Too stressful? Not stressful enough!

Just a short post about an idea I just had.

Maybe you know the feeling of having a cramp in your stomach when you’re afraid. Maybe you’re mindful enough to literally feel the effects of cortisol on your body when you’re under stress. You definitely know how it’s a highly unpleasant feeling. That feeling when you had to exit the school building and you KNEW that you had to confront your bully. You feel the stress flow through your veins!

This is a very bad feeling, but I think we shouldn’t avoid it. We should embrace it. We should, instead of being in “neutral” all the time, feeling neither true relaxation nor true fight-or-flight, neither true testosterone nor true cortisol – instead of that, we should actually seek these more extreme states of body and mind. High stress and also high relaxation.

When you, as a grown person, have fear of ticket controllers in trains, when you have stomach cramps for what your boss or landlord is going to say about this or that, you know that you’re definitely not on the right track, at least if you’re trying to become Overhuman. An Overhuman must be able to navigate high-stress environments with ease. The mode of fighting for your very life should be very easy to slip into. It’s very important to be able to do this, and it is only practice that ensures that you will actually be able to do it. Fighting in MMA? Joining the army? Who knows. I don’t know what the best way to practice this is, but I do know that it actually has to be practiced.

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You are exactly where you want to be

Right now, you’re probably sitting or lying. Maybe you’re standing. You are somewhere, maybe outside, maybe inside. Life is happening around you. Maybe there is some music in the background, maybe only cars, maybe silence. You have some things you have to do today, or tomorrow, or in a week from now. You’ve also had some obligations today, or yesterday, or a week from now. You also have things you want to do, not just things you have to do. The things you have to do you don’t want to do, maybe all of them, but probably some of them. These things can be relatively unimportant (i.e. errands) or they could be important, but you still don’t want to do them.

If you have too much things you have to do, and not enough time to do the things you want to do, you probably get stressed. If you have a lot of things to do, you might procrastinate, do other things instead of some things.

In the post Where does stress come from, I describe that one of the main reasons for stress is a conflict in motivation, and that this conflict can be solved by deliberately deciding a certain course of action and sticking to it, not doubting yourself or your choice.

In this post, I want to explore this concept a bit further and see how exactly it is that our own internal motivation conflicts lead us to live unfulfilling lives, and how those that have no motivation conflicts (or at least solve them early-on) lead lives packed with greatness.

So, first things first: honesty.

This is a prerequisite for the continuation of you reading this post. You have to be able to be honest with yourself. If you lie to yourself, you won’t get far in self improvement. What is it that you don’t acknowledge about yourself? Have you heard several people comment on a certain characteristic you believed you didn’t have? Maybe you do have it? Have you seen yourself behave unexpectedly in various situations? Does this unexpected result maybe tell you something about yourself? For example, if your friend got into a fight and you didn’t rush in and save him (even though you always thought that you wouldn’t hesitate a second), does that tell you something about yourself? If people always comment how you’re so lethargic and unenergetic, do you think about that?

If you’re a dishonest person to yourself, you should listen to what other people say. Sometimes they’re wrong, sometimes they’re right, but their explanation is countered by something you know and they don’t, but often, they’re right and you’re just fooling yourself.

You can’t try to become successful if you do not first acknowledge that you’re unsuccessful. You can’t try to become strong unless you admit that you’re weak. So on, and so on. Consider this:

All your actions up to this point have led to this very day.

How fucking terrible an idea is that, huh?

Everything you did, from your birth to the moment you’re reading these words, has led to this exact moment. And this here… This moment right now is the tipping point.

Now you decide what you’re going to do further.

If you’re like “Dude, what’s with the drama, I’m just going to have a shit and watch some cat videos, I’m not that important, what I do isn’t going to make a big difference” then you’re wrong.

For you see, your life is important.

At least, it should be important to you. And what you do with it should, by extension, be ever more important. And thus – what you do is going to make a big difference.

I repeat:

This moment right here, the moment while you read these very words, is the tipping point of your life. It is now that you make the decisions that will define the rest of your life.

Maybe some of these decisions can be changed afterwards, so it isn’t all a big drama as it looks like. But what if some of them cannot be changed? Use of time cannot be changed.

If you just spent half an hour of watching skating videos on Youtube, that half an hour is gone. If you’ve just exercised half an hour, that half an hour is gone. You can’t have it back. And seeing that life time is (at least for now) finite for humans, it would make sense to make good decisions about how we use time, wouldn’t it?

Now we come to the secret piece of advice I will give you, and you will struggle with accepting it:

You are exactly where you want to be.

If you are honest with yourself, and as I said, it truly is a prerequisite for this advice to work, then you will either accept that you are exactly where you want to be or you will change your life so that you get there, stop doing things that you know aren’t going to bring you to where you want to be.

Example: you study a certain subject, but you feel the whole time like that particular subject isn’t at all what you want to do, or you feel that studying in general isn’t what you want to do and that it won’t get you where you want to be. What you do, naturally, is you stop studying that subject.

But… What if you have a family to feed, and they rely on you obtaining a degree and then a job and then money? What if what you’re studying could prove to be useful in the future, even though you do not wish to dedicate yourself to it all the time?

As I wrote in the last post, this is a conflict of motivations, and you solve it through being honest with yourself and deciding a certain course of action. Is feeding your family more important to you than leading a fulfilling life? Is feeding your family possible if you do something more fulfilling? Is the problem of feeding your family a false one, i.e. can they actually rely on themselves and the task imposed on you is actually an illusion? These questions, alongside many more require honesty to be answered, and you must answer them.

You must decide and give weight to your decisions.

If you decide that you’ll continue on pursuing that college degree because of you need to feed your family, and if you truly investigated other options, and none are available, then that is your decision, and your decision alone. If you feel like you’re being forced into it, do not, because you’re not forced into it. You can always decide something else, but you won’t: maybe because of moral obligations, or love. Some people would have other options available. Some people wouldn’t have to make that decision. Some people have it easy all the time. “I wish I was one of those people”.

This kind of thinking leads only to frustration and rarely helps you towards your goals.

If you have no legs, it is completely unnecessary to fantasize about having legs. If you have no money, it is completely unnecessary to fantasize about having money. So on and so on. Fantasizing about things you do not have will not lead you to have them. Objective appraisal of your situation, a firm decision between conflicting options, a coldly rational plan of action – these things actually will get you towards your goals, and maybe solve the problem you were ruminating on. Maybe you’ll invent a revolutionary type of bionic prosthetic limb and then you’ll have legs. Maybe you’ll create a brilliant start-up and have money. You most certainly will not do that if you only fantasize of having something you believe “you deserve to have”.

So what do you do with your college degree, with your studying? I don’t know, but I know you must decide and stick to that decision and NOT BE BITTER ABOUT HAVING TO CHOOSE IT.

This is what you were given, this is what you get, some people get more, some people get less. Learn to deal with it and make the most use of it. That way, the idea that “You are exactly where you want to be” becomes something else, something even more revolutionary…

You are right now in the perfect position to create the rest of your life.

Whatever misfortune life has brought to you, look at it as limits to a game. Some people play easy arcade games with their lives, and some people play really difficult puzzles, and whoever you might be, you’re in the perfect position right now (as in AT THIS VERY MOMENT) to make use of it – and create the rest of your life.

Where does stress come from?

Everyone knows that odd feeling. You’re kind of tensed, unfocused, probably biting your lip, scratching your face and your neck, your abdominal muscles are rigid, you breathe shallowly… It’s stress.

The evolution of the human brain has given us many benefits. Indeed, the neocortex, “the logical brain” is what differentiates between us and our animal comrades. We have the capacity to think, to plan, to analyse, to deduce. This is what allows us to make bridges, build instruments, write books and surf 9gag. But the original feeling of stress every animal experiences is still here, and there is something weirdly annoying going on with it.

If you look at the symptoms I listed, and if you google the medical definition of stress (“a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension” source), you see that these are the manifestations of the same “fight or flight” response, namely, “a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems.”

So in a nutshell, stress is when something makes your body produce a lot of weird chemicals in order to keep you strong and fast, and thereby, alive.

Let’s see what’s wrong with this picture.

On the left hand side, this is your genetically more or less identical great-great-great-(…)-grandmom. On the right hand side is what caused her stress.

I credit Wait But Why with the idea of drawing ancestor stickmen in Paint.

I credit Wait But Why with the idea of drawing ancestor stickmen in Paint.

You would be pretty callous to blame your great great great grandmom for being stressed out with no reason. During her time, it was good that she’d feel stressed because if she ever got into contact with an animal instrument of death and destruction, that stress would be what got her out of that situation. She would be stronger and faster, and quite honestly, that’s what made us survive in the first place.

Now let’s see what’s usually going on today. On your left hand side is you. On your right hand side is what is (usually) your greatest stressor.

Notice any similarities?

Notice any similarities?

Do you ever notice the connection between thoughts and stress? Usually, stress is accompanied by a disarray of thoughts – stupid, unnecessary thoughts. Many claim that getting in control of your thoughts (through meditation) gets you in control of your stress.

I think it’s only a part of the equation.

You see, this sort of stress, which is not induced by big fucking animals trying to eat you, is basically always perceived stress.

Usually, a situation is not stressful in and by itself: it’s perceived as stressful. Some people do fine in situations other people see as stressful. It’s pretty clear-cut: we create our own stress through our perception of the world.

If you see the world as inherently stressful, you will be stressed out by it. If you see the world as inherently peaceful, you won’t be stressed out by it. Sounds simple, but it’s a bit hard to get there.

Studies like this one have shown that mindfulness meditation helps with diminishing our perception of stress and increasing the sense of control. So if it were only as simple as meditating and starting to perceive the world as non-stressful, it would be all the solution we need.

But I fear not. You see, there is another component to stress, at least in my personal case. It’s the problem of conflicted motivation. I’ll explain on my personal example with time:

The first and basic conflict is this: I want to have free time, and I want to have fulfilled time. Obviously, this is not possible, for if you have one, then, by definition, you cannot have the other. The second conflict is this: when doing something, I want to do another thing. And since it would be highly ineffective to try to do both at the same time, I must do one or the other, thereby losing time for the thing I’m not working on.

For some reason, I feel stressed by this. I feel as if Time flies by, and I’m slow in doing whatever I’m doing and I’m losing my time and I’m wasting my life.

This kind of thinking is dumb. Pure and simple. It’s dumb because it’s not true.

Buddhists would say that in order to solve this problem, I should get rid of my wants and wishes, for they are the cause of my suffering. I don’t think so. Wanting something means that you have a will for something. If you never want anything at all, it means that you have no will for anything at all, and such a life I’m not inclined to live.

The solution to this problem (which I believe many people have, but not all are aware of) is actually pretty simple:

Give weight to your decisions.

You basically freak out because you think you should be doing the other thing, and if you were doing the other thing, you’d freak out because you think you should be doing the first thing. Stop doing so through DECIDING for one course of action and acknowledging that it was the best decision and that anything else is just lying to yourself.

If you have to do A and B, and you can only do one, give it some thought, figure out which has the priority and then proceed with doing whatever it is that has the greater priority. Simply forget about B if your working on A. Give your decision to work on A some weight. Don’t treat it like “oh… but maybe I could have gone with B… I dunno…”

No.

If you chose A, then you chose A, period, full stop, end of story. If you chose B, you chose B.

Do not fret over if it was a bad decision and do not falter in your decision – unless you get new information that makes you change your mind.

Otherwise, chose one or the other, and stick to your decision. This technique, however, has a problem in it. It demands complete honesty. If you are not capable of admitting to yourself why you are choosing a certain course of action, you might not do the good thing if you employ this technique. It is key that you are always absolutely honest in why you decide A and not B, and B and not A.

For example, this morning, I was presented by a choice: write this blog post or study for an upcoming exam. I find that both are equally valuable choices and I can only do one at a time. I want to write this post because I haven’t written any in the preceding weeks, and I want to study for the exam because I want to get rid of it. Both are good options, both are necessary, both are valuable… Seeing that I do have some time on my hands before the exam, I decided to write the post. I did not stop every 5 minutes thinking if I should maybe stop and go study. I will study afterwards (and while doing so, I will not wonder every 5 minutes if I should maybe be exercising).

Decide and then do, don’t question yourself. Change your course of action only if you have new information that changes your mind. Otherwise, keep going.



The idea for the Paint drawings was taken from the page Wait But Why which I wholeheartedly recommend as it is both hilarious and highly educating.

Qigong and some updates

It’s been a while. I’ve discovered this great thing: Qigong (also Chigong, Chi Kung, Chikung, Chi Gong…) It’s a type of ancient chinese medicine/workout/meditation. Yeah, I know, in the West, you usually separate all three, but in Chinese culture it’s nothing unusual to have it all under one category, probably something like “well-being”. Anyway, as opposed to classical sit-down-relax-concentrate-on-your-breath meditation, this one is done standing up and isn’t quite as passive as the forementioned. I’m still a beginner (I’ve only been doing it for a month or so) and I know only a little part of it but I already can feel the results.

It’s actually pretty hard to describe because it’s all about feeling the energy, the tightness, the relaxation, the subtle differences in muscular position in your body. It’s really something that needs to be tried in order to be comprehended fully. I recommend reading a book called “The Way of Energy” by master Lam Kam Chuen (I found it on Kickass torrents 😛 ) Eventhough it’s really mystical and doesn’t have that scientific edge to it which I like, it’s still a good book to read. After all, there has to be something in all that “energy” talk, the thing is probably they haven’t explained it properly for today’s standards because they rely too much on the traditional way of explaining, the way when you couldn’t explain things “scientifically” because of  lack or inexistence of science as conceived today.

Anyway, I don’t feel any greater changes in my body (yet!) but I do feel a nice, soothing change in my mind. I’m just much more relaxed and carefree. It’s like I have control over being stressed and not being stressed. It’s still not perfect: I do get angry or sad sometimes because of things I can’t change, but that feeling lets go very soon. This is not to say that I don’t think people should get angry or sad. They should. It’s only natural. But I just want to have control over that. The ability to say to myself: “Not now, you’ll get angry afterwards, there are more important things to do now.” Or: “You won’t get sad because of this because it’s nothing you can influence.” Still haven’t mastered the first one, kind of mastering the second one. As said, I still have a lot of work to do.

But still, I wouldn’t say it is all Qigong. If you want to be more relaxed and more carefree, more focused, you kind of have to accept this philosophy. I think meditation and Qigong helped a LOT! But there is one more thing: accepting the philosophy of being carefree. It’s like this: if you can do anything about it, you should engage the problem, fight it, try to solve it, put your best into it. If there is no possibility of you influencing the outcome then just don’t worry about it. Wait for the moment when there will be something for you to do. Otherwise, shoga nai! Shoga nai, in Japanese, means something like “can’t be influenced” or “nothing to be done”. It’s a cultural concept as well as a lingustic one. (nice article about it all: click me!)

If we’re talking about Japanese, then I would like to mention the influence of anime on my life. Actually, not just anime but anything that’s an input: book, song, movie, series, play, videogame, other people… I have one criterion about it all: what I put in has to change me as a person. I have to get inspired. I have to get motivated. I have to change my opinions. In some way, a change in myself has to be induced. I don’t really watch or read or listen to anything that’s just fun, but not quite change-inspiring. Of course, you can never know in advance about anything so it’s good to be open-minded and try, but keeping this criterion is important to me.

Examples:

Dragon Ball & Dragon Ball Z

What I learned, how I changed? Well, I got inspired to live a more humble and simple lifestyle. I started worrying less and being more positive to everyone. I started training much more. I started spending time in nature more. A great thirst for travel has been awakened in me. I adopted the philosophy of training hard and surpassing my own limits.
The series has brought much more to me: I laughed and I lived with the characters. Still one of my favorite ones.

Death Note

What I learned, how I changed? I started thinking. A lot. I started perceiving other people and analysing things around me. The same way I started experiencing subtle changes in my body when I trained Qigong, I started perceiving subtle changes in my thoughts. I can say with certainty I became smarter.

One Piece

What I learned, how I changed? I learned the importance of living by your dreams and not by what others ask you to. I started worrying less and being even more carefree. I understood the value of true friendship, of being “nakama” to someone, and the fact that such a thing hasn’t existed in my life since high school. I started training more because of Zoro and started cooking more because of Sanji. It’s not like I wanted to be like them, it’s more that they inspired me to do something I already wanted to. I learned how society can be wrong, while you can be right.

There are many, many more. I can’t even begin to speak how all the books and movies and shows on Sherlock Holmes shaped me as a person.

Anyway, updates from my life:
– going on a 500km walking trip in a month or so (told you that Dragon Ball influenced me!) which I’ll try to do barefoot
– started working much more on my Parkour technique, doing new things, things that frighten me 😀
– started doing a bit of calisthenics and applying Ido Portal’s methods to my trainings

That’s it 😀