anything, your desire for something to be true can make your belief in that thing more suspicious because you could easily be deceiving yourself.
Some people avoid the problems of belief in a personal god by asserting a non-personal god: a mysterious being who chooses not to interact with this universe or who is beyond comprehension. But, if this god doesn't interact with this universe, how would people know it exists? If this god is beyond comprehension, how can people say anything about it? Others retreat further by defining god as "the first cause," "the universe," "love," or some other broad concept that already has a more precise label.
The problem is that metaphysical possibilities are limited only by your imagination and credulity. The universe could've been created on a whim and forgotten by god. We could be here for the amusement of some other universe-creating creature that a god created. We could be programmed to not be able to understand reality at all. We could've been created to produce suffering. An evil being could've created all religions to lead people away from the true god. None of these theories can be proven wrong. There's no reason to believe any of them.
There are many tempting but irrational reasons to believe. It can help you feel better, more centered, less afraid. You become a member of a large club. You feel like you belong. You feel watched over. You feel that something's in control. You feel loved. You feel created on purpose. You can believe that everything happens for a good objective reason. You're given a clear life purpose. You can know what's right and wrong. You can know that you're safe after death.
If you want to believe, your brain can provide you with a reason. The smarter you are, the easier it is for you to construct elaborate but faulty justifications for your belief. And your emotional desire to believe can prevent you from seeing the flaws in your justifications.
Common arguments for a god include:
The Teleological Argument: The universe appears to be designed. Every design has a designer. So, the universe had a designer.
Problems: We can't verify that everything that appears designed is actually designed. The only examples of verified design are people-made objects. And we have counter-examples of things that appear to be designed, like a face in some burnt toast, that are actually random. Your ability to detect patterns overreacts sometimes because it's helpful for ensuring your survival. Also, if the universe wasn't able to support life, you wouldn't be here to wonder if the universe was designed. There's no other way for you to exist unless the universe supports life. No god required.
The Cosmological Argument: Everything that has a beginning has a cause. The universe had a beginning. So, the universe had a cause.
Problems: We don't know if the law of causality applies outside this universe. Can cause and effect exist outside time? Also, if there's a cause of the universe, it could be almost anything. Only a dull imagination would limit the possibilities to one specific god. Also, theists arbitrarily define god as "without cause," but why not define existence the same way?
The Ontological Argument: God is the greatest possible being. A being that exists in reality and in the mind is greater than a being that exists only in the mind. So, god must exist in reality.
Problems: You could use this argument to prove the existence of many types of beings by, for instance, changing "God" to "Satan" and adding "evil" before "being." Do all of those beings exist? Also, how do you know it's possible for a maximally great being to exist? We can conceive of a perfect circle, but it appears impossible for it to exist in reality. Also, the argument assumes that existence is an attribute of something instead of the condition that allows attributes to be applied to something. But, if something doesn't exist, it has no attributes. It also assumes that existence is "greater" than nonexistence. Why? Who determines the definition of "greatness"?
The Presuppositional Argument: We presuppose that god is the only possible source of reason and true knowledge. Without god, you have no basis for certainty. So, arguing against god's existence is absurd because you would have to use reason and true knowledge, which must come from god. Disbelievers know god exists but suppress this truth.
Problems: This argument involves mind-reading. How can anyone know for sure that someone is lying about what they know or believe? Also, even if a god does exist, it could be deceiving us, so god's existence doesn't automatically provide a basis for absolute certainty. Also, anyone can assert that they know something with absolute certainty, but certainty isn't a measure of truth. A lack of absolute certainty about a belief doesn't make that belief unreasonable or untrue. Also, the presupposition that god exists is a more complex presupposition than a worldview that doesn't include a god. The more detailed your presuppositions, the more likely you are to be wrong. Therefore, it's important to keep your presuppositions as simple and as close to the evidence as possible.
You don't even have to pick from the menu of prepackaged religions. You can come up with your own metaphysical beliefs, which can be just as unfalsifiable as anyone else's. You can create a god in your own image. As long as it's metaphysical, no one can detect it, which means you can make up whatever you want about it and no one can prove you wrong.
But, if the god interacts with the physical realm in any way, it would be possible to detect scientifically. That hasn't been done yet. Either you see a phenomena and realize that there's a more plausible physical explanation, or you simply say "I don't know" and wait for more evidence. There's no reason to add an extra unverifiable entity as an explanation.
God seems to be the sum total of people's ignorance. Some people hate saying, "I don't know," so they invent a god to fill in the gaps. But the unknown doesn't need to be filled; it can stay unknown until more information is gathered.
Another reason people cling to a belief in god is the fear of hell. But there are many hells belonging to many gods. Do you spend one moment fearing all of those other hells?
There's also the fear of boredom, but nonbelief in a god isn't boring. The intricacies of the universe are vast enough without the existence of any supernatural being.
Believe whatever seems right for you as long as you don't hurt anybody. But, if you're able to live a comfortable life without any extra unnecessary beliefs, that's the simplest and most honest way to live.
Things are happening. Some of these experiences seem more local and lasting than others. This collection of local, lasting experiences is grouped into a sense of self that's labeled 'you' or 'consciousness'. There seem to be many consciousnesses populating the universe, each generated by a special configuration of materials called a brain. Each consciousness can experience pleasure and, more importantly, pain based on its preferences.
Morality is an idea created by these brains. It's the idea that people ought to do what's good and ought not do what's bad. But each brain differs on the definitions of good and bad. There's no compelling evidence for the existence of objective definitions of good or bad outside the brains. All moral laws are created by brains. So you're faced with a plethora of competing subjective moralities based on innate preferences.
Morality is grounded in preferences. Your behavior is guided by involuntary preferences. You can't control what you like or dislike or that you like to pursue the things you like and avoid the things you dislike.
You have an automatic guidance system, calibrated by pleasure and pain, that helps move you towards preference maximization. But this preference-seeking system isn't perfect. Sometimes, it leads to the violation of your preferences because of random chance, because of factors outside the system's control, or because the system is the servant of the genes, whose chief preference is survival through reproduction.
But there are certain patterns of experience that you can learn. If you study these patterns, you can use this knowledge to adjust your guidance system to more effectively pursue your conscious preferences. This is the whole point of learning science, math, philosophy, history, or anything else: for the maximizing of your preferences.
Conscious morality is a mental tool for figuring out what actions will increase the likelihood of your preferences being fulfilled. You can also use the concept of morality to persuade yourself or others to change behavior to fit your preferences. But don't mistake your subjective preferences for universal prescriptions. Every body is different.
When you imagine the best possible reality, what kinds of things do you imagine? Happiness? Health? Comfort? Peace? In essence, the perfect fulfillment of your preferences. Well-being.
When you imagine the worst possible reality, what do you imagine then? Pain? Disease? Hatred? Loneliness? In other words, the perfect violation of your preferences. Suffering.
So when you think of morality, what you're really thinking about is maximizing your preferences while minimizing the violation of them. Isn't that what you're striving for every day and in every decision? Isn't that at the core of your motivation to get out of bed every morning? Isn't that what matters the most to every sentient being?
Even if you believe in a god, isn't your highest aim to glorify that god, or maximize that god's preferences, while minimizing sin, which is the violation of god's preferences? That hypothetical god's morality is no more objective than yours. God just might be better at enforcing its preferences than you are.
The belief that suffering is bad seems universal. You can intellectually deny that suffering is bad until someone tries to punch you in the face. Or maybe you like getting punched in the face. Why do you like it? Maybe the physical pain gives you pleasure, and that pleasure contributes to your sense of well-being. It all goes back to your preferences.
All people automatically follow their preferences. It's your deepest axiom even if you're not conscious of it. You might think you're sometimes selfless, but if you're painfully honest, you'll probably realize that the ultimate reason you're good to others is because it makes you feel better. If you attempt to rebel by acting in complete opposition to your preferences, you'll only do that if it's your preference to rebel. It's hard to admit this about yourself, but it seems undeniable. It's just the way you're wired.
From the objective perspective of the cold lifeless universe, your preferences don't matter. This is another clue that objective morality is a myth. Where would you find it except in people's heads? But from the subjective perspective of a conscious person, the well-being/suffering spectrum underlies everything it considers important and seems inescapable.
You're always attempting to approach what you think will increase your well-being and avoid what you think will increase your suffering. Why is well-being good and suffering bad? Because you experience it as such. It's circular. There's no way to objectively prove that you ought to pursue well-being or you ought to avoid suffering. It's a presupposition that everybody acts on.
The big dilemma is that each person has slightly different preferences, and, therefore, different ideas of well-being and suffering. Certain people might include the torture and murder of others in their portrait of well-being. Others might include caring for people in their portrait of suffering. They might not be able to explain why they have these preferences, just as you don't fully understand your own preferences.
There's no objective standard outside brains to indicate whose preferences are correct. There's no objective moral difference between statements such as "I like feeding the homeless" and "I like drowning puppies." Your reactions of disgust or pleasure are purely subjective and based on your unique combination of genes and environment.
Laws and general ideas of "objective" morality only reflect the average preferences of the majority. If your preferences happen to align with the majority, you're lucky. If your preferences conflict with the majority, people can use force to stop you from violating their preferences.
Universal morality is an illusion built upon the facts that similar biology creates similar preferences in people and that certain people are more successful at convincing or forcing others to follow their preferences.
But there are always variations that can't be discounted. The only hope you have for creating a universal morality is by somehow convincing everybody to share your preferences. The best way to do this might be to convince everybody that their actions somehow violate their own preferences.
You already have a personal morality, but it's probably disorganized and unconscious. Step 1 of morality is figuring out your preferences. Step 2 is figuring out the most skillful way of fulfilling those preferences. The only moral question with objective answers is: "How can I most effectively fulfill my preferences?"
The idea of a personal morality can be useful in evaluating decisions. Ask yourself: "Which option will cause the least suffering while producing the most well-being?" Or ask: "Which option would cause the most suffering?" That at least eliminates the worst of your options. But it begs the questions: well-being for whom? Yourself only? Yourself and others? Others only? Society as a whole?
Should you sacrifice the well-being of a few to maximize the well-being of many? It depends on your preferences. One thing is clear: groups can't feel suffering. Only an individual can. It only makes sense to think of ethics on the level of the sentient individual.
You won't come up with a 100% effective formula that works in a satisfying way for all moral situations you might face. Morality is always a work in progress. All moral systems are only suggestions for you to consider. You're the ultimate authority on your preferences.
Why should you care about the preferences of others? If you live around people, helping make reality better for them probably also makes it better for you. You can usually increase your well-being by increasing the well-being of others. The well-being or suffering of others is infectious.
You didn't choose to be born, so you're under no obligation to do any particular thing with your life or even to continue living. But contributing to the well-being of others is usually an easy way to increase your own. But, regardless of your preferences, if you want to increase your well-being, know your preferences.
All life requires of you is to survive and make your survival seem worth it. Most people figure out the former but struggle with the latter. If you're struggling to survive, focus on that. But, once your survival needs are met, you must face the challenge of transforming empty time into meaning.
Meaning is a feeling of recognition that happens effortlessly in the brain. You can't force it or think your way to a meaningful life. You have to feel your way toward it like a person groping in the dark.
It's easy to imagine that you might find some activity meaningful until you actually try that activity. Then, you realize you only enjoyed the idea and not the activity itself. Don't waste your time dreaming. Do the thing and see how you feel.
Through active exploration, you can map out a warm, impenetrable center of meaning where you can mentally retreat and refresh yourself to help you endure life's challenges. Outside the edges of meaning are the pitfalls of boredom and overstimulation.
Out of a fear of boredom, you might be tempted to bombard your senses with noisy input in order to never allow a quiet moment when boredom might slip through a crack in your consciousness. You might fill your time with social obligations, work responsibilities, and mindless entertainment simply to avoid silence. You can make yourself sick with overstimulation, and this can manifest in all sorts of mental illnesses.
Beware the busyness trap. Your fear of boredom exaggerates your discomfort, this discomfort pushes you towards overstimulation, and the vicious cycle continues unless you set aside time to face the silence, the solitude, and the vacuum of this empty moment.
In doing this, you might be confronted with mental demons you've successfully drowned out for years. If you get stuck in boredom for too long, it can be a gateway to depression. Boredom even seems to speed up the dying process at a certain age. Stay active and engaged with the universe to stay alive.
Boredom can mean that you're not paying enough attention to the present moment. When you're being totally mindful, even the most mundane object can elicit meaningful pleasure.
No one else and nothing else can give you meaning in life, nor can they understand your subjective experience of meaning. The universe isn't here to give you meaning. Purpose arises through the interaction between the universe and your unique body.
You're the only person who can possibly feel your life purpose. It's the feeling you get when you're doing something you enjoy doing for the pure joy of it and not for extrinsic reasons. You'll have to try many activities before you discover the shape of your meaning space. It's a lifelong search. You can sift out this meaning-sensation if you learn to pay attention to it. It can become your compass that points in the opposite direction of nihilism.
Your purpose can't be objective or absolute. The only possible universal meaning in life would seem to be to maximize individual preferences. That's what everybody is trying to do. But, sometimes, your compass isn't calibrated correctly. Sometimes, your desires lead you down a path that actually leads to a violation of your preferences. How can you differentiate between the ultimately fulfilling and ultimately harmful paths?
Learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others. Continuously gather information. Be open to changing your direction if you realize your current path is fruitless. Be humble.
Resist the tug of desire when you feel it pulling you down a path of suffering. How do you resist desire? Practice. Exercise your resistance like a muscle. Experiment. Let's say you have an addiction to sugar. Buy a delicious sugary snack. Set it on a plate in front of you. Get ready to eat it. Then don't. See how long you can sit there before you throw the snack away. Cautiously adapt this type of experiment for any harmful desire that tugs at you. Stretch your ability to resist until you're confident in your resolve.
The secret to success in life is remembering that you can define success for yourself. Or you can believe the definitions of others and spend the rest of your only life struggling to live up to them. But what do you actually care about doing while you're alive, and what do you consider a waste of time?
What's your purpose in life? There's never one correct answer. The challenge is finding answers that allow you to continue surviving while pursuing your meaning. So follow that meaning-feeling, and see where it leads you.
It's the dizzying realization that you'll never know for sure if your life has ultimate meaning or not. It's the giddy relief that comes when you understand that nothing has to be taken seriously and everything can be mocked because it's all ultimately silly. It's the itching friction between your constant search for meaning and the universe's total lack of a satisfactory response. That's absurdity.
If you come to this awareness and are able to embrace it, count yourself lucky. Most people never consciously wrestle with this ultimate problem. They either completely ignore it and fill their lives with noise and nonsense in order to drown out the absurd, or they shield themselves inside the cozy bubble of some prepackaged ideology.
If you stare directly into the blinding fact that the universe has no instruction manual, you can either get completely overwhelmed by your utter insignificance and the pains of life and fall into despair, or you can invent a subjective aim for your life and follow your bliss in that direction, or, if you're really daring, you can attempt to remain in that wilderness outside any overarching life purpose, make peace with it, and even laugh at it. But this in itself is a kind of life purpose. The key is to maintain awareness of the absurd no matter what you do with your life.
Laughter is your body's tension release valve. Use it liberally. It's possible to laugh at anything. Maybe some situations require some restraint so as not to offend. But, you can still laugh inwardly. Your sense of humor is often your best defense against despair. It's something you can strengthen like a muscle. You can learn to laugh at all the situations that would otherwise stress you.
But there's no correct response to the absurd. There's no necessity to create a central meaning for your life. That's the agony and the ecstasy of life. You can simply drift like a leaf in the wind. No one can stop you. Your only limits are your tolerances for pain and your own thoughts.
Everything people try to make sense of in the universe is guesswork. All belief systems, religions, and philosophies are built on a foundation of assumed axioms. Science is only the most reliable method of guesswork people have come up with so far. But it's all sort of funny when you stop to think about it: tiny little amoebas squirming around on a blue and green ball trying to make sense of it all. When you catch yourself taking reality too seriously, pause and remind yourself how absurd it is to suffer because of ideas.
Realize how much of your daily life is just noises and pictures in your head. People are skilled at draping layers of abstraction over the universe in order to make life comfortable and interesting. Do you have the courage to look past the mental drapes right in front of your eyes?
To take any people-invented theory too seriously, especially to the point of violently trying to force others to believe in your ideas: that's when it reaches peak absurdity. That's when beliefs can be mocked without mercy. Comedy can help you break out of your normal way of thinking, revealing it to be silly and arbitrary.
Your awareness of the unsolvable puzzle of life might create social conflicts for you because most people never realize the full extent of the dilemma. People (including yourself) are tightly bound to whatever they think they are, to their identity-portrait. But anything you think you are is only a working theory: a bunch of labels you've haphazardly slapped onto your idea of "I" throughout your life. If you question any of the seriousness of life, others might get defensive. It's up to you whether you want to push it further or not. Sometimes a gentle, "How do you know that?" is enough.
Most of all, don't fall into the trap of despair. Lack of convictions doesn't equal lack of contentment. Without hope, without future, without hang-ups, be here now.
Depression is often a loss of perspective, a blinding cloud of fatigue that envelops the brain, preventing it from seeing the possibilities for meaning that are always here waiting for you to take advantage of them. The most skillful response to depression depends on its cause and severity.
For low-level depression, you can sometimes fend it off by dedicating yourself to focusing on the positive no matter how impossible it seems. You're always capable of sitting down with a blank page and listing positive things about your life. It might not help you feel better immediately, but it could slowly turn the ship of your mind back in the positive direction. Could it be worse right now? The answer is always: "Yes." This question could help refocus you on all the positive that depression obscures.
Stand in front of the mirror and force yourself to smile and laugh. Even if you feel dead inside. Sometimes, faking it until you feel that way actually helps you start feeling that way.
Sometimes, depression is trying to tell you something. It could be alerting you to an imbalance in your life. Often, depression is a rational response to overwhelming problems. Are you isolating yourself? Are you eating badly? Are you not exercising? If you can fix those problems, start now and see if depression diminishes. Create daily purpose for your life: small tasks that give you the feeling of progressing towards goals.
Are there events in your past that you haven't completely processed yet? Find the root cause of your depression. When did it start? If there's trauma at the root, face the memories as soon as possible. The longer you try to repress them, the more they fester and metastasize. Face them now, safely, gently, with the help of a trusted listener if you can. Sometimes, the mere act of sharing your inner thoughts, feelings, and memories can initiate the healing process.
Force yourself to do the opposite of what depression is telling you to do. If it tempts you to lie in bed all day, get up immediately. If it tempts you to stay inside, put on your shoes and open the door. Find a natural setting to explore. If it tempts you to isolate yourself, text or call someone right away. You have the power to exorcise depression with your thoughts and behaviors.
Mentally separate yourself from depression by, for instance, thinking of it as a demon temporarily residing in your brain so that it's easier to deal with it. Depression comes in waves, and this wave will pass, too. When it does pass, you'll do everything you can to lessen the impact of the next wave.
Beware of black-and-white thinking. No situation is ever 100% hopeless. That's not how reality works. If you're reading this, you have the potential to improve your situation.
Depression is tempting because, although it feels horrible, it provides you with permission to give up, and that can be an enticing proposition. To give up on life: what an excruciating joy. Depression and nihilism are cousins, black holes sucking in anyone who ventures too close. You have to respond to depression as soon as it first whispers to you. You have to ask yourself: "What would I do if I wanted to move towards depression, and what can I do that'll move me away from it?
Depression is a navigational problem. Keep track of all the activities and thoughts that move you away from it. Collect them like precious jewels. Build a daily schedule around your jewels to keep depression as far away as possible. Experiment. Talk back to your depressed thoughts. You don't have to accept them as truth.
For some severe cases of depression, none of the above suggestions will completely work. Freedom from depression will require some kind of chemical or biological treatment. If you've tried everything else to no avail, seek treatment. If the first treatment doesn't work, which is common, keep seeking. Your unique body requires a unique treatment to recreate balance. Be patient. If you give up, your chances of alleviating your depression are zero. If you keep seeking, you still have a chance.
Depression can be a dark gift. Experiencing it can help you grow more kind towards others because you've explored the depths of suffering and you don't want anyone else to experience what you've gone through. You understand silent suffering, which is so hidden yet so debilitating. If you've survived prolonged depression, you're probably one of the most resilient people alive. You know how to endure, recover, and continue even through the bleakest moments. You're probably more self-aware and emotionally mature than the average person. You're an experienced sailor on the turbulent sea of emotion. You can help others avoid the pitfalls of mental suffering.
You're the self-aware animal, the conscious meat computer. You know you could cease to exist as early as the next minute or as late as decades from now. You know that everything was fine without you for billions of years and will continue to run smoothly for trillions of years after you. You know that the beautiful, ugly pile of cells you call your body is the result of thousands of generations of creatures birthing, copulating, and dying over and over and over for billions of years, every generation becoming more fit to its environment.
Nothing could've prepared you for this, your first time alive, trapped in this body that's both more complex than you can imagine and smaller than you can fathom compared to the nearly infinite void in which you float, surrounded by trillions of stars and rocks, some so far away that you'll never confirm their existence, and some which might harbor creatures similar to yourself.
Meanwhile, your whole body is programmed to survive long enough to pass on your genes, but your brain is skilled at wrapping many elaborate layers of abstraction around this core motivation for living, even creating the illusion of free will to motivate you to act. But life can become more relaxing once you accept this simple core drive at the center of your activities.
Perspective is about summarizing and shrinking the timeline down to a fathomable size so you can see how absurdly insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things.
Perspective is about expanding your knowledge as far, wide, and deep as possible past the biases of your upbringing and psychology while simultaneously acknowledging that you'll never be able to know the vastness of your ignorance.
Perspective is about staying aligned with all the facts and not forgetting where you stand in the chain of existence: infinity to universe to supercluster to galaxy to solar system to planet to life to species to culture to neighborhood to family to body to cells to atoms to quarks to infinity.
Perspective is remembering that where you are is perfect even if it's painful, because there's no alternate reality. The past is only a story. The future is only a mirage. Now is all you have to work with. Enjoy now.
The only constant is change. Why resist the inevitable? Nothing in the universe has a solid, unchanging identity, including you.
You won't remain one person. Whenever you encounter your past self in artifacts and media, you might not even recognize yourself. This'll happen repeatedly. Every 10 years, almost every cell in your body is replaced. Your appearance, daily activities, values, priorities, and friends will all change. This is okay.
Change is natural. Even the universe itself is changing: expanding for eternity. You can't stop the natural unraveling. It's nothing to be afraid of. Your body is well-equipped to handle and adapt to change.
But sometimes you'll resist. You'll want things to stay the same because sameness is comfortable. But, without change, you'd never learn. You'd never grow or be entertained.
You can make friends with change. You can chuckle whenever you notice it. "There you go again," you can say. You can learn to relish in the heart-tugging sensation of nostalgia as your memories age like wine.
The river of change is always flowing. You can either relax, flow with it, and make the best of the flow, or you can waste energy trying to swim upstream.
Building an identity is one way of swimming upstream. Identity is a person's way of grasping after something permanent in a universe where nothing is. It's a tempting strategy. But, if you build your identity out of limited transitory concepts or traits over which you have no control, you're setting yourself up for disappointment and suffering when that foundation inevitably crumbles. You'll also feel compelled to defend your identity whenever any of your self-labels are being attacked. Minimize your identity and save yourself the trouble.
Others build their identity out of stuff. But even the most secure ownership is a temporary illusion. At the moment of death, you'll lose it all. You didn't create any of this, so on what basis do you own it? Only by violence can you enforce your temporary ownership. What are you willing to sacrifice for your stuff?
Cities and nations rise and fall. Families die off. Racial boundaries blur and mix. All of us are related anyways. Sports teams and political parties are ever-evolving, abstract entities. Belongings rust and decay. Bodies wrinkle and sag. Careers end in retirement. Semantic divisions between people are almost always fuzzy and arbitrary.
If you must create an identity, identify yourself in the most eternal, concrete, and comprehensive terms. You're a conscious being, a preference-seeker, a citizen of the universe.
People are streams, not stones. One day, you'll think you know someone, then the next day you'll feel totally baffled by them. This is part of the flow, too. You're a loose pattern that introduces new variations over time. Looking at a person is like looking at a spot in a river. If you come back years later to the exact same spot, it may look unchanged, but the water flowing through it is completely different.
For many, the hardest changes to accept are those caused by aging. People long to live to an old age, then complain when they reach it. They mistake their own weaknesses as inevitable aspects of old age. Respond to aging as you would to an illness: take care of yourself and stay active. Spend time with young, vibrant people. The more active you are, the less you’ll even notice the effects of aging. If you don’t want to lose it, use it. Savor youth while you have it, but when it’s gone, don’t wish it back. There are benefits to every stage of life: the innocence of childhood, the energy of youth, the diligence of adulthood, and the experience of old age.
There'll be times in your life when the velocity of change will frighten you. Then, without warning, there'll be periods of stillness when it seems like nothing will ever change again. Time will speed up and slow down, and your job is to ride the rollercoaster as gracefully as you can without forgetting that it's all temporary and that's what makes it beautiful.
It's only possible for life to arise during an unbelievably tiny fraction of the total age of the universe. The universe isn't about you. You aren't entitled to get what you want. The universe doesn't owe you anything. You're not that important. Nobody is. But everyone is desperately trying to feel important, and this is the powerful motivation behind much of people's daily activities.
It's somehow both funny and sad if you start paying attention to people's behavior through the lens of insignificance, always reminding yourself that all people are doing is either trying to survive, feel good, or feel important. Watch people and wonder: how many of their beliefs and actions are infected by this desire to feel important? Watch yourself and ask the same.
Billions following fairy tale religions, tombstones, thousands cheering at political rallies and sporting events, elaborate birthdays, weddings, holidays, award ceremonies, celebrities vying for attention, people having children, photo albums, children trying to impress their parents, funerals, children rebelling against their parents, soldiers volunteering for war, me writing this, terrorists blowing themselves up, journals and memoirs, philanthropists, buildings named after forgotten people, et cetera - all vain attempts to feel significant. Society spins because people want to be significant.
Every person you've ever heard of is either alive or dead right now. Every person you've ever made eye contact with, talked on the phone with, watched in a show, read about – every acquaintance, friend, classmate, coworker, distant relative, celebrity, stranger in a crowd – all of them are out there somewhere right now. Your brain can't possibly fathom even the tiniest fraction of all the thoughts, emotions, and sensations experienced by all of these people. All of them live (or lived) a life just as important-feeling as yours, yet almost all of them will be forgotten within a few generations after their deaths. You aren't the center of the universe.
People want more than mere purpose. Imagine a god existed and suddenly appeared before you, and you finally had a chance to confirm your life purpose, but god calmly told you that the entire purpose of your life is to file paperwork or some other mundane task. You probably wouldn't be satisfied. You don't want any old purpose in life; you want an important purpose, something you feel is somehow permanently significant to others and/or the universe as a whole.
But, alas, the universe doesn't provide you with such comfort. The more you learn about this place, the harder it is to believe that lasting significance is a helpful concept to hold in your skull. No matter what you do during your lifetime, one day, no one will remember you.
Bodies decompose into dust. Tombstones crumble. Memories and manuscripts fade. Hard drives are destroyed. Entire civilizations are buried deep under the soil or sea where no one will ever find them. Planets are scorched and consumed by expanding suns. The universe will expand into nothingness. This place isn't here for you.
When you notice yourself or someone else struggling for importance, try mentally zooming out from the scene until you're no longer visible in the vastness of space. This visualization might make you smile or help prevent you from suffering because you believed that what's going on here and now is of any ultimate importance. When you zoom out and look at yourself from a cosmic perspective, you realize how absurd your puny efforts are. So much energy spent, and for what?
Some of this floundering about for significance isn't so bad if it contributes to temporary well-being. But many of your desperate attempts probably cause more suffering than pleasure. For instance, is it possible to feel anger or stress if you don't believe in the possibility of ultimate significance?
This realization of the futility of your search for importance doesn't have to depress you. If you fully accept it, it can provide deep relief and relaxation. You're off the hook! Nothing lasts. There's nothing you have to prove with your life. You can do whatever you want and stop forcing yourself to do what you don't want to do.
Even if pondering insignificance causes you temporary feelings of depression, insecurity, or listlessness, that's okay, too, because all of it fades away with time. And maybe, just maybe, you can learn to enjoy it while it lasts.
Free will is an illusion, but that's okay. You already accept that, at any given moment, there are many limits to your freedom imposed on you by physics, chemistry, biology, your psychology, and the manipulation of other people. But, feelings of guilt, shame, and self-judgment indicate that you still underestimate your limitations.
You were shot out of your mother's vagina completely against your will. You didn't choose your DNA, when you were born, where you were born, or your language. For the first few years of your existence, you were barely conscious, and adults made many decisions for you that radically affected your future. They chose your living environment, what you ate and drank, the medical care you received, who you came in contact with, and what kind of education you received.
On top of that, you were born into a universe with a pre-formed set of cultures, laws, beliefs, and practices, some of which you unconsciously adopted as a youngster, and most of which you were forced to conform to in order to survive.
On top of that, you were born into a specific group of individuals called a family that you're legally obligated to obey and live with for a while. They implanted in you some of their beliefs and ways of thinking, perceiving, speaking, and behaving. You may be able to shake off some of this programming as you grow more self-aware, but some of it might be impossible to exorcise from your psychology.
Even as a fully-conscious adult, your thoughts aren't free. They're limited to, and biased by, your past experiences.
Think of a particular city. Which city comes to mind first? Did you choose to think of that city, or did it just pop into your awareness? Why did that city come to mind first rather than any of the other cities? Maybe you were recently thinking about that city, or you've frequently thought about it. Could you have thought of a city you'd never heard of before?
What pops into your awareness at any given time isn't under your control. And it's these spontaneous thoughts that motivate your actions.
Say you're lying in your warm bed on a cold winter morning and debating whether or not you should get up right now. When you finally climb out of bed, what tips you over the edge of that action? Is it a thought that pops randomly into your consciousness? Is it a strong emotion?
If you pay close attention, you'll realize that all thoughts and emotions rise and fall out of your awareness without your consent. They aren't under your control.
Even creative, "original" thoughts are mashups of old ones. You're just recycling other people's ideas and repackaging them in a new way. Most of the time, you're not even aware of your thought process. It's happening automatically in the background. Even if you meditate, pinpoint your inner monologue, and start listening to it, you'll realize it's not actually you who's speaking. The voice in your head is just happening, emerging from a source unknown. And that voice triggers emotions and forges mental habits over the years that lead to behavioral habits that become your life as you know it.
"What about willpower?" you might object. "It seems I can will myself to do things through sheer mental effort, and I chose to develop my willpower over time."
But did you gift yourself the initial potential to start developing willpower? Couldn't your life circumstances have differed in a way that would've prevented, or at least weakened, your potential to develop willpower in the first place? If you'd been born in a coma, you would've had zero potential to develop willpower. Was the potential to build willpower something you installed in your brain at some point, or was it there waiting for you to use?
Everything you might take pride in or feel ashamed about (intelligence, beauty, strength, charisma, discipline, ethics) and every single "decision" is a microscopic link in the enormous causal web attached to you like chains stretching all the way back to the beginning of time.
You're a tiny spark in a massive explosion. You're a drop in the ever-moving ocean. You're a snowflake in an avalanche of unimaginable proportions. You're like a person born in a self-driving car, who grows to believe that every turn of the car is their decision because it's easier than believing that they're a helpless passenger.
If all of this is the case, how can you possibly judge yourself or others or feel shame or guilt? It's difficult to shake the illusion that you're a free decision-maker. Maybe evolution has favored this self-deception as a survival mechanism that prevents self-awareness from driving you insane. Or maybe you act and feel as if you have free choice because it seems more helpful to operate within that belief.
Even if you do have some kind of free will buried deep inside your brain, it must be of minuscule power compared to all the aspects of your life that are completely out of your control. Chances are that, if you're worrying about something, it's out of your control. It's absurd to feel guilty about things you can't control.
Judging yourself is only helpful when comparing yourself to your own standards. You can treat feelings of self-judgment as a warning notification that reminds you to re-evaluate your core values and make sure your actions are in alignment with them. Do you value honesty but find yourself lying? Then it makes sense to judge yourself and try to adjust your behavior accordingly. But your values and standards are flexible. You can change them if you find them unhelpful.
People's judgments of you are completely irrelevant unless you want something from them like money, sex, or approval. Would you hesitate to reveal your darkest secrets to a cat? No, because you know that the cat's judgments could have no impact on your present or future well-being.
You're afraid that the negative judgments of others are going to somehow cause you suffering, which usually isn't the case. Or you're afraid they're correct, in which case you have some self-examination to do. But if their judgments are wrong, what do you have to fear?
In some cases, a little fear of judgment is justified. If you're in a job interview, the interviewer's judgments could lose you a potential job, which could directly impact your well-being. But, 99% of the judgments you'll ever experience will have zero or negligible impact on your future well-being, so you can safely ignore them.
If someone criticizes something you've done, ask them if they've done it better. If yes, then ask them how and learn something. If no, then ignore them.
Sometimes, your guilt might be existential. Maybe you feel guilty that you're wasting your life or not living up to your full potential. Because of the sheer number of possibilities for your life, you can feel paralyzed by the possibilities. But remind yourself that no one's watching your life. There's no audience, no cosmic judge, no final judgment. Your life doesn't have to be useful, interesting, or meaningful. You can simply exist and enjoy existence. Or not. But, don't waste your one life feeling guilty for imaginary sins.
True freedom is awareness of your limitations. If the universe has brought you to these words right here, you have the opportunity to relax in this awareness, laugh, surrender, enjoy the moment you now have, and not fret about the options you don't have.
Maybe you're capable of this awareness. Maybe not. That's the beauty of it: you don't have to worry about convincing yourself. You'll either cross the threshold of belief or you won't. It's completely out of your hands. But this awareness doesn't necessitate despair. You can simply watch your life happening with a detached curiosity and try to enjoy the show.
Certain activities, places, pieces of art, moments, chemicals, smells, and qualities of light rip through the veil of your patterned brain or make it transparent for an eternal second, allowing you to catch a glimpse past your everyday perceptions, seeing something beyond, something holy and unspeakable, balancing a memory on the tip of your consciousness, coming home again.
The sublime invokes a pleasurable horror, a feeling that there's something out there just beyond the grasp of your senses that is hyperreal, everpresent, powerful beyond measure, and refreshingly ultimate. The sublime is this visceral connection to the ancient sinews of reality. Seek it out. Follow your bliss towards it. Follow the feelings of featherweight vigor. Reconnect to the source.
Many religions seem to contain a seed of the sublime, but they suffocate that seed by attempting to explain it.
Don't allow your daily patterns to blur the connection completely. Don't allow the limitations of language, culture, thoughts, and all the programming to calcify your heart and tempt you to take life for granted, freezing yourself inside the iceberg of 100% certainty about what you think reality is and who you think you are. This is the rust that corrodes your innocence, the seriousness that spearheads suffering.
Reserve a little room in your heart for this remembering, this spark of hope, this hidden magic that only you can fully translate. Find the place where you can remove the day-to-day mask and simply be.
You fear death even though death will be the end of your fears. You act as if death is the last experience in your life when it's neither an experience nor is it "in" your life. Dying is an experience, but not death. Death is ______. An anti-experience. You don't know what death is, so how can you be afraid of it? You're afraid of what you imagine death to be. You're afraid of your imagination.
Death is the most predictable event, but, when someone dies, people have the arrogance to act surprised. It's somewhat silly to even talk about your own death because you have no good reason to think that you'll be there to experience it. As far as you can observe, when someone dies, the brain shuts off, the body stops functioning, and the personality ceases.
The nearly universal fear of death seems to be a relic of your evolutionary past, a fear necessary to survive long enough to reproduce. If your ancestors hadn't had the fear, you probably wouldn't be here. But your fear is overblown.
Some try to repress the fear, which helps it grow stronger, and then they're shocked every time they encounter death. Others obsess over death and allow the fear to paralyze them. Others blindly follow their biological programming to reproduce, either literally or by some other means, such as leaving behind ideas, a legacy, or possessions, as if those efforts will guarantee them immortality. Others kill their reason and believe in stories about heaven, hell, nirvana, or reincarnation told by people who will also die. Behind every afterlife, there’s the fearful thought: “We can’t just be animals, can we?”
They grasp at ghosts: anything to reassure them that they won't end. You fear the end of who you think you are, the end of the story you've been carefully crafting, the demise of your imagined self. Yet, you voluntarily shut off your consciousness, without fear, every single night when you sleep.
Consider how hellish immortality would be. Alive for infinity. No escape. No one would want that. What you really want is to choose exactly when you die. But that's something that the limits of this universe don't allow.
If you want to do something productive with your natural fear of death, spend time working to extend life or reduce suffering. People could possibly figure out how to stop accidental death entirely. But, even if this happened, you'd still have the possibility of killing yourself. So knowing your stance towards death will always be relevant.
It's useful to keep suicide in the back of your brain, occasionally reminding yourself that the option is there if you need it. Making friends with suicide seems more helpful than cowering away from the idea. There's nothing wrong with rational suicide. Your life could turn in such a way that ending it would be your best option. You could think through all of your possible futures and conclude that there's nothing left for you except more suffering. In those rare cases, it makes sense to end the show before you reach that wall of inevitable suffering. Continuing would be pointless. Why needlessly suffer?
Maybe you worry about loved ones that would be hurt by your death, but do you think someone who truly loves you would want you to endure suffering for their pleasure? Most of your sadness at the death of a loved one is selfish. You don't like not having access to them anymore. But, ultimately, your life doesn't belong to anyone else, and you're not responsible for others' reactions to your death. It's going to happen. There are only two options: you die first or the other person does.
Society tends to heroize individuals who stubbornly carry on, despite an immense amount of avoidable and perpetual suffering, only to die in the end. Why? The problem is that most people who commit suicide do it out of ignorance, impulsiveness, and emotion. The reason people believe most suicides are tragedies is because they think the person had options for future enjoyment if they'd stuck with it, tried something different, or gotten help.
Many times, that's the case. People are short-sighted when they're emotional. There are brain-states people can fall into that prevent them from seeing their possibilities. You can't understand what it's like to be in a particular mental space until you're actually in it. Maybe if that was you, you'd have pulled the trigger, too. Maybe no amount of intervention would've prevented that person's future misery. You'll never know. All you can know is your current mental state.
There's a chance you'll someday be faced with unbearable suffering. It doesn't hurt to think of suicide as suffering insurance rather a "coward's way out." Isn’t it more likely that the true coward is the person who's so afraid of death that they continue living despite years of easily avoidable misery? Making peace with suicide can help you relax, enjoy life more, and be more present and authentic.
You can quit this game any time, and there are several simple, relatively painless ways to do that. Anyone can hang themselves, put a bag over their head, or jump off a tall place. It's easy. That's why there's no sense getting obsessed with it. But, most times, the best strategy to adopt towards suffering is to wait and see what happens next. Be curious about the future. Experiment with different modes of living. You can always die later.
Practice dying before you die. Every time you experience loss, you can use it as an opportunity to practice the kind of acceptance you want to experience during your future dying process. Meditating on the paradox of death can also sharpen the brain because you can't imagine nonexistence. Anything you could imagine wouldn't be nonexistence. Relax into this paradox.
The other paradox about contemplating death is that it can deepen your appreciation of the present moment. It can remind you that youth is wasted on the young. Try to waste it a little less.
But don't become morbid. Overemphasis on death can be a hindrance if you overindulge. Every future-thought is a deceptive mirage of the brain. Every fantasy of an afterlife or a life before birth draws your attention away from the present moment: the only moment you'll ever actually have.
Who am I?
When people represent themselves, they show a fractured mask. They create a character made up of fragments of their personality that they deem likable or advantageous to them, glue these fragments together into a mask, and present this conglomeration to their audience with an implicit: "Look who I am. Do you approve?"
People tend to focus on differences in order to make themselves feel special and unique. I'd like to focus instead on what everybody has in common.
You and I are both thinking, conscious creatures. You and I were both born, and we'll both die. You and I both experience pleasure and suffering. What else do you need to know?
I've arranged for my entire personal journal to be uploaded to this page when I die. Until then, you can experience me through my other writings, which I started on November 9 2016, and last updated on April 24 2019.