Becoming Overhuman

Ascension to greatness

Trigger people vs. triggered people

Some things you’ll do exclusively when a certain person (or thing) is nearby, even if you don’t usually do this thing. If you’re into self improvement, for example, you might be working on not letting your ego control your actions. And so, as time goes by, you get better and better, and your ego is very small. Sometimes it peers from somewhere and tries to say something, but you are mindful enough to be able to notice it and ignore it. But. There is this one person, situation, thing, whatever – that has the ability to get your ego out of you and, at least temporarily, make it do things. These people are trigger people, as they trigger certain unwanted behaviors in you. This can be ego, but it can also be any other sort of thing you usually don’t do (because you’ve worked on it), like any sort of addiction, anger, sadness, etc.

Basically, what you want in life is to be a trigger person to others, but not to be triggered by anyone. An exception can be made for people that trigger positive things in you, things you want to cultivate. If you are positively triggered, I would keep that connection. But generally, you really don’t want to ever allow this sort of thing. Obviously, we are all primed by our environment to a larger extent than what we acknowledge, but still. Ideally, you want to be as independent as possible, and you want the qualities you’ve cultivated to last even in adverse conditions. In other words, it’s one thing to be calm and relaxed when things are going well; the whole point is to have that same calm while things are not going well!

So, if it ever happens to you that you behave differently than you would normally, and it always happens with this one person, this one situation, this one thing – remember this article! Don’t do the thing anyway! If you’re trying to be more zen in life, then being more zen applies even in these situations. In fact, it applies even more in these situations than in regular, everyday life. Depending on the thing you’re trying to solve, a wise course of action could be simply to remove these trigger people from your life entirely. If you’re a drug addict, that’s probably the best thing you can do for yourself. But if you have a realistic shot at actually overcoming this obstacle, for example if you’re always anxious when you go to work even though you’re generally trying to be less anxious… I would not advise you to quit your job. You’d be better off having learned not to be anxious instead of simply running away from the issue.

Ultimately, the goal is Shoshin – the beginner’s mind. The goal is to always be open, doing the same things just as if you were doing them for the first time, every time you did them. Not bringing any emotional baggage. Just seeing how things are and not being compelled to react to them.

Quick! Solve your emotional problems now!

It is commonly recognized that if you have emotional, spiritual or psychological problems (NOT mental health issues – things like losing faith, or not being sure which career path to take, or noticing that you’re not anymore in love with your partner), they take some time.

I argue that we give them too much time.

This area of human psychology is fragile, so advice is often kind and “soft”, but we often completely ignore the fact that most problems shouldn’t take that long to solve. Here, decision paralysis reigns supreme. Hey, don’t you talk to me like that, don’t you know how I feel, don’t you understand that I’m in pain, recognize that I am suffering emotionally- STOP.

Pain is real, suffering is real and these problems are very real. I am not saying: “Just pretend they’re not there”. No. You should definitely take care of them, first, because you should generally take care of bad things in your life, and second, these problems are beneath an Overhuman.

But adopt the habit of asking this question whenever you feel stressed, bummed out and insecure: is this a problem that I could, at least in principle, solve more quickly than I am doing now?

Ask yourself that question. Could you, if you tried, solve it quickly? Sometimes the answer will be no, but it is still important to ask, because in most cases, the answer is a definite yes. Don’t play a role, play to win.

Playing a role mindset: this is a bad situation and I am supposed to suffer some undetermined (but relatively long) quantity of time, after which I may or may not find a solution/enlightenment.

Playing to win mindset: this is a bad situation. How can I solve it in the quickest, most effective way possible? If unsolvable, what can I do to minimize the amount and time of suffering and what can I do to get into a position of being able to solve it?

I look at it like this. We all get lost from time to time. Most of us find a way to somewhere, somehow. But for most people, it just takes too fucking long to reorient. You don’t need to spend a year contemplating your life’s purpose to find it. You don’t need to spend an additional two months in a bad relationship. Recognize this: at some point, you WILL reorient. No question about it. Nobody gets stuck forever. But if you know that you will reorient, why not do it more quickly?

Powerful and Powerless

(I haven’t yet read Robert Greene’s “48 laws of power”, it’s on my reading list; these are just some things that I’ve been thinking about)

Power is not binary

It’s not a question of having or not having power, but having less or more of it. Imagine you’re renting an apartment. Who has power here, you or the landlord? You provide the landlord with a steady inflow of money. Not only that, but you, if you’re a good tenant, provide the landlord with a sense of security: they know that they’ll both get the money every month and that the apartment will not be ruined in some way. So you could argue that it is you, the tenant, that has the power.

On the other hand, the name landlord doesn’t have “-lord” in it for no reason; indeed, the landlord is the owner and they have the possibility of your eviction in their hands (generally you’re protected by law not to be evicted immediately, but still). Obviously, the landlord is the possessor of power in this situation.

So who really has the power?

Answer: both of you have relative amounts of power to one another. Power is not binary, power is a quantity that can be distributed in a binary fashion, but usually isn’t. You wield some power over the landlord and the landlord wields some power over you. Sometimes you have more, sometimes they have more.

Forms of power

What is power, actually? Let’s arbitrarily define power as “good probability (>50%) that what you want actually will happen”. So, by this definition, power can come in many forms and the only thing that matters is that it brings >0.5 probability of you achieving your goals, seeing your plans to fruition.

Here are some forms of power that I can think of (there are probably others too):we-can-do-it-rosie-the-riveter-wallpaper-2

  • money
  • influence
  • strong character
  • knowledge
  • technology
  • numbers (of people)

 

So, let’s revisit the apartment example again. Let’s say you’re paying 1700 a month for the privilege of living in another person’s space (doesn’t matter which currency, I’m using arbitrary numbers). Let’s also say that your total earnings per month are usually around 4000. So, you have 2300 left to cover the bills, food and other spending. Say that it takes 800 for the bills. You now have 1500. Food, around 1200. You have 300 for any other spending (not a lot, you have to make ends meet, but you regularly survive). You are person A.

Person B, on the other hand, earns twice as much – 8000 per month. After all your costs, person B still has 4300 left to spend, enough to rent another apartment simultaneously.

It is recognizable that person B has more power than person A, but it is not immediately clear why this is so. I’ll explain.

Say your landlord starts giving you a hard time; maybe they’re broke and need to squeeze out the money, or they simply smell that you’re not really powerful. They start to demand earlier payments every month; when the equipment in the apartment breaks down, they refuse to pay for the repairs and insist you do it; they ask for advance rent payments; in short, they become very needy and demanding and “unreasonable” (funny word that – generally it’s used if you don’t have power to say no).

What does person A do? They submit, and submit, and submit, because they know that even if they find another apartment at this cost, which is unlikely, they’ll still get in the same sort of situation (a landlord that’s more powerful and demands things). And also all the hassle with moving and trying to earn a living at the same time… It’s easier to submit to the ever growing demands and small pokes and prods than to leave this increasingly abusive situation.

Person B? Hah! Person B says to the landlord at the first sight of “unreasonable” demands: “No.”

Just no. No explaining. No nothing. No.

Person B, you see, doesn’t care. Person B doesn’t try to make things work out for everyone and cooperate and compromise, because person B has enough money on their account to be able to simply say “no.” What’s the result? The landlord doesn’t even try to milk out more money because they know that they’ll lose a good tenant that gives them a steady inflow of money and a sense of security.

But did you see what just happened here? Both tenants were good tenants that provided the landlord with money and security, but only B had the possibility (>0.5) to leave. So person A has less power than the landlord, and B has more, simply because B has more options – in the form of more money.

All this serves to drive in a key lesson that I am learning: do your best to get (enough) power. This is a top-level priority. There will be kind people that will not turn to predators when they smell that you’re not strong, but the world generally doesn’t function like that, I think. Lions attack the weakest buffaloes. Street thugs attack the weakest victims. School bullies bully the weakest kids.

If you see the world as a battle between good and evil, you know that the battle will only be won if the good guys are stronger than the bad guys. So if you want to do good in the world, you have a moral obligation to get more power. Being powerless just gives more power to the evil tyrant, to the rapist, to the bully, to the corporation that puts toxic chemicals in children’s toys, to the landlord that doesn’t want to pay for repairs, to the policeman that beats on peaceful protesters. Don’t shy away from power, saying “Power corrupts!” Instead, get power and find some way in which you won’t get corrupted by it. Yes, power can corrupt, and you should be careful not to become one of the people you despise, but not all people with power are evil scum – be like them! Be Albus Dumbledore, not Voldemort. Be Luffy, not Doflamingo. Be Sherlock, not Moriarty.

Powermongering for World Optimization: the Minimal Guide for Good People

  • Money: options. More money, more options. How to get more money? (1) Be more valuable to other people and, ideally, (2) be a master of some thing. A cook is valuable (and paid), a better cook more valuable (and more paid) and a master cook is the most valuable of all (and has more money than all). Mastery, if done right, will mean a lot of money.
  • Influence: manipulation. If you know your practical psychology well, you will be able to make other people do what you want them to do. Read Influence by Cialdini. (Also, fame sometimes equals influence, but not always.)
  • Strong character: power recognition. Don’t be a weakling that feels powerless despite the fact that you actually do have power. If you are person B, don’t be anxious about your landlord giving you a hard time – you are in a position of power, recognize it.
  • Knowledge: currency of power. The more you know, the more you can exchange this knowledge into other forms of power. You could know a lot about influence and become influential. You could know some information and exchange it for money. You could know BJJ and pin some attacker to the ground. If power is the product, then knowledge is the currency with which you buy it.
  • Technology: the counter to other powers. In a world of knives, a gun makes all the difference. Tech can give you an otherwise unobtainable upper hand. If you went alone against a hundred Viking warriors, you would definitely be killed. Unless if you had an atomic bomb. Then you, alone, would beat a hundred armed warriors. Whenever you can have technology, or just learn it and use it, you should.
  • Numbers: the primal form of power. Sometimes, a lesser force will beat a bigger one. But often, it will not. If you can count on a lot of people, either for some sort of conflict or just as help, you will be a very powerful person indeed.

Power doesn’t flow from “could-happen” ideas

When the bully pins your head to the window of the bus and you’re all alone with him, you might be thinking “I could kill him. I could make an evil and ingenious plot and take his life. I could get him to- OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH PLEASE STOP”.

Stop speaking or thinking nonsense. Power only comes from things that can actually happen. You know that you’re not going to kill anyone, despite your fantasies. The bully is powerful and you are weak. You can, in fact, obtain more power and thwart the bully: you can read books on influence and make his life really ugly by using Slytherin skills; you can earn money and pay someone bigger to beat him up; you can learn boxing and break his nose; you can get a couple of friends and collectively beat him up etc.

But dreaming up things that you’ll never ever ever do is just fantasy, and you are trying to put yourself into a position of power based on fantasy. Wrong. Don’t do that. Instead, recognize who has power, in which amount, and then do what is necessary to obtain more power. You don’t have to become the bully yourself, but you have to have enough power not to be bullied.


How do you think about power? Are you a powerful person or are you powerless? Leave a comment! I know I’m slowly getting to more power, but I originally come from a victim-mentality, zero-power personality, so I have a longer road than some. But you know, you gotta do the work, and do it every day…

The metaphors of life you have are the only thing you have in life 

Recently, I overheard a conversation on the bus. Two girls were talking about how difficult it was for them to live with their parents now that they go to college. They said that their parents seemed more crazy every day because now they (the girls) were more mature and spent less time home. One girl talked about how her mother calls her every morning before she goes to class and asks her if she ate, gets her reply (“No, I’m not hungry.”) and then starts complaining on the phone: “You have to eat before class. You cannot not eat, it’s important that you eat.” And then she said to her friend how sad her parents seem now, and how she calls her mom here and there, asks her what she’s doing and gets a lethargic, sad report along the lines of: “Well… *sigh*… Nothing. You know. The usual. Your dad and I, we’re home, in the kitchen.” It seems that her parents spend most of their days now sitting in the kitchen, occasionally talking to one another, without much to say, more or less bored and lethargic and sad.

The girl was annoyed/incredulous that they lead their existence in such a way, but didn’t feel like she could help them and just felt kind of… sorry for them.

This conversation got me thinking about how her parents must see their lives as opposed to how certain other people see life, which reminded me of maybe the most valuable lesson I learned during my college education, something that was mentioned as a standard part of the Semantics class, and to which nobody seemed to be freaking out, or at least find it revolutionary, or even interesting: HUMANS UNDERSTAND LIFE THROUGH METAPHOR.

Everything in your life is a metaphor

Metaphors like “Life is an ocean” or “Love is a flower” or “Man is a wolf” are not just poetic devices. They are not just to be used in literature, as a nice and innovative way to compare things. We very literally think IN METAPHOR. We actually conceptualize the world around us using other things we already know. Lakoff and Johnson have a fine paper on this, if anyone wants to read it (at least read the examples so you get the picture).

We think in metaphor and we talk in metaphor. And we see our own lives in metaphor. You will have very different attitudes and do different things if you view your life as a train journey, opposed to your life being a wild, vast ocean. You could have many more metaphors. Maybe you see yourself as a wildfire, burning bright and consuming everything around you, becoming greater and greater. And maybe you see yourself as a forest: you provide wood, food, shelter to those in need, and you are deep, mysterious, and not easily traversed and known.

DO YOU SEE HOW IMPORTANT IT IS WHICH EXACT METAPHOR OR METAPHORS RULE YOUR LIFE?

You will do different things!

Someone that sees themselves as a lion will not do the same thing that see themselves as a miner stuck in a mine (I’ve heard both).

A lion will take risks, a lion will be aggressive, a lion will be territorial, a lion will be spontaneous and will be “true to himself” (whatever that may be), a lion will be a leader, a lion will not flinch from drawing blood, a lion will enter conflicts, a lion will fight, a lion will see other lions as competition, and everybody else will be seen as gazelle (inferior, food source).

Do you see how differently this person behaves in life than a miner stuck in a mine?

A miner stuck in a mine sees a hole through which light shines, but he is currently surrounded by darkness. This miner has to be slow, methodological and consistent. He cannot take stupid risks because he will die. He must slowly and carefully dig day in and day out, being meticulous, being diligent. He must work hard every day, and every day that hole is a bit bigger, and every day he is a bit closer to the light, and every day he comes closer to his goal.

Lions will make different choices in the same situations as miners. Our metaphors of life and of ourselves are the only thing we have in life.

It is possible to think about your life in more than one way, of course. Maybe you are sometimes a lion, sometimes an unmovable mountain, sometimes a card-player, sometimes a mysterious forest.

The parents of the girl from the beginning of this text certainly don’t see themselves as two wildfires, quick to consume everything on their path, becoming greater and burning brighter every day. More likely they see themselves as beds, or homes, or cradles. wildfireHow different (and probably more interesting) their lives would be if only they saw themselves in another metaphor! Instead of being a (currently unused) home for their children, why not see themselves as heroes and wizards, slaying dragons and searching for magical powers? They would not sit idly in the kitchen, leading a bored existence, and their daughter would not see them as flowers that need her care and attention.

It makes a lot of sense to pay special attention to your metaphors of life and self. You really will make different choices, depending on how you see yourself and life, as well as others around you.

Metaphors in rhetoric

Different metaphors of life are often the reason why some people absolutely cannot understand each other. Sometimes changing someone’s perspective is as simple as giving them a different metaphor (doesn’t have to be true): “What do you mean refugees are going to destroy this country? (person has metaphor of country as something pure, untainted) This land is a complex organism, and yes, we might be a little shaken up by something new, but when you get sick from one disease, you get an immunity to it, and then you’re stronger than before! (person now sees refugees as something that will strengthen the country instead of weakening it)”

Of course, it is not always so simple, but it is surprising how strongly swayed people will be. Inception, that’s what it is. You’ve planted a different picture in their heads now, and they cannot get rid of it. Maybe they still won’t change their opinion, but this is a formidable tactic in rhetoric. (Be extra careful not to get caught with it yourself; false analogy is an enemy).


What are the metaphors of your life? Are you a mysterious forest? Are you a noble knight? Is your life a journey or is it an ocean? Are your fellow men wolves or sheep?

Don’t simply find out what your metaphors are. Try to think critically about them. How do they influence you? Would you like to make different choices, lead a different lifestyle, but you cannot because your metaphor stops you?

Leave a comment.

Or don’t, if you’re a mysterious forest. Go listen to some Lana del Rey.

Anxiety: a guide for destruction

anxiety /aŋˈzʌɪəti/
noun
1. a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.
If you’re a human being, it’s highly likely that you’ve experienced the feeling of anxiety: the nagging little worry that crops up now and then and you can feel it, physically feel it in your body how it twists your guts and how you have the strong urge to do something but you’re completely out of focus so you don’t know what and you start talking and you think a lot but your thoughts are less and less organized and you cannot stop and it goes and it goes and you don’t perceive anything anymore and you’re just very nervous and want to go to sleep and not think anymore but you want to do something AND YOUR MIND IS STILL GOING AND YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO AND YOU DON’T KNOW IF YOU SHOULD DO ANYTHING AND YOU’RE JUST GETTING MORE AND MORE ANXIOUS AND MORE AND MORE STRESSED AND OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG
Well, if you haven’t experienced it, good for you. If you don’t experience it on a regular basis, I am glad. I, on the other hand, do experience anxiety every now and then but, luckily, the frequency has dropped dramatically. I believe it has to do with all the work I’ve invested into self-mastery and getting myself rid of unproductive things – like anxiety.
I would like to share with you some of the key ideas you should consider if you seriously intend to stop your anxiety and get a rein over yourself.
Let’s first ask ourselves: what is it that causes anxiety? (Or what highly correlates with anxiety, what the main “parts” that make up anxiety are , what is the mechanism of anxiety?)
Here are things that come to mind when considering anxiety:
  • uncertainty with regards to the future
  • worrying about what people think of you
  • fear of authority
  • lack of control in life (or perceived lack of control)
  • unconscious thought patterns
  • lack of self-confidence and contentedness

All these things could cause anxiety, so, to us, they provide attack angles for the destruction of anxiety. This is what we will do to it, so let’s meet the enemy.

We will systematically go through the key components of anxiety, going in detail with every one and we will discuss what it is most people do wrong, why it is important not to do it wrong and we will see what we can do to stop doing these things wrong.

1. UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE FUTURE

It is a very pervasive thought pattern – people get very stressed because they just don’t KNOW what’s going to happen in their lives. And this uncertainty can happen because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next five minutes or next five years. The problem with this whole thing is that it’s based on a flawed premise – that you should be certain about the future.

There is no reason that we should believe that future is something we should be certain about. History shows us, century after century, year after year, generation after generation, war after war – that changes are inevitable in every society and every culture. Change is the only constant. These changes don’t have to big social or cultural swings, they can be little personal things – ask your parents about their lives and try to count all the unpredictable changes they had to make, all the deviations from a plan they might have had.

You see, we tend to have this outlook on life that things have “closure”, that at some point you achieve “security”. You follow a script – you go to school, then to college, then you get a job, then you find someone to marry and have children with, then you buy a house together, then you go in retirement and then you die. You get a job and you feel like you have “security”… Your life is now safe. You have closed a chapter in your life. You did what you were supposed to do. You bought a car. You sent your kid to a good school. Secure. Safe. Untouched. “Just living your life.”

I hate to break it to you, but that’s bullshit. It’s a story plot, and you don’t get any true wisdom in life if you just follow story plots instead of trying to figure out how the world really works. And how it works is this: we survive.

You do what you need to do to survive. That’s it. Some do it smarter, some do it stupidly, but we all essentially do this one thing. The survival of the species, the highest imperative. Yeah, some get lulled into this sense of security because, to them, there is no danger. But the danger is always there, lurking somewhere in the distance – or at least it seems to be in the distance, and then you find your whole world upside down when you finally understand that the danger wasn’t that far away.

You see, if you were a gazelle or some such animal, you would understand the frailty of your own life and the web of uncertainty around it. You would know that you could die at every moment. You would understand that there are lions. If you were a smart gazelle, you would take precautions about this, but this feeling would still be lurking somewhere. And you would have to accept it as a normal, everyday occurrence – the prospect of dying a violent death. Lions would be your reality.

We humans have through the ages been trying to build buffer nets so that we don’t feel this danger. And the difference between humans from 600 years ago and the humans now is in the quantity of buffer nets we built. Today, we have two worlds: the “developed” and the “developing”. (I mean, both are developing actually, it’s not like the West is like “done, we did it, great job, no need to see any more progress”, but that’s another thought and probably not for this blog.) The people of the developed nations enjoy this buffer net – they face no lions. For that reason, and for that reason alone, they seem to think that there really are no lions. And yes, it is perfectly plausible that they won’t face lions anytime soon, but is it wise to act as if these lions were not there at all?

lion-hunting-5I mean… Can you IMAGINE a fucking gazelle just acting as if there were no lions around it? Can you imagine that shit? Of course you can’t. It seems absurd. Well, it’s equally absurd if you swap gazelles for humans and lions for any of the myriad of possible dangers man can face.

But many of us live in these buffers and we forget. Some are more protected, some less.

 

 

 

I mean, there’s nothing bad about being in a buffer. The buffer means protection. The bad thing is when you forget that you’re in a buffer. The bad thing is when you start assuming the buffer OUGHT to be there and that you DESERVE it. You don’t deserve anything. Life is danger. Life is lions.

mobility

An example of a person that is so deep in this safe buffering bubble that the only danger he faces is falling out of a fucking mobility scooter.

If you’re not sure how this helps your anxiety – after all, I’ve just increased your uncertainty about the future – this is what I am trying to say:

It’s a stupid idea that we have to be certain about the future. What we need to do instead is embrace the uncertainty and learn how to live with it.

This is important, because a certainty-mindset will always get you anxiety and you will not change quickly in face of changing circumstances. Life is not a certain thing, its standard mode of operating is continuous change and just throwing you around. Think about it like an ocean: yeah, there are certain rules to the ocean, and you have some predictive power over some things in the ocean, and you know that there are hot and cold currents, and you know what species live in the ocean. If you happen to be floating in the ocean, your knowledge of it might help you get somewhere, but you won’t for one second intend to predict how the ocean is moving. It will seem too chaotic, too overwhelming. You’ll float around, try to orient, make a mental plan of action, try to catch a current and you’ll jump at opportunities to save yourself, to survive. You’ll just kinda float and flow with the opportunities the ocean – that is, life – provides you.

Now, let me give you some practical, actionable material so that you may learn to live with uncertainty, instead of fearing it and closing yourself in a bubble and hoping for the best:

The 5 tools for thriving in uncertainty

This is the best article I’ve ever read on the topic of living in uncertainty. Read it, bookmark it and then read it again every now and then – I know I do.

2. WORRYING ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK OF YOU

One big source of anxiety is simply having a feeling of being judged by the tribe. We humans are pretty much hardwired social animals and our drive to belong to a group is very strong. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective – that is precisely the reason we survived danger in early technological and social stages. You keep with your group and the chances are you’ll survive. That’s why even highly rational people sometimes seem to blank out and just do what everybody else is doing – it’s a very strong pattern of behavior in humans, coded somewhere deep under the layer of consciousness.

Now, it maybe makes sense to ask the question: “Well, if it is what served the species to survive, is it really a good idea to discard it now? Have the circumstances of the species changed so much?” I don’t know what would happen if everyone on Earth suddenly went full individual and quit worrying about the tribe, but I’d wager it would be like a big festival, instead of an extinction event.

The first resource you need will be this: an in-depth, well written and humorous article on how and why this tribal anxiety comes up.

Taming the Mammoth.

Now, the second resource is Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4-hour workweek”, specifically the comfort challenges he proposes in it. Why is this a valuable resource? Because by doing these uncomfortable things repeatedly and revisiting them every now and then, you insure yourself against your “mammoth brain” taking over. If you want to feel more free, less judged, less caring about the tribe around, do these challenges. They are also important because they actually make you DO something and this is a type of problem people usually only reflect upon, but don’t act upon. You act.Some of the comfort challenges are as follows:

  • For two days, say no to any and all requests. This one is very powerful in that you learn to deprogram yourself from the very automatic “Yeah, sure!” and then wondering why you accepted. (Answer: you accepted the request because you probably want to please others and fit in.) Saying no to every request (job-related or personal) is going to teach you to be strong and to set boundaries. Of course, you won’t be able to say no to all requests; after all, there are some job-related requests that will result in you getting fired if you refuse them. However, the majority of requests forced upon us is by no means resulting in immediately getting fired. Say no even though it’s uncomfortable – remember, it’s a comfort challenge. Don’t try to explain yourself too much – the shorter the more powerful. These are some of your options: “no”, “sorry, no”, “I can’t”, “Gladly, but not now”. Remember: the point is not to do or not do a specific task; the point is to say no to whatever. When you’re training to box on a bag, the point is not to destroy the bag, but to get in enough good reps in your muscle memory. That’s what you’re doing right now: training yourself.
  • Lie down in a public place. This one is a shame generator because you do a weird thing in front of a lot of people and then you behave like nothing happened. Shame is a very strong evolutionary heritage that kept the tribe a single, cohesive unit, but it is damaging for the individual. Expose yourself to doing something the tribe doesn’t do; receive shame; learn not to care about shame anymore. Simply lie down somewhere, in a café, a mall, on the main square, in a bus, in your college building. Lie down somewhere randomly and keep there for 30 seconds. Maybe people ask you why you did it: you can explain that you’re doing a comfort challenge or you can just ignore the question, that’s up to you.
  • Don’t break eye contact. For, let’s say, a week, do not break eye contact with other people before they do it. This is easiest with friends because you know them and it is much harder with strangers, especially if they look intimidating. Simply look people in the eye when speaking to them and do not look away until they have done so first. If you get caught up in a staring contest, okay, more uncomfortable, but simply force yourself to continue. When passing other people on the street, create eye contact and keep it until they look away. If you happen to look at someone that also doesn’t want to break eye contact (maybe they’re also going through the comfort challenges), a simple smile goes a long way to defuse the situation. A stare-down is an aggressive display, so you better smile if you don’t want to fight.

There are also some other valuable comfort challenges in the book, but I found these three most empowering.

The whole point of this entire paragraph is that you force yourself to do the things you want to do, despite having pressure from your peers.

3. FEAR OF AUTHORITY

One significant source of anxiety is good old fear of authority. It does make sense: when you’re conditioned to respect authority for some 18 or 20 years, sometimes even more (that is, from your birth to the time you break away from your parents) you usually have this authority-respecting neural pathway really well trodden. That is simply a way you operate. Many studies have shown that grown up people behave like authority fearing children – one of the most noted was the Milgram experiment.

This might be the most difficult to solve because we have a lot stacked against us:

  • Firstly, you simply have some 20 years of psychological conditioning to respect authority, and to make matters worse, this conditioning takes place during a very receptive part of one’s life. You might not have had authoritative parents, but there was still a time you ate what you were given, you read what you were given, you did what you were told to do, you went to bed when you were told… Authority doesn’t have to mean a whip or a stick. It can simply mean that you didn’t get to decide about your life.
  • Victim mentality or victim mode. This is related to the previous point. Victim mode is a mode of thought in which a person doesn’t feel like he or she is in control. The best way that I can think of to explain what victim mentality is, is this: it’s when life happens to you, instead of you happening to life. A victim mode person will usually not feel empowered enough to fight authority.
  • Pure unawareness. Oftentimes, people don’t even know that they have issues with regards to authority. This goes to the lack of awareness we’ll touch upon in the following paragraphs.

What’s good is that we already have a partial solution: anxiety from authority is just another type of anxiety from the tribe. You can use the solutions from the previous paragraph and it’ll get us a long way, but you have to get specific in addressing your problems – how to get rid of fear of authority.

One thing I used to do and still do is not buy a ticked for the bus or the train. Then, when the ticket controllers come, I would refuse to give them my ID, and they couldn’t write me a fine. This is a simple exercise where you are met with authority (the ticket controller) and you defy it on several different levels. Note that the point here is by no means saving money or something similar. The only point of this is to actually get into a semi-conflict and refuse to cooperate with a pressing authority. In other words, you can even buy the ticket, but what’s important is that you say you don’t have it, refuse to show it and then refuse to give ID or whatever is required of you.

The ticket controllers are a very easy source of authority compared to the police, the military and the like, and so they are a good training ground. However, where you live might not offer you this opportunity – maybe your infrastructure makes it impossible, or you simply don’t use public transport. I would not advise to resist police officers. That is, do what you think will train you, but be aware of the power relations that exist. For example, a private security guard does not have a lot of legal authority in Croatia, but in practice, they have much more authority than the law gives them. It is not uncommon to see acts of violence from them, even in situations where they would be considered – illegal. Don’t be the guy that provokes a vicious, strong enemy and doesn’t expect retaliation just because it usually doesn’t happen, or it shouldn’t happen legally. That’s like the kid that provokes the angry kid close to the teacher, sure that he won’t be touched just because the teacher is near, and then gets smacked because the angry kid simply didn’t care about it.

Another thing you might want to try is role-playing. There are certain activist organizations that do a lot of role-playing in order to train their activists how to handle police, security guards and more. I found these role-playing exercises highly stimulating and applicable in real life situations, and whenever I teach any type of real-world skill that involves adversity, I always include role-playing. But for role-playing to be effective, you have to get serious with the characters you’re playing. No playing around when playing!

4. (PERCEIVED) LACK OF CONTROL

When you lack control in your life (or you feel like you lack control), you get anxious. One part of this anxiousness is the fact that we have the need to control things. If you ask Buddhism, what we need to do is discard any need whatsoever, including the need to control our life. This is a radical solution – not that I’m saying it’s bad – but most of the people will find practical Stoicism (i.e. controlling what you can and forgetting about what you can’t) much better for themselves. If you, as most people, chose practical Stoicism, you have already solved a lot of your problems.

However, there is more to it than just Stoicism. One part of why we feel that we’re not in control is the already mentioned “victim mentality” – a mode of thought in which life happens to you, but you do not feel like you’re an active agent in it. Another part of it is unconscious behavioral patterns, of which we will talk in the following paragraph.

The main tools with which you can repair your perceived and true lack of control in life are the following: willpower training and analysis & action.

Willpower training

Willpower training gives you the raw fuel to power through difficulty. You can want to meditate all you want, but if you don’t have the willpower to actually sit down and do it, it ain’t gonna happen. The same goes for everything around you. Willpower is a virtue which needs to be practiced often and conserved when faced with difficult circumstances. But when people try to find tricks and little funny ways to do their tasks and, on a grand scale, live their lives, what they really should be doing is cultivating more willpower.

Yeah, sure you can cheat on a physical fitness test: you can not go through the entire range of motion for a specific movement, you can count a couple more reps than you actually did, you can just pass through a difficult part of it and “make up” for it by doing something else better.

But would it not be better to simply get stronger? And actually do the test completely, fully?

Replace physical fitness test with “life” and strength with “willpower” and the analogy makes perfect sense.

So, how do you go about if you want to train your power of will?

  1. Whenever you feel like not doing something, just do it anyway. The goal here is not to do or not to do a specific thing; the goal is to do it when you don’t feel like it. If you felt like it, good, you did your thing, but you haven’t done any willpower training. You have to not feel like it in order for it to be willpower training.
  2. Surround yourself with adversity. If it’s winter, go out without a coat. Shower only with cold water. Sit down somewhere you can’t possibly work and then work (examples: a place that’s too loud, too cold, where the chair is broken…). Simply attack yourself with whatever there is around you and then do the work despite it.

Bear in mind, however, that you cannot attack yourself constantly without ever taking a break. Rest is also important because rest repletes your willpower reserves. For more information on willpower and how to train and use it best, I recommend these articles as they have worked best for me:

Analysis & action

I’ve previously written on how we shouldn’t plan things. I retract this partially. Planning is and has always been a significant part of my life. I have changed my opinion about planning several times and it’s not unlikely that I’ll change it again. This is how I think about it now:

  • “Dreamy sketches” – things you’ll work on but that aren’t a priority and that will probably fade away at some point. Most people mean this when they say “plan”. An example of a dreamy sketch is “I’m going to lose weight”. Yeah, you’ll eat right for a couple of days and then life will set in and you’ll forget about that decision.
  • “Plots and schemes” – things you dedicate your breathing to. These are plans that do not get forgotten and that occupy a lot (if not most) of your mental resources. These are the plans that have an extremely strong link between the idea and its execution. SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-framed) go to this group. Double-planning (i.e. planning against yourself in advance) goes here too – “I know that my willpower will wane so I’ll throw away any junk food in my house in advance so that I simply cannot break my diet”. “If-then’s” go here to: “I will do X. If A does B, then I will do Y. If C does D, then I will do Z.” Knowing what you’ll do in possible situations in advance is “if-then” planning.
  • “Dancing in chaos” – this is when you train yourself and then put yourself in situations, and then you just react. You don’t plan anything in specific, you just do what bests suits circumstances. A most Zen approach.

All three of the above are valid ways to live one’s life and many people tend to have preferences. I myself like to keep a nice balance between dancing in chaos and plots and schemes. Dreamy sketches I do indulge in sometimes, but I find that they don’t do me much good – not to say that they’re bad, they do have a certain relaxed-but-still-future-oriented spirit , and I occasionally use them.

Now, for you to regain control of your life, you must make the painful transition from dreamy sketches to plots and schemes. You must forbid yourself to plan at all if you do not intend to fulfill the plan exactly as you planned it. This means that you will invest a lot of mental effort – and I do mean A LOT – in advance, simply thinking about things, creating lines of action, going through them in advance, and ultimately, executing what needs to be executed.

Have no doubt about it: this is going to be extremely difficult if you aren’t already doing it. You will have to change your habits enormously and make yourself accountable. This is one valuable resource. You will need much more, but this goes way beyond the scope of this post.

5. UNCONSCIOUS THOUGHT PATTERNS

We humans tend to have clever rationalizations for what we did, but the thought processes that made us do a certain thing often aren’t the same as the stories we tell ourselves. This is especially relevant in trying to fix anxieties because we are often not aware of the anxieties creeping up on us. If you are in touch with your mind (i.e. you are mindful), you will notice your anxieties forming before you experience its bad effects. Mindfulness will also help you identify your anxiety-producing triggers so that you can further introspect and develop a system of battling anxiety.

In simpler terms, you will see how you think more clearly, and this will result in lower total anxiety experienced, more self-control, faster rational thought (because the unconscious patterns don’t inhibit it as strongly anymore) and a general sense of well-being which comes naturally with mindfulness training.

How to get there? Easy. Start meditating. There are a lot of books, tools, apps and approaches; I just do regular Zen breathing:

  • assume a position (sitting, standing, lying)
  • breathe and focus the attention towards the breath
  • whenever you find yourself lost in thought, return the attention to the breath
  • try to notice when your attention wanders real-time and then return it back to the breath

I do this almost every day, sometimes just for 15 minutes, sometimes for more than half an hour. You could start with 5 minute increments and add 1 minute every day until you get to 20 or 30. Remember: meditation is daily practice, not a batched maintenance that’s “due” every Saturday. You don’t “go through” your meditation. The goal is to be present; not to have a goal.

6. LACK OF SELF-CONFIDENCE AND CONTENTEDNESS

The general mode for a lot of anxious people is the nagging disquiet mode. It’s when you’re not content with how things are playing around with you and it bugs you. This has a lot of side-problems tied to it, like lack of self-confidence and so on.

It is beside the point to explain why such a mindset is detrimental to anyone, especially to people that are trying to combat their own anxiety, so we will go directly to solutions.

There are two ways you can work on this problem: one is acceptance and the other one is self-improvement.

We have talked about acceptance in the previous paragraph and you know already that meditation is a strong tool for building acceptance of the world as it is. However, this is not always what you want to be doing. Sometimes you may want to actively change the world or yourself in order to build more self-confidence and diminish anxiety that way. Both acceptance and self-improvement are good things to do and you should probably do both because if you work only on acceptance, you essentially stay the same but more content with how things are. This is not a productive mindset and it is a passive mindset. There is nothing intrinsically bad with it, but on a certain level, we feel we should be doing good work, not accepting bad things around us. However, if you never accept the circumstances around you, you will always feel not-yet-good-enough. You will be going towards what seems to be your goal, but it will never feel fulfilled, never attained fully. You will naturally progress in your skills and you will be a better person, but not happier.

So, you should do both. To learn to accept, learn Stoicism and start meditating. But to improve yourself there is a million books and courses – what should you do? Well, the most personally tailored advice would be “listen to yourself”, but that doesn’t get us anywhere if you aren’t already in touch with your intuition (e.g. through meditation). There are certain self-improvement paths that work for practically everyone. They are as follows:

  • Exercise. I don’t even feel like searching for studies that demonstrate the positive effects of exercise on one’s mental state because it’s already common knowledge. Exercise makes you happier, more content and it’s a keystone habit, meaning that it will bring more good stuff with it. Read this article on developing habits that stick. Lift heavy, sprint and learn skills like fighting, dancing or Parkour. Doing this will partially remedy the lack of self-confidence you have.
  • Become a learner. The more you know, the more you know – and if knowledge is power (and it is), the more you know, the more powerful you feel. Powerful doesn’t go well with “not confident”, does it? Knowing things and knowing that you know them is a giant leap towards greater self-confidence. Read books, learn a language or a useful skill, become knowledgeable in a topic that is important to you.
  • Eat well. Don’t put junk in your body. For optimal performance, you need optimal nutrition.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

If you experience anxiety and want to get rid of it, these are the strategies you can use and that should yield good results. Pick and choose according to your specific issue:

  1. Embrace the uncertainty of all things and learn to thrive in it. Don’t think you need to be certain.
  2. Stop caring about what the tribe thinks about you (through comfort challenges).
  3. Stop caring about authority through role-playing and intentional low-stakes conflict with authority.
  4. Learn to control what you can and forget about what you can’t (Stoicism) and train your willpower. Also, go from “dreamy sketches” to “plots and schemes” and always follow through.
  5. Start meditating to become aware of unconscious behavioral patterns.
  6. Improve yourself through learning, moving and assimilating new skills.

The additional resources are mentioned in their respective paragraphs.

Or, if you want the ultra-short version of this 5000+ words behemoth:

Don’t give a fuck.

Getting stuff in control

I’m going to jump straight to the point: I’m soon going to be 21 and that will make a full year of my decision to improve myself onto “superhuman” levels.

Now, there’s no hurry and time is here to be savoured and enjoyed (just like food 🙂 ), not passed or rushed through, BUT I would like to see more progress and I would like to systematize what I’m doing just so it becomes clearer to myself and so that I can measure it.

What I’d like to do the most is apply the SMART system to these goals I wish to achieve.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-framed or -based. So, for example “I’m gonna be more productive at work” changes into “By 20th October I will have completed 45 sales to customers X, Y and Z”. Quite a change of perspective. The latter sentence obliges you to something, while the former is just vague.

Now, the problem is here that some of the goals aren’t really measurable. What I CAN measure though, is how many times do I “exercise” perception, memory and so forth. So, counting deliberate attempts of exercising, sessions, so to speak.

And so I came up with a plan/program of my exercises which could potentially serve as a draft for others, or maybe just advice, but I plan on sticking to it. The first three month period, or semester, consists of the following subjects:

Mnemotechnics 1

After three months, the student should be capable to remember up to 50 vehicle registration plates, up to 1000 unconnected one digit numbers and 2 decks of shuffled cards. The main topics are:

  • Major system
  • Dominic system
  • PAO system
  • memory palaces (loci) and journeys

Literature:

 

Non-verbal communication 1

After three months, the student should be more aware of other people and their communication, emotions and intentions. The student should also apply concepts to himself and his own communication and be capable of communicating with others while at the same time being capable to perceive and analyze others’ signals.
The main topics are:

  • the FFF reflex (freeze-flight-fight)
  • changes vs. static states
  • pacifiers
  • an introduction to lie detection

Literature:

  • What every body is saying, Joe Navarro

New language 1

After three months, the student should be conversationally fluent in either a new language or a continued language. The choice of language is free, but “big”, widely spoken languages, are preferred. Examples: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, German, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and so on. The focus is on phonetics of the language and the student should learn how to transcribe sounds into phonetic symbols. The literature is diverse, but various grammars for foreigners are recommended, as well as finding native speakers via Livemocha. This is also useful.

Meditation 1

After three months of practice, the practitioner should feel more relaxed and less stressed, and be ready for deeper, longer and more complex meditations, such as Prana Bindu. There is no literature as it is very simple: find a lonely spot, somewhere where you won’t be distracted, sit comfortably with your back flat and up, do not lie down, relax all the muscles you can except those that keep you sitting and breathe normally. Concentrate on your breath, observe it. When thoughts come up, discard them and focus on the breath. Sessions should last anywhere between 10 minutes and 1 hour.

That’s all for this post, the next one will be more about physical training.