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.

Working Hard Isn’t As Important As Knowing What to Work On

Most of us have been taught the importance of hard work – through our teachers, parents, mentors, and bosses. Hard work of course can lead to success and achievement.

But if you’re going to work hard, you have to know that you’re working on the right thing.

After all, is it really success if you have achieved something you weren’t interested in to begin with?

If you want to get rich you have to know what to do, who to do it with, and when to do it. Working hard matters, but hard work alone isn’t going to get you anywhere. You could work hard at being a laborer or as a cleaner but you’re not going to get rich.

On the other hand, you may find some people working in certain industries or in certain roles who are very rich, but don’t work hard. They tend to get paid for their judgement and decision-making rather than their physical output.

Before you get your head down and start working without thinking about it, think long-term. Am I doing the right job in the right industry? Not just to get rich, but does it interest me? Does it fulfill me? Do I like who I work with? Can I see myself here in the long-term?

The Problem with Goals

I’m little wary about the idea of setting goals.

In a way, having goals makes us focus on what we lack, and it’s easy to link our happiness to the achievement of goals. But not all goals get achieved – in that case we postpone our happiness indefinitely.

In my first two years in door-to-door sales, I was encouraged to set sales and commission goals by my managers, so I did. Both years, I fell way short of the goal. Even though I did relatively well compared to my peers, and made two to four times the amount of money as I would have done had I stayed at my previous job, having that goal and missing it by so much was demoralizing.

In my third year of door-to-door sales – partly because of the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic – I didn’t set any sales or financial goals. In fact, I was almost certain that I wouldn’t beat the totals I had made the year before because our selling season was shortened. But, I ended up producing more than I had done the previous two years, in less than 60% of the time. Not only that, not having a goal made the whole process more enjoyable.

Don’t get me wrong, I still felt pressure to succeed – it was my first year managing a team and I was determined to show the new reps how the job could be done, as well as keeping our technician busy with work. Some may say, if I set a proper sales goal I may have achieved even more! Although I’m reluctant to agree with that, I can’t deny that it’s possible. Giving up having a goal in sales made it easier to do my job with the right principles – instead of focusing on getting a sale at all costs, I was focused on whether I was truly helping the person sitting in front me as my guiding principle.

It’s not that I didn’t set goals at all that year, it’s that I viewed them more like systems. I would decide how many days of the week I would be working, how many hours per day, when I would be going to sleep and waking up. Not only did I view them as systems, I focused on actions I could take instead of outcomes like sales since there was no way I could truly guarantee that someone else would say yes to my offering – there’s an element of luck involved with that.

Find Happiness in the Journey

Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle and the quest to achieve our goals in life, we give up feelings of satisfaction, contentment and happiness.

But the reason why we are trying to achieve the goals in the first place is, in one way or another, to be happy. Happiness that comes from externals is a false joy. Not that it doesn’t feel as intense – it just doesn’t last. This false joy always wants more – it’s greedy.

If we were to think of ourselves as mountaineers, how much of your life would be spent at the summit of a mountain, compared to all the time resting, preparing, training, and climbing? It’s the same thing if we were only to experience happiness once we have achieved a life goal. The joy of achieving would be fleeting.

The key is to find ways of enjoying the whole process of life, knowing that you will try your best to reach the summit, but not giving up the higher values of integrity, compassion, and happiness. Life is made up of moments, and only a small number of moments will be in real, tangible achievement. So accept the moments that come with appreciation of how far you’ve already come.

The Dalai Lama’s Eight Pillars of Joy

At the end of the day, human beings just want to be happy. So how do we do it? The Dalai Lama tells us how in The Book of Joy.

Perspective: Take a step back and view your situation from a variety of angles. Reframe it positively. Understand that things that may seem difficult now will seem unimportant in a few years’ time. Shift from focusing on I and me and mine to we and us and ours. Move away from self-centeredness into viewing the world as interdependent.

Humility: Lose the labels and simply regard yourself as a fellow human being – one of seven billion. When we view each other as the same, we understand how much we have in common. Just like in nature, growth begins in the low places, and being humble means you are willing to learn. Thinking that you’re special leads to isolation and loneliness. Instead, think of yourself as essential. Humility isn’t the same as timidity – still take responsibility to use your gifts to help others and share with the world.

Humor: Laugh at yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously. It punctures your own sense of self-importance. Humor is an effective way of dealing with the anxiety and stress of uncertainty in life.

Acceptance: Let go of the expectations of how life should be and just accept what is. Let go of the attachment to a goal or method, because in the end we don’t control the result. Instead focus on doing your best.

Forgiveness: Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we accept or approve of wrongdoing, it’s choosing not to develop anger or hatred and remembering the humanity of the person doing wrong. Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and be free from the past – until then, someone else will hold the keys to our happiness, and that person will be our jailor.

Gratitude: It’s easy to forget how much we can be grateful for, starting with the opportunity of simply being alive right now. Feeling gratitude simply makes us happy. It makes us accept reality and give thanks for everything that has led us to this point.

Compassion: This is probably the core of the Dalai Lama’s teachings. The more time you end up thinking of yourself, the more you suffer. Think of how you can bring joy to others, and as a by-product joy will appear for you. Compassion makes our heart healthy and happy. Wish for the happiness and joy in all sentient beings.

Generosity: They say money doesn’t bring happiness. But spending money on other people does. Being generous makes us happy. In giving, we receive happiness. Sit loosely with your wealth and status – we are simply stewards of these positions and possessions and be generous. But don’t view generosity as a burden, give with joy. That too, is a great gift.

The Psychology of Money: Morgan Housel’s Finance Tips

Morgan Housel recently wrote The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness. No matter how we think about it, managing our own money and trying to build wealth is a game of emotions. Here’s a summary of the main points:

Go out of your way to find humility when things are going right, and forgiveness/compassion when they go wrong. The journey of building wealth is based on risk and luck. Remind yourself that the journey of investing is filled with ups and downs and to be ready for that emotionally.

Less ego, more wealth. Building wealth is simply spending less than you earn. Richness is buying cars, houses and boats. Wealth is what you don’t see – it’s money saved/invested instead of spent. The hardest financial skill is to get the goalposts to stop moving – life isn’t any fun without any sense of “enough”.

Manage your money in a way that helps you sleep at night. If you’re finding that you can’t sleep at night because you’re risking too much investing, you need to rethink your strategy. You may know it’s the “right” strategy, but if you can’t manage it emotionally, you may need to accept a lower risk and lower return by holding a higher percentage of your net worth in cash, or choosing lower risk strategies.

If you want to do better as an investor, the single most powerful thing you can do is increase your time horizon. Time is the most powerful force for growing your wealth. Be patient, and be in it for the long game like Ronald Read and Warren Buffett. In other words, just shut up and wait!

Become okay with a lot of things going wrong. You can be wrong half the time and still make a fortune. Having money in the market means you have to accept that on some days you may lose money, even as much as 30% or more of what you have invested. But if you can use the barbell strategy and invest in some assets with huge upside potential, you can still afford to be wrong most of the time while building wealth.

Use money to gain control over your time. Money means freedom. Being able to do what you want, when you want, with who you want is one thing that having money can bring.

Be nicer and less flashy. You may think people will like and respect you more based on your possessions, but in reality being more compassionate and kind works better. Make sure that when you’re buying possessions it’s for the right reasons – spending money to show people how much money you have is the fastest way to have less money.

Save. Just save. You don’t need a specific reason to save. Saving for something like a car or a down-payment for a house is good, but save as a default strategy too. Who knows what expenses can crop up as a surprise, wouldn’t it make more sense to be financially ready when they crop up?

Define the cost of success and be ready to pay it. The cost of success in investing is the uncertainty, the doubt, and the fear of losing some of your money. But if you want to play the game you need to see those things as a fee for participating. If you’re not willing to pay it, you may be better off just holding everything in cash and settling for a 0% return.

Worship room for error. You never want to be in a position where you could lose all your money, or losses in the market affecting the lifestyle that you live. If you lose a little you can still recover. If you lose it all, you have no money left, and you’ve been ejected from the game with no bankroll to buy back in. Avoid ruin at all costs.

Avoid the extreme ends of financial decisions. The more extreme your financial decisions, the more likely you may regret them if your goals and desires change at a later date. Good investing is less about making good decisions than it is about consistently not screwing up. You can afford not to be the best investor in the world, but you can’t afford to be a bad one.

You should like risk because it pays off over time. But you should be afraid of too much risk that would ruin your chances of winning the overall game.

Define the game you’re playing. Remember that everyone has their own unique financial goals based on the lifestyle and life goals they have. You don’t even necessarily have to compare yourself to overall market returns either. Just choose a strategy that you’d be happy with, without looking at other people and what they’re doing.

Respect the mess. There’s no single right answer in building wealth. Just find out what works for you.

Want to read more on investing? Read about Benjamin Graham’s value investing philosophy.

A Simple Method to Improve Relationships and Provide Value

It’s much easier said than done, but:

Treat every person you meet as if they are the most important person on Earth.

In today’s society, it feels like narcissism and inflated egos are on the rise. How do we stop that within ourselves? Follow the rule above.

There’s nothing in the world that people need more than self-esteem, the feeling that they’re important, that they’re needed, and that they’re respected. Once you’re able to give them this feeling, they will give back with love, support and loyalty.

Act toward others in the way you’d like them to act towards you.

Treat every person you meet as if they are the most important person on Earth.

Happiness the 80/20 Way

Richard Koch writes in his book The 80/20 Principle some daily and medium-term stratagems for happiness. Unlike money which can be saved and spent later, happiness is experienced in the Now and the more happiness we experience day-to-day sets up us for happiness going forward.

Koch’s Daily Happiness Habits

  1. Exercise
  2. Mental stimulation
  3. Spiritual/artistic stimulation or meditation
  4. Doing something for another person or people
  5. Taking a pleasure break with a friend
  6. Giving yourself a treat
  7. Congratulating yourself on a day’s worthwhile living

Koch’s Medium-term Stratagems for Happiness

  1. Maximize control in your life. This could come in the form of self-employment for example, and usually requires planning and some risk-taking. Those that lack autonomy in life usually end up stressed or bored.
  2. Set attainable goals. Goals that are too easy lead to complacency, and those that are unrealistic lead to demoralization. Attainable goals give us something to stretch to and keep us stimulated. Err on the soft side when setting goals. Remember that hitting goals is good for happiness!
  3. Be flexible. Chance events tend to interfere with expectations, and it’s our job to do the best we can do given the situation. Goals and strategy may change and the more ready we are to take the challenge on, the happier we will be.
  4. Have a close relationship with your partner. Koch reminds us that the happiness of your partner will have a huge bearing on your mood too, and vice versa. In that case, choosing your partner is one of the most important decisions to be made in life – teaming up with an unhappy partner is likely to lead to you being unhappy too. This also highlights your own happiness you bring to the relationship, since it’s just as bad to be bringing your partner’s happiness down too.
  5. Have a few happy friends. Most of your happiness will usually derive from a small number of friends. Make sure you are spending the most time with the friends that give you energy and happiness.
  6. Have a few close professional alliances. You shouldn’t be friends with all your work colleagues, but it makes sense to be close friends with a few of them. Not only could this help with your career, it also increases the pleasure you take from the time you spend at work.
  7. Evolve your ideal lifestyle. An ideal lifestyle is unique to each of us. Consider where you’d need to live and who with, what kind of work you’d be doing, and how much time is allocated to family, socializing and hobbies. An ideal life would be one where we are equally happy at work and outside of work.

The Three Ps: A Mental Framework to Deal With Your Problems

The three Ps come from research on happiness by Martin Seligman, described in Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, and a few years ago found her husband dead on a hotel gym floor. The book is about how she dealt with the trauma and grief, and strategies to deal with adversity.

And that’s where the three Ps comes in. When people inevitably come across adversity in life, there are three common things we say to ourselves which make things worse.

The first P is personalization. Personalization means that when things go wrong, you blame yourself. After all, you’re the common factor in all the problems you come across, right? And we’ve also been taught concepts like internal locus of control, and taking responsibility of our lives too. But where there is a misunderstanding is the difference between taking responsibility and placing fault or blame on yourself.

When I was first starting out as a door-to-door salesman, I rarely sold anything. Of course, the natural self-talk was to blame myself. “I suck, wow I’m really bad at this. No-one wants to buy anything from me. Oh God, I’m way worse than I thought I’d be at this.” As good as it is to take responsibility for your results, it is important to understand that firstly, you’re not the only one finding it difficult. Many people have gone through the same struggle you’re going through too, no matter what it is. Secondly, just because someone didn’t buy off you doesn’t mean it’s all your fault. To this day, most prospects still decline the product I’m offering. When someone declines my offer, my self-talk nowadays is: “They didn’t want it.” No blame on anyone, just stating the facts. Of course, I still try to improve at sales, but I try not to beat myself up when things aren’t going well.

The second P is pervasiveness. Pervasiveness means that a problem in one area of your life ends up pervading, or spreading, to every other part of life. Work problems get taken into your home, into intimate relationships, into aspects of mental and physical health and so on. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

During the same, harrowing period starting in door-to-door sales, I slowly began to realize that I was basing my value as a human being solely on whether I had made sales that day or not. And of course, most days I wasn’t making sales. So, my value was pretty fucking low. I didn’t want to speak to anyone after work, and I was getting into a deeper and deeper hole of low-confidence where it was going to take a gargantuan effort to escape. I even ate junk food to try to make myself feel better. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It doesn’t even make any sense. There’s a lot more to life than work. And there’s a lot of stuff that you’re actually pretty good at. Nowadays, as a sales manager, I always remind new salespeople that the amount of sales they make doesn’t equate to their value as a person. I’m also much better at compartmentalizing work problems as work problems, and not letting those issues infect other parts of my life.

The third P is permanence. Permanence means that you come to believe that the problem will always be there, and that how terrible you’re feeling right now is destined never to end.

As already mentioned, I became stuck in a vicious circle where self-confidence was going so low that I didn’t know if it would ever come back. Luckily, everything in life is impermanent. There’s nothing in life that isn’t impermanent, even life itself will end at some point. So having the grit to stick in there and understand that a bad period won’t last forever gives hope for the future and inspiration for the present moment.

In what situations did the three Ps play a part in your life? And how did you overcome it? I’d love to know, comment below.