Outsourcing Our Sanity: The Hidden Role of Social Groups

Here’s an alternative way to see the value in having social groups:

We feel a responsibility to live by our values and behave properly in front of our friends, because they’ll call us out if we start acting selfishly or out of alignment with how they expect us to behave.

By being in contact and in the presence of our friends, we are effectively outsourcing the problem of our sanity. In essence, it isn’t that we are relying purely on ourselves to remain mentally healthy, we are actually unknowingly being reminded how to think, act and speak by those around us.

We can use this force to help us to become the best people we can possibly become, and as a result be a good influence on our own friends in return.

Contrast this with not having a solid social structure in your life. It’s much easier to come off the rails if no-one is there to see it happen. With good habits slowly unravelling and bad habits overgrowing like weeds, we begin to slip in life. Waking up early with a solid work and exercise routine metamorphoses into waking up on the couch at 3 A.M. covered in Cheetos dust with Netflix asking whether we’re still there. And because nobody can see that, there’s nobody to help pull us up, to keep us accountable.

If you’re a person lacking that social structure, make it an aim to start connecting it together again – despite the crippling anxiety it can so often induce. If you’re worried that one of your friends or family lacks a reliable social structure, take the responsibility to check in on them to see how they’re doing and what they’ve been up to. It might just help more than you know.

Imposter Syndrome: How Can You Use Doubt Positively?

We’ve all been taught that doubt is bad. Doubt is weakness. Doubt means you don’t believe in yourself or your ideas. Doubt is less persuasive, doubt is insecurity.

But what about arrogance and overconfidence? A mixture of ignorance and conviction in people can be dangerous – in the past, it led to the 2008 global financial crisis and the Brexit referendum.

In his book Think Again, Adam Grant defines imposter syndrome as competence exceeding confidence. On the other side, armchair quarterback syndrome is where confidence exceeds competence. The sweet spot is somewhere in between.

However, Grant argues that it’s better to err on the side of imposter syndrome. The humility of knowing that we can be wrong and fallible would probably have prevented the disasters mentioned above. With a healthy sense of doubt, Wall Street officials maybe would have stopped contributing to a broken system of bad debt leading to the collapse of the housing market in 2008. Prime Minister David Cameron was so confident of a Remain vote in the Brexit referendum that he felt forced to resign when the public voted in the opposite direction.

A potential benefit in imposter syndrome is that it drives us to work harder and to get better. If we don’t feel like we deserve the role or adulation we have been given, we may be motivated to prove ourselves even more. More importantly, imposters seem to learn better, seek out insight from others, and have the humility to know that they don’t know everything.

In some ways, it makes more sense that confidence should come as a result of competence increasing. Personally, my confidence got shattered quite quickly when I started in sales because I thought I was going to be much better than I actually was. Because my confidence was so high to begin with, it was pretty destructive, but luckily I still had the self-belief that maybe I could improve and finally see some results.

Grant advises us to be both confident and humble. Have faith in your strengths but also be aware of your weaknesses. Be confident in yourself but also have the humility to question whether you have the right tools in the present. Learning can be never-ending if you choose it to be.

Think Again: Real Wisdom Is Knowing When to Change Your Mind

Most of us probably go through our lives amazed at how wrong other people’s beliefs are. We’ll even sometimes try to change their mind and prove that we’re right and they are wrong. Most of the time though, we’ll meet stubborn resistance and others will defend their viewpoints ardently, even denying a multitude of points based on logic. In the end, we’ll probably give up, or agree to disagree as the friendship hangs on a thread.

Adam Grant, the Wharton psychologist who wrote Think Again asks us: Why are we so laser-focused on changing other people’s minds when ours is set in stone? How can we expect others to be convinced of our arguments when we show no willingness to consider theirs? How sure are we really that we’re ‘right’?

What usually happens when we form a belief or opinion is that we have pride and conviction in it. We then allow it to become part of our identity – the belief becomes rigid, to the point that we distort our reality to only see what we want and expect to see so that it confirms the belief. Especially in today’s algorithm culture, it’s easy to get stuck in filter bubbles and echo chambers where the only stimuli that surround us are the ones that reinforce existing beliefs.

Grant shows that we form three different archetypes while arguing our own beliefs and opinions: the preacher, the prosecutor, and the politician. The preacher requires no proof for their idea and delivers sermons on his ideals; the prosecutor relies on flaws in the other individual’s reasoning and tries to prove them wrong and win their case; the politician campaigns for the approval of the audience and attacks the character of his opponents.

Grant invites us to think more like scientists – people who are willing to find out where they may be wrong, in the search of truth. They allow peers to attack their ideas to see if they can uncover blind spots in their thinking and their experiments. They have the humility to doubt their beliefs and they are careful not to become too attached to their beliefs. They have the mindset of curiosity and discovery – they’re happy to find out that they’re wrong because now it means that they’re less wrong than before.

Try to know what you don’t know. Dare to disagree with your own arguments. Too often we favor feeling right over actually being right. Our calcified ideologies are tearing us apart, and we banish other people purely for their beliefs without understanding how they got them in the first place, and in the scary possibility that: We might actually be the one who is wrong.

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.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck: Mark Manson’s Refreshing Take on Life

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck is a book by Mark Manson, describing a counterintuitive approach to living a good life. Although counterintuitive, it actually makes a lot of sense. Here’s why:

Manson raises the idea that the self-help genre always fixates on what you lack. By dreaming of riches, the perfect intimate relationship, or a billion dollar business reinforces the fact that you don’t already have all those things. And giving too much of a fuck that you don’t already have those things is bad for your mental health.

Living a good life is giving a fuck about only things that are truly important, knowing that you’re going to die one day, choosing the values in life that mean the most to you, and living those values.

Manson then introduces the idea of the Feedback Loop From Hell. Because human beings have the ability to have thoughts about our thoughts, we can get into a right pickle when we compound our negative emotions. We are say sorry about saying sorry, feel sad about being sad, guilty about feeling guilty. We get angry at ourselves for getting angry, anxious about being anxious and the vicious circle gains momentum.

We need to understand that feeling negative emotions is okay, frequent and normal. But if we keep going round the vicious circle that is the Feedback Loop From Hell, it’s going to make it far worse. So how do you end the feedback loop? Simply: Stop giving a fuck that you feel bad. This short-circuits the loop and you can start again from a blank slate.

Once you accept the negative experience you are having, it in turn becomes a positive experience. And paradoxically, the desire for a positive experience becomes a negative experience. Knowing this, the plight of the world may just simply be that our expectations are too skewed to be happy.

Manson simply tells us: Don’t try. When you stop giving a fuck, everything seems to fall into place. If you’ve ever been in the Zone while doing a task, you’ll notice that you’re not really trying at all, you’re just doing it and the results are coming. When I work as a salesman, the more I try to get people to buy my product, the more they’re deterred from actually buying it.

The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of a struggle is a struggle. So our only option is to embrace the suffering and the struggle, and give less of a fuck about them. One of Manson’s most prominent ideas in The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck is the entitlement culture in the world today. Mediocrity is the new standard of failure, because at least if you’re terrible at everything you can tell yourself that you’re special and deserve to be treated differently. Entitlement culture means that we flip-flop between feeling amazing and feeling terrible (but at least we’re getting the attention that we’re looking for).

In a recent Paddy Power advert on TV, football manager Jose Mourinho describes how special he is and how special Paddy Power’s jackpots are. He then gets rudely brought back to reality when a taxi driver interrupts him mid-speech. “That’s not special, someone wins that jackpot every single day!” That’s how we should view our problems. They’re not unique. You’re not the only person in the history of the universe to have experienced the problem you’re going through right now. The person sitting next to you might be going through the same thing. You just didn’t care to ask because you were too self-absorbed in your pseudo-specialness.

Most of the problems we have are not only common, they have simple solutions too. The more that we debate our choices in our minds, the more blind spots we accumulate, when in fact if the same problem was translated to a third person and we’re tasked with giving advice to them about it, we’d say something along the lines of: “Shut the fuck up and do it.”

Manson suggests that happiness comes from you solving your own problems. Of course, the problems never end, it’s just about choosing better problems all the time. Solving the problem of finding a job you like brings the new problems of how you’re going to fit in with your work colleagues, how to meet the deadline you’ve just been given and how you can make a positive impact in what you do.

Manson brings some hard-hitting truths in the course of the book. Words like: Your actions don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. The vast majority of your life will be boring and unnoteworthy and that’s okay. We don’t actually know what a negative or a positive experience is in relation to the total timeline of our lives. The worst thing to ever happen to you could end up being the best. Instead of looking to be right all the time, look for things that prove we are wrong.

Manson tells us that meditating on mortality is one of the best antidotes for life. Avoidance of what is painful and uncomfortable is the avoidance of being alive at all. He quotes Mark Twain: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” You too are going to die and that’s because you too were fortunate to have lived. Now shut the fuck up and do it.

What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Intelligent?

Emotional intelligence is a phrase we see loosely throw about in conversations, but what does it actually mean to be emotionally intelligent?

Yale psychologist, Peter Salovey, split emotional intelligence into five domains:

Knowing One’s Emotions

The more we understand our own emotions as they arise, the more self-aware we become and better able we are to describe how we are feeling. We are also better equipped to deal with whatever emotions crop up from moment to moment. An inability to recognize emotions in ourselves leaves us at their mercy. Being in tune with our emotion leads to more certainty in decision-making and we trust ourselves more.

Managing emotions

This builds on the self-awareness of emotion. When we recognize that we are irritable, sad, angry, or anxious, can we soothe ourselves or find a way to act towards a goal despite of these negative emotions? An inability to do this can lead to impulsive decisions or a constant battling of distress.

Motivating oneself

Success towards a goal is largely attributed to delayed gratification and impulsive control. The more we can manage our emotions and still do what we set out to do, the more chance we have of succeeding. Emotions can hijack the brain and without the willpower we can go astray. Being able to enter a ‘flow’ state is another skill emotionally intelligent people are adept at, so that time passes by without distraction.

Recognizing emotions in others

This is probably what most people think of when they hear the term ’emotional intelligence’. How empathic are we? Can we recognize when someone is starting to get irritated, or feeling sad or happy? The more that we understand how someone is feeling, the more we will understand what they need and want. This is crucial for career paths in sales, management, teaching, and caring professions.

Handling relationships

This all culminates in how we are able to handle our relationships effectively. Our quality of life is often attributed to the quality of our relationships, so the better that we can manage the emotions of ourselves and others in our important relationships, the more fulfilled we will be. Having a high emotional intelligence will enable us to become better intimate partners, better to work with, and better to spend time with.

Each individual varies in how well they rank in the five domains of emotional intelligence. Some people may be better at soothing someone else when they are upset, but when they are upset themselves they may find it difficult. Others may be self-aware but oblivious to the subtle cues that others give to them in a social setting.

Even so, what we should all recognize is that our emotional intelligence can be learned, even if some people seem more naturally adept than others. Our brains are remarkably plastic – they can be shaped and biologically influenced based on our input.

Personally, I found that I became much more attuned to other people’s emotions after working in sales because I was engaging in much more face-to-face communication, and it was important for me to get better at it.

Daniel Goleman puts forth in his book Emotional Intelligence that EQ is much more predictive in success than IQ. As a social species, it’s hard to disagree.

Do Children Stop Playing or Carry on When Someone Gets Hurt?

According to Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, girls are much more likely than boys to stop their games if someone becomes upset or hurt. In boys’ games, the upset boy is expected to move out of the way so the game can continue.

This shows that there is a disparity in the way that boys and girls respond emotionally, even at a young age. Girls are more occupied with minimizing hostility and maximizing co-operation, while boys are more focused on competition, independence and toughness.

I can testify to the boys’ side of this phenomenon: When I split my chin open playing football in school, the game continued on and I resumed once I had gotten successfully patched up by the school nurse. While skateboarding there have been times where people have hurt themselves – if they haven’t moved out of the way they are gently asked to. Obviously there have been times where the injury has been serious enough to stop the game too.

Goleman explains that differences between genders like these can lead to a deficiency in how men and women communicate with each other in intimate relationships. By increasing our emotional intelligence, we can more often become conscious of how the other is feeling, and communicate better.

Want to know more about the five domains of emotional intelligence? Click here.

What Derren Brown Taught Me About Learning

Tricks of the Mind is a book by Derren Brown, an eccentric British mentalist/magician/illusionist/TV star. The book had been sitting in my bedroom for the last decade almost completely unread. The only section I had perused shortly after I bought it as a teenager was about how to detect a liar. Evidently, I was less than impressed and put down the book and never picked it back up until now.

Inside Tricks of the Mind are interesting instructions on how to learn some ‘magic tricks’ and the main principles needed to engineer an impressive one. But what really amazed me about this book was the section on memory.

Unsurprisingly, Brown invites us to memorize a list of 20 words in consecutive order. I said the first six words out loud several times before closing book to try and recall them. As I went to write, my mind went blank, and I ended up writing the first five words but in completely the wrong order. A complete fail.

The chapter then went to give instructions on how to remember the list of words. It used a process called linking, whereby you imagine vivid associations between the consecutive words. For example if the word “baby” follows the word “wigwam”, you can imagine a gigantic baby that is inside a Native American abode, tearing it apart as it woke up angrily from a nap. The more outrageous the story, the easier it is to remember.

Within two minutes, I had memorized the list perfectly. I was amazed. By inputting the words into my long-term memory, it became easy to remember the list. In my first attempt, I was attempting to cram my short-term memory and was destined for failure.

I could have been there for a full day with my first method learning the 20 words, but with a more effective method I managed to memorize it in a fraction of the time. I felt empowered and elated.

Within the next hour, I managed to remember a different 20-word list and their corresponding numbers, and a list of nine generic to-do tasks. I managed to memorize a 21-digit number and recite it. It’s 876498474505773498724 by the way. I did each of those with various methods such as the loci method and the pegging method, all within minutes of reading it from the page. I can still remember all of the above lists and numbers now.

I began to ponder: What other things are we trying to learn, but just learning with the wrong method? Where could we seek coaching from an expert, instead of wasting our time and energy trying to learn by ourselves? What long-accepted ways of learning could be transformed by changing the way we do things?

Please comment your thoughts and ideas below!

Can Pain Be an Effective Call to Action?

If you are trapped in the nightmare you will probably be more strongly motivated to awaken than someone who is just caught in the ups and downs of an ordinary dream.

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now

The quote above rings true. Why do we will ourselves to wake up during a nightmare, while we remain blissfully ignorant during regular or pleasant dreams?

Tony Robbins describes in his book Awaken the Giant Within the following scenario:

I believe that life is like a river, and that most people jump on the river of life without ever really deciding where they want to end up. So, in a short period of time, they get caught up in the current: current events, current fears, current challenges.

When they come to forks in the river, they don’t consciously decide where they want to go, or which is the right direction for them. They merely ‘go with the flow’. They become a part of the mass of people who are directed by the environment instead of by their own values. As a result, they feel out of control.

They remain in this unconscious state until one day the sound of the raging water awakens them, and they discover that they’re five feet from Niagara Falls in a boat with no oars. At this point, they say, ‘Oh shoot!’. 

Tony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within

This scenario is similar to the nightmare scenario is that we only really awaken when we realize that catastrophe is looming. We can no longer ignore the pain we are experiencing and are forced into action.

One of the biggest human motivators is the avoidance of pain, even more than pursuing pleasure. It’s been shown in experiments that humans refuse to gamble on a coin toss until the ratio of the reward is twice as much as their initial stake they could lose. This is explained by Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize-winning theory of loss aversion – people hate losing more than they enjoy winning.

So how do we avoid noticing that life is going sour before it’s too late? One way is to increase our reference points in our lives. This is the same as raising our standards, or turning up a metaphorical thermostat. This applies to our finances, health, relationships, and any other area of our life. If we have higher standards, we will feel ‘pain’ even when other people may not, which we can use as motivation to get where we deem is acceptable.

Therefore, pursuing a goal means you must be willing to sacrifice. To get something “better” you will have to give up something – be it energy, time, even sense of current identity. Having a higher level of reference will mean that you have to be ready to meet the challenge of living life at a higher level – taking more responsibility and using up more effort.

You Are Not Your Mind

In Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now, Tolle describes the time in his life in which he had an epiphany which you could describe as a spiritual awakening:

“I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then I suddenly became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: The ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.”

The ‘self’ that Tolle was describing was the personification of his mind. The state he was in before he had the epiphany was a state of unconsciousness. He was identifying with his mind – he thought his mind was himself. Unconscious mind identification happens to all of us, and is a major source of our suffering.

It’s freeing to detach from mind identification. The same mind that constantly comes up with negative, self-defeating thoughts or projecting to the future or revisiting past events – you can simply observe. Observation of the mind brings a new level of awareness and consciousness and brings you into the Now.

If you were to have these same thoughts and identify with your mind, you will suffer. You end up attaching too much to your thoughts. You don’t end up using your mind – your mind uses you. Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it.