To Learn is to Be Conscious

When we are learning to drive to pass a driving test, we have to be aware. New stimuli are constantly picked up by our sensory receptors to be transmuted into interpretation and meaning, thereby helping us to make choices in the moment.

Fast forward to once we have passed our driving test and have gotten used to our car and the roads. We have stopped learning. We are able to listen to podcasts or music while driving. We may even talk on the phone or eat while driving. Sometimes we will drive our daily one-hour commute to work and it passes by in an instant. Because we are no longer focused on learning how to drive, our minds become desensitized to the activity and it starts to wander. We are no longer present. We become unconscious.

When we are learning, we are consciously competent/incompetent. When we stop learning, we are unconsciously competent/incompetent.

If all the tasks we do in our lives are things we feel we have already learned, we drift into unconsciousness. Life passes by in a trance-like state.

The solution is to learn. A state of learning always snaps us out of unconsciousness into full awareness. We can either do this by choosing entirely new skills to learn, or by refining (or even revolutionizing) the way we already do activities we feel we have fully learned. It can be as simple as becoming aware of how we breathe, or how we walk.

Because learning creates a state of awareness, life will no longer pass us by, and so being able to experience life to the fullest.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

The lowest common denominator of your life is simply: You.

Out of all the terrible, unlucky things that have happened in your life, you were there for all of those events. Equally, all the joyous, remarkable things that have happened in your life, you were there too.

In that case, since you are the lowest common denominator in all these life events, you are the single biggest reason why all these things happened, whether good or bad. Instead of blaming our parents, our exes or the media for our troubles, understand the role you have played in allowing these factors to limit you and therefore shape your life.

Whether life is perfect or whether it’s a living nightmare, you have the responsibility and the privilege of deciding what you think about it, and how to respond to it. Stop giving people the power to ruin your day or shape your life. Ultimately, you have the power to decide what your circumstances mean.

Sometimes you read stories of the rich and privileged, who seem to have it all, stumble in life and fall prey to destructive behaviors and never-ending misery. On the other side there are people out there with much more modest means who fill their lives with love and gratitude.

This just proves that instead of always trying to change our environment to suit our temperament or our tastes, it is more important look within. We think a holiday will cheer us up, or a new job or new relationship. And it might work, in the short-term. But then we realize that we are enacting the same pattern over and over again. There is no point in running away, or hiding. You can’t escape yourself.

Because no matter where you go, there you are.

The Difference Between Becoming and Being

Most of us are obsessed with becoming. We are on the journey to realizing our potential and becoming the best person we can be. But by trying to become, we place ourselves in constant states of dissatisfaction. Life like this is a grind. It’s a struggle.

But what if we just ‘be’? Firstly, the thought of just ‘being’ releases the heavy load we choose to carry with us day-in, day-out. We stop hyper-focusing on the future and begin to appreciate the present. After all, the concept of time and deadlines are just a social-construct (if there were no humans on this Earth would time exist?).

Besides, most of what we are trying to ‘become’ is so accessible to us anyway. Becoming confident, charismatic, funny etc. is a never-ending dream until one day we decide to ‘be’ exactly that. The only thing holding us back is ourselves. By transitioning from trying to become, to simply being, is the mastering of our wild minds, a shortcut for positive transformation, and an invitation for self-love.

Digital Minimalism: Live Better with Less Technology

In a world where people are getting ever-increasingly anxious, it’s quite evident that this worrying trend has coincided with the rise of new technology such as smartphones, social media, and streaming websites. In the last decade, it’s more common to text than call, you’re more likely to look for dates online than in person, and for a time it was more fashionable to poke someone on Facebook than speak with them in-person. Snapchat streaks provide a faux-closeness to your friends, while posting and watching Instagram stories has replaced checking-in with loved ones.

Noticing this, professor and author Cal Newport wrote the book Digital Minimalism, where he proposes that people can live better lives with less technology. In an environment where the most valuable commodity is our attention, it is us that are becoming the product for social media companies, while businesses looking for ad-space are now the customers. By becoming a digital minimalist, Newport claims we can rediscover the pleasures of the offline world and lead a better quality life overall.

Digital minimalism isn’t all about getting rid of technology completely, it’s more about making sure that you are using the technology instead of the other way round. It’s easy to become addicted to likes, notifications, and scrolling through feeds. In Digital Minimalism, smartphones are described as handheld slot machines. Our wonderful modern phones allow us to access countless sources of information and functions, but we must make sure they’re there for a specific purpose instead of a low-quality way to relieve boredom. How many times have you checked your phone for the weather, only to find yourself replying to messages or reading notifications, only to remember ten minutes later that you still don’t know whether it’ll rain later or not? The average person checks their smartphone around 100 times per day. You can probably only count on one hand the amount of times you do it intentionally as opposed to habitually.

The use of our smartphones are a prime example of the law of diminishing returns. Our phones serves us well only when we use them with relative infrequency. The more we use our phones, the more that the benefits of connectivity and access to information begin to wane. They start to become disadvantages as we begin to shy away from real-world interaction.

So it’s time to break the pattern and reclaim our leisure time for meaningful, offline pursuits. So how do we do it? Newport suggests that we take a 30-day digital declutter. That is, a month-long period where we cull optional technologies. This includes social media, streaming, junk-news websites, videogames – basically any technology that doesn’t adversely affect your personal or professional life. For some people, going cold-turkey on certain technologies may clash with important values, so in that case rules and restrictions can be made to cater for them. Once the 30-day period finishes, we can then reintroduce and redesign the way that we use technology as a supporting actor to our lives, instead of being front and center.

After reading Digital Minimalism, I have already made a few changes. I have started wearing a watch and have bought an alarm clock for my bedroom. This means I no longer need my phone to check the time, and I can now put my phone downstairs when I’m sleeping. This prevents me from waking up and immediately checking my notifications and replying to messages. If this method starts to fail, I might even go as far as putting my phone in my car overnight. I have banned myself from using my phone in bed – this has instantly meant that I go to bed earlier and fall asleep faster. I’m only allowing myself to charge my phone once a day, and with the battery being three years old, I will need to ration my phone use. I’ve uninstalled social media apps, news apps, and streaming apps. I’ll now have to use my phone browser or my laptop if I feel the need to use any aforementioned services. I’m only allowed to stream films or TV if I’m doing it with someone (however I will allow myself to watch live sport). And instead of texting someone I will now try to call them first before replying by text.

The amount of free time generated from putting our smartphones down will allow us to reconnect with a more old-fashioned, wholesome type of leisure: Playing board games, sports, reading books, taking walks, having real conversations. Instead of working out to a YouTube video, maybe it’s time to join a social fitness class like yoga or CrossFit. You might decide to call to check in with friends in the evenings instead of mindlessly scrolling social media to feel connected. Maybe you’ll even arrange to meet up in-person. Newport even suggests learning a craft, putting skills to use to create valuable things in the physical world – playing an instrument, learning how to weld, or putting together flat-pack furniture.

Newport also offers a few tips for when we do use our phones. Treating text messaging more like emails where we put aside a specific time of day to read and reply to text messages. If your friends or family need you urgently they will call you. Newport also writes that a good way to get around the anxiety people may feel when they think of calling us (and instead preferring to text), is letting contacts know you have conversation office hours – for example, that you are 100% available for regular catch-ups between 5-6pm Monday-Friday as that’s when you’re travelling home from work and would only be listening to music or a podcast otherwise.

In a time where optimization is the new obsession, is the key to slow down a little and embrace digital minimalism?

Don’t Play the Status Game

When I first started door-to-door sales one of my biggest motivators was to gain recognition for my work and become respected as a good salesman.

I had bought into the status game. It’s easy to do, because in the hierarchical nature of humanity, seeking status has benefits – you feel more important, and your self-image increases.

But the problem with the status game is that it is a zero-sum game. To rise in the status rankings you need to overtake someone else. There’s two ways to do that: you being better or other people being worse. In my job, I was always working to overtake the salesperson above me and stay ahead of the salesperson behind me. I was hoping to make more sales than them – if I made no sales, I would secretly hope that they wouldn’t make any either, or I would be further behind in the rankings. If I was doing well, I would distance myself to try to stay in the zone, instead of offering to help the other reps with any insights that I thought would help them.

Another problem of the status game is that it is relative. You could be doing very well by your own standards, but if everyone else is better, you can feel a little inadequate. You are low status in this high-performing team but if you were in a different team you would be the best.

The key: Stop playing the status game. It’s difficult because it’s human nature, but staying humble and not worrying about status, and building others up can create a better environment to live and work in. You start to tune into others’ needs instead of constantly thinking about your own. In an odd sense, you might still end up getting the credit and recognition you were looking for the whole time.

Control Your Fear

In the African plains, zebras live in plain sight of predators, such as lions. The lions choose which zebra in the herd that will be easiest to catch. For the zebras, it’s important to display strength instead of weakness, and courage instead of fear. The fearful, weak ones tend to be the ones that the lions start hunting down.

Contrast this to a dangerous neighborhood in New York City. Criminals looking to steal from passersby look for an easy target. In a school playground, the bully looks for the isolated and fearful child to terrorize.

The world can be ruthless sometimes. And sometimes you’re right to be scared. But have the power, courage and strength to stand like a zebra in front of its predator, confident that it can defend itself and stay alive. It’s those ballsy zebras that the lions will give a free pass as they look for the weakness in others.

The Importance of Foundation

Entrepreneur and angel investor Naval Ravikant highlights the importance of learning the foundations in life.

Put simply, it’s becoming competent in skills such as numeracy, writing, reading, speaking, and listening. The better you are at these things, the stronger your foundation and the simpler you will be able to learn anything else.

In my own life, my speaking and listening was more of a weakness so I decided to work as a door-to-door salesman in the summers – there was no way I could succeed in it unless I learned how to speak and listen to a high level. In my off-season I spend a lot of time reading books and writing on this blog, in order to become more comfortable and competent when having to communicate and understand the world through written word.

These skills are not only useful in the world of work, but also everyday life.

Should You Pay Back Your Student Loan Early in UK?

Although there are different types of student loans in the UK depending on when you graduated, the short answer is no. In the UK, the Student Loans Company only collects repayments once you earn over a certain threshold. Even then, they only deduct 9% of whatever you earn above the threshold. If you are unfortunate enough not to earn enough to pay back the loan in about 30 years (that’s 83% of us), then we simply don’t have to pay it back anymore.

Knowing this, student loan debt doesn’t really behave like real debt. It’s more like a graduate tax or contribution you make for the funding you got towards your studies at university.

But, you might argue that there’s interest on your amount owing, and you don’t want to pay interest if you don’t have to. The good news is that the interest rate is so low compared to conventional debt interest that you’d be better off investing or saving the money and getting higher returns. It’s also important to prioritize contributing to an emergency fund in case you lose your job for instance, instead of paying back the student loan. If you voluntarily pay back the student loan in full and then realize you needed the money for something else, you won’t be able to get that money back and you may be forced to go into real debt if you borrow money conventionally.

Don’t Wish It Were Easier, Wish You Were Better

We all wish life was a bit easier – that we had more time to relax, less stress, and an escape from the duties and responsibilities we have. But we know deep down that escaping our responsibilities doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, achieving hard things gives purpose, fulfilment and happiness. Athletes chase the thrill of hitting personal bests and winning Olympic gold, entrepreneurs want to contribute to make society better, couples want to have great relationships and raise a family. All these goals are difficult to achieve, but we appreciate life so much more when we do difficult things.

So instead of avoiding responsibility, seek it out. Find a goal that you’re not sure is possible for you. Doing hard things hardens you. It gives you more encouragement to realize that your potential is a little bit higher than you thought it was before. It’s the key to self-esteem and purposeful living.

Most of Our Suffering Comes From Avoidance

If you’re ever in a state of uneasiness or discontent, it probably stems from the fact that you’re avoiding something. Maybe you’re avoiding having a difficult conversation with someone you love, or simply avoiding the tasks you need to do for work or school. Or it could be that you’re avoiding thinking about major life decisions and are just floating through a sort of limbo. Or you may be avoiding to complete events of the past, and unwilling to accept whatever happened. Avoidance of our suffering compounds our suffering.

To overcome the suffering we need to live with courage. Tell people the things you need to tell them. Stay on top of the important tasks – apply for jobs as quickly as you can, finish your reports way before the deadline, rehearse your presentations well in advance. Doing the hard things first gives you encouragement that you can attack anything that comes your way, and overcome any stumbling blocks that inevitably appear.

If you want to banish that familiar sinking feeling, you already know what you need to do – stop avoiding it.