I will uphold my values of freedom and independence and strive to create an environment where I have complete autonomy. I will keep things organized. I will make things simple. I will laugh and endeavor to make others laugh with me. I will act with integrity in all my actions, being honest and fair and always trying to do the right thing. I will at all times attempt to use good judgment, common sense, and wisdom. I will remain a life long learner and always seek to broaden my body of knowledge. I will help when I can, however I can. I will be dependable to those who rely on me. I will be authentic and take responsibility for the direction of my own life. I will create my own meaning and purpose. I will seek only internal justification. I will participate and engage with life. I will remind myself that I will die. I will express gratitude for those things that move me. I will never stop asking the big questions. I will let go of the idea that the world needs to be rational. I will be prepared. I will think less and do more. I will do what makes me proud.
One of my fundamental beliefs about mental health is that “doing” things is better than “thinking”. Creating a website that’s designed with thinking less in mind is a little like sharing a drink with someone and trying to talk them out of being an alcoholic. Incessantly reading other people’s thoughts is one of the hallmarks of an over-thinker. You read and read and read, always in search of a different angle or new answer to questions you’ve been pondering your whole life.
So, I asked myself what types of structural things on websites promote more thinking and how can I change that. Anyone whose ever spent more than 5 minutes on the ol’ interwebs has probably traveled down the rat hole of link surfing. So my first order of business is going to be to limit the number of in-article links. Hopefully you will only follow them if the need is urgent.
It’s also been my experience that the longer a post becomes the more likely it is to contain more than one primary point or idea. When that happens your brain begins to connect more and more ideas with your existing stash of ideas and they have, as James Altucher calls it, idea sex. More ideas are birthed and before long you are thinking too damn much and not doing. So my intent is to make posts as short and concise as possible. I doubt I will be able to prevent your mind from wandering but I don’t want to be an enabler either.
The last piece of the puzzle is a minimalist design and clean user interface. Distractions cause thinking. I will try to provide a clean site with very little in the way of bells and whistles to send that pea brain of yours into stimulative shock.
I’d like for this site to be like a smooth sip of tea, something that coddles the soul. I don’t want it to be jolting like a shot of Jaegermeister. Get the point and move on with your life.
I am not a saint, nor a celebrity, nor an Egyptian pharaoh. I am not a president, nor a professional athlete, nor a musician. There will be no statues built in my honor. I will not be a member of a Hall of Fame. Grand monuments will never be built for my followers. And all of that is okay.
For all the positive benefits technology has brought us, the narrowing of distance between 7 billion people comes with its consequences. Within a matter of seconds we are exposed to the atrocities of the world. We see or hear about everything that goes on.
This exposure causes some base yearning to help, but we cannot help all those people. This exposure gives us ever more opportunities to compare ourselves to others and find fault in our appearance, our beliefs, our values, or our material goods. There is a constant striving for more. Where once we could be unique in the small sphere of our community, now we try to find ways to be unique among a cadre of 7 billion of our “closest” friends.
I choose to live small.
I would like to think I have the courage to be ordinary. Sure, I would like to be seen as unique, mysterious, and original, but it is a fools game to think that I have control over any of that. I can only act in as authentic a manner as I can – the rest of you will decide my place in history, or not. One of man’s worst fears is to die without leaving some legacy. I am trying to get over that fear by realizing that legacy has never been within my control. I can contribute, but I cannot judge.
I choose to live small. I choose to impact those closest to me as best I can – family, friends, coworkers, strangers I run into. I give energy to my immediate physical surroundings – the people, the places, the things. I write. I comment. I help when and where I can. I have to constantly remind myself that if I stretch too far I will break and be no good to anyone. I choose wise and virtuous over rich and famous. I am not perfect, and that is hard to accept.
I am but a tiny speck of stardust in a vast and unforgiving universe but I will do my best to do what makes me proud. That usually starts with focusing on what is around me here and now. Perhaps, if I do that well then my tiny contributions will ripple through space and time, and that is all one could wish for.
As you walk the trail of life you will constantly look up to see the next mountaintop to scale, the next river to ford, or the next plain to cross. There is no end to this quest. There will always be another distant thing at which you are grasping, slightly out of your reach.
Happiness is not a destination. Happiness is a byproduct.
Humans evolved to survive and reproduce, not to be constantly happy. Happiness is the drip meted out to you any time you do something your body deems pleasureful. It is the drug used to stimulate you and condition you to keep seeking those things that allow you to survive and reproduce. If happiness were a destination and you could somehow “find” that one thing then you would perish shortly thereafter. If eating chocolate ice cream brought perpetual happiness then those people who found it would simply stop doing anything else. They would die and eventually the gene for the feeling of perpetual happiness would evolve itself out of human biology.
Happiness should never be a goal. You should not expect nor want to experience it all the time. It is a fleeting feeling, transient, and momentary. As soon as it is gone you will wonder what happened to it. If you become addicted to chasing it then not only will you fail in that quest – you’ll spend your few moments of happiness trying to figure out how to hold on to it, not let it go, or prolong it. Those thoughts will destroy your ability to experience that happiness in the moment. You will be doomed to a life of seeking that which you cannot have by virtue of your fear of losing it or your belief that somehow you should own it forever.
No, happiness is a byproduct of living a life based on your values. Living authentically. Making your own meaning. If your self reflection is clear, your intent pure, and your aim is to do rather than to seek then and only then will you be rewarded with moments of pure happiness.
Release the expectation to be happy all the time and it will find you. Release the need to be happy all the time and it will find you. When it finds you it will be a surprise and one that you will be able to enjoy in the moment. You will allow it to come and go as it pleases without attempting to hold on. That will make it all the sweeter.
There is no happiness to be found at the top of a mountain, or the other side of a river, or the distant side of a plain. Happiness can be found in each footstep between here and there, if only you weren’t looking for it.
This is the first post in a series that I am going to create that is intended to be advice I would offer my twenty-something self were I able to go back in time and have those conversations.
It’s not enough to just do. In order to lead a more fulfilling life you have to do things that keep your mind engaged and require conscious effort. Doing that is mindless will inevitably lead you back into your head into a world of thinking.
Take walking for instance. Getting out and walking can be good for your physical and mental health. I’ve walked literally thousands of miles and as much as I enjoy it I have to be very careful not to allow my body to put one foot in front of the other sub-consciously. When that happens it’s very easy for your mind to take over and start thinking yourself into the abyss. I combat this by trying to walk on hiking trails (requires consciously focusing on the path so as not to trip and bust your ass) or on new trails with interesting scenery and wildlife to process. Walking familiar sidewalks and paths usually doesn’t provide me with what I need to clear my mind and simply do.
Here are some things that you should be careful about:
- Watching a TV show or movie – can lead to thinking or fantasizing about your life being “different” without actually taking action towards that.
- Reading non-fiction and allowing thoughts about one book to generate connections and thoughts about other books – this can lead to believing that reading and thinking are a replacement for actual action. Self help books are the worst in this regard.
- Any activity that you can do without much conscious effort – though tasks like these are necessary you must be careful to be mindful when doing them. Washing dishes, folding laundry, or taking out the trash are all things we do mindlessly. With a little effort and focus you can turn those mundane tasks into smalls wins. Challenge yourself to do those things more efficiently, try Kaizen.
If only I could follow my own advice…I sometimes wax philosophical about thinking less. How is that even possible? I mean, don’t you have to think in order to do? Yes.
It is okay to think about doing. If you are going to clean out the glove box of your car it is okay to “think” about bringing a trash can with you, “think” about the type of cleaner and paper towels you will need to complete the job, and “think” about anything else related to the doing of that task. Thinking as it relates to the physical realm and the act of doing is perfectly acceptable.
It is not okay to think about the thinking. You cannot think about whether or not the task is meaningful. You cannot think about your existential crisis and how your search for meaning is set back by completing the task. You cannot think about whether or not you’re capable of doing the task up to some mythical public standard. In short, you cannot let your thoughts beget other thoughts about thoughts. You have to get out of your head. If your thought is not about something that can be seen, touched, smelled, heard, or tasted then you are thinking about thinking. Stop.
Talking is usually the spewing forth of thoughts. Most of the time when we are talking we are trying to make sense of some thought or idea. Because we’ve been unable to make sense of this inside our own heads we begin pulling other people into the mix by talking about it. While this can be mildly therapeutic if done sensibly it frequently leads to more thinking and “co-rumination”.
Co-rumination is when your thoughts have led to your own personal rumination and you’ve drawn your friends or family into the rumination with you by talking about it incessantly. Now all of you are ruminating and possibly creating a negative feedback loop where negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts lead to confirmation bias and blah blah blah, more misery.
Many people will probably think I am an idiot for saying not to talk about your problems. After all talking is supposed to make us feel better. The problem is that many times it does not. If you’re going to talk you need to talk to someone who will be forceful with you in getting you out of your head (a good friend) and not someone who will exacerbate the issues by just agreeing with you all the time, “I know right?”
The next time you get the urge to talk to someone about some painful thought of yours just stop, and instead, ask them if they’d like to play a game or take a walk or something else in the physical world. Talk less. Do more.
This article from the NY Mag Science of Us summarizes a nice selection of scientific research concerning what our brain likes to default to when it’s host is not engaged in doing something.
When you don’t give its human anything to do, brain areas related to processing emotions, recalling memory, and thinking about what’s to come become quietly active. These self-referential streams of thought are so pervasive that in a formative paper Marcus Raichle, a Washington University neurologist who helped found the field, declared it to be the “the default mode of brain function,” and the constellation of brain areas that carry it out are the default mode network, or DMN. Because when given nothing else to do, the brain defaults to thinking about the person it’s embedded in.
If you’ve ever experienced excessive rumination about the past or future or found yourself spiraling down a hole of thought for some other reason, odds are it’s because your mind is not engaged with doing anything else. It’s default mode of operation is to start thinking of all the ways it needs to plan and protect you and control your future by analyzing your past experience.
You will not find an electric can opener in my home. It’s not because I have a particular hatred of electric can openers. It’s because that small gesture is a constant reminder that doing the work of life is not a bad thing.
I am not against technology or improvements in productivity or modern advancements. I do believe, however, that the trajectory of most innovation in the world is towards more thinking and less doing. While in and of itself this is not a bad thing, it is a dangerous thing.
The basic goal of almost all advancement in convenience is to save us time. The question is really what are we going to do with more time? Are we going to use it to do more or think more? Sometimes I feel as if every new development is taking away the doing and allowing more time for thinking. Convenience has become the enemy of doing.
I have to remind myself everyday that mindfully doing the small everyday tasks of life are more beneficial to my mental health than taking the convenience route and getting them over with so I can think more about everything else.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment