Convo with Joel yesterday on the beach. Here is what he said (he has confirmed that the core idea below is what he was saying). I have mostly left out my counter-arguments because I’m trying to listen to the value in what he has to say rather than find the weaknesses – first, anyway. I have removed the niceties and softening of his words and got to the point of what he was saying:

  • You read self-help books because you’re discontent with yourself and insecure. You have attached your happiness to what other people think of you. There is another way of living and it’s so different it’s like another way to breathe.
  • Say your goal is to get fit, it is possible to have this as a goal while still believing that it will not increase your value or sense of self-acceptance at all. There are positive forms of motivation – self-care, healthy desires etc that can make you want to get in shape. If you believe that you’re less acceptable as a person if you aren’t keeping fit, then you are ruled by fear of man and your motivation is essentially fear. This reveals that you don’t really accept yourself as you are, you believe you need to do something, be something, in order to be acceptable. Essentially, you are motivated by a belief in your own inadequacy.
  • If it was the case that people that didn’t accept themselves found contentment through their efforts to improve themselves / their life out of this fear, then the world would have a lot more happy people! Many who live this way are perpetually discontent. In fact, often this lack of self-acceptance is not fixed by achievement, and when it is fixed, it is replaced by another big problem called pride. (I have written about how insecurity and pride stem from the same source elsewhere).
  • I made the interjection that ‘fear of man’ and ‘discontent’ can be useful drivers that lead us to improve ourselves and our world, and that contentment can lead to complacency, which is not admirable or good. My instinct is that although I can argue this case, it’s only rhetoric obnoxiously stifling truth so I should shut the fuck up and listen.
  • It’s easier for someone that accepts themselves to get fit and achieve many other things than it is for someone insecure. Do you really think fat people are fat because they accept themselves so much they’ve become complacent? No, it’s more likely that they are insecure and do not have the self-care to want to treat themselves properly.
  • Joel went on to make a distinction between the recognition that not all is well in the world with a feeling of inadequacy in yourself. You can be motivated to improve the world around you while feeling content in your own skin! He pointed out that it would be far worse to make positive change while feeling discontent with yourself and that it is not necessary to drive you to take action. Here’s the difference: do you see a problem in the world and say ‘that sucks, I want to help’, or do you see a problem in yourself and say ‘I suck, I’d better do something to help the world to make me acceptable’. The second approach is obviously a worse way to live, yet many people feel obliged to make something of themselves, as if they are not enough unless they do. They are essentially saying that they suck unless they are ‘successful’.
  •   He then went on to ‘do you think Jesus died on the cross out of fear?’. His point was that if we take that act of selfless love as the pinnacle of human achievement (which I accept even if the crucifixion is not literally true), then clearly great achievement cannot be motivated by fear! Fear and feelings of inadequacy would not have set you up to do something like that. It would take a different form of fuel to stick with a pro-social enterprise even when it is not in your interests. Fear may be a potent motivator, but it can only lead to selfish achievement, because it is about self-preservation not love. Let me apply this to my own life. I want to get my body fat to around 14% so that I am more attractive to my gf. This project is driven mainly by fear that I will not be able to compete with others for her attraction. It’s also driven by pride – why not take pride in your body? It’s better than letting it decay. If I accomplish this, I will become proud of my body, hopefully. If I don’t, I will feel insecure. Joel’s approach is to accept myself with my current body. With his approach, if I want to get fit because it feels good and is good, then great, I can go do that and feel good about the whole thing. Let’s say that I became a eunuch in a car accident and my dick was left on the side of the road, or more realistically, if me & lu broke up and I wasn’t interested in girls for a while. Since getting to 14% body fat wasn’t really about the health benefits, or loving my partner, but was about insecurity, I would be left with no reason to do it and would become fat. What this illustrates is that using fear to achieve genuinely good things is problematic, because with success you become proud, with failure insecure and when shit hits the fan which it inevitably will in life, you don’t have the right fuel for the job! In more concrete terms, your motivation is not really to look after yourself, or love yourself, and so you won’t end up doing either of those things, even if you state that that is your intention. It is what the Bible bangs on about all the time. Without love you are nothing. Nothing you do means a thing without love, even if it has positive social consequences. If it’s not about love, it’s about fear. Fear is a powerful form of fuel, but it doesn’t get you to where you want to go. I saw the secular version coincidentally on my FB newsfeed eradicator – “Great achievement is always born of sacrifice and is never the result of selfishness”. (not happy with how well I have explained this)
  • It is easier to love others once you love yourself. When you have accepted yourself as you are, you won’t judge others so much. If you believe you are inadequate because of your fitness level, you will judge others and think they are inadequate also. If you cannot accept yourself this can make it harder not to accept others, too. Judgementalness sucks.
  • To start with, if you pin your wellbeing to what other people think of you, or because you feel inadequate, there’s no guarantee you will reach the desired state – the outcome is not entirely in your control. For instance, you might get ripped to look good for your partner and they could leave you anyway. That’s trying to control somebody else.  Cancer can hit you. ‘The best laid plans o’ mice and men so often go awry’. Given that this is reality, it is foolish to wait to accept yourself until you meet some criteria. You make yourself vulnerable to the arbitrary forces of the world when you do that and make your identity insecure.


Happiness by Deign – Paul Dolan

Happiness can be defined evaluatively or experientially. The two often differ. You may say you are happy to be working in X job, but day to day it may make you feel mostly negative emotion. This writer argues that the experiential definition is superior.

It’s not how long you experience something that matters in terms of memory, it’s the perception of the length of time. If you feel like you spent a day doing admin when really it was 2 hours, you are warping that time in a way that makes your experience ultimately far longer than 120 minutes.

Memories of the past are experiences in the present, so it matters how think back on the past.

Find a way to change what you pay attention to. That is how you affect happiness. There is conscious attention which you can control to some degree and unconscious – day dreams, things that seem to intrude consciousness.

One of the most significant insights from happiness research is that the impact of lfie events fades quickly. We prefer to focus on the novel next thing.

People get unfit when they stop paying attention to getting fit and start to derive more happiness from other areas, like their career. People don’t get unhappy as they get fat. Rather, they get unhappy when they switch their attention away from other things and onto their weight, which often happens later on.

Consciousness is attracted to uncertainty. It’s where fear and excitement exist.

There are three main attentional problems that prevent happiness:

  1. Mistaken Desires
  2. Mistaken Projections
  3. Mistakes Beliefs

Firstly, mistaken desires:

achievement/money as a desire only makes you happier in the long term if you actually attain them, otherwise they make you less happy. Achievement gained by sacrificing your health or personal friendships probably isn’t going to make you happier.

‘Whatever you achieve, try to pay attention to the good bits’

When you have ambition, this involves making happiness dependent on future conditions being met (SIDE: this reminds me a lot of Awareness by Anthony de Mellio, the idea that we do not want to be happy, we use happiness almost as a promise to ourselves to get things we actually want – like achievement etc. Happiness is very often available to us, but we’d rather not have it if it means we are less driven to attain our more tangible desires. This is consistent with an article I read on ‘regrets of the dying’ – people often say ‘I wish I had let myself be happier’ – it is more of a choice than we realise.

SIDE: You don’t even want to be happy. It’s surprising! You might assume you do, but in fact, like many people I bet, you see happiness as over-indulgent and unimportant relative to achievement in various domains, which is what you really value. It also takes a level of self-compassion many people lack to truly want themselves to be happy! This might seem reasonable if you believe meaningful work and self-realisation is more important but….

‘Happiness has wide-ranging benefits & can help with achievement in most areas. Health, relationships, service, arguably even creativity. Even if you attach no intrinsic value to it, it still really matters.’

So, if you’re going to have ambition that you must sacrifice for and want to be happy too, better be damn sure it will make you happier when you achieve it because lost happiness is lost forever. Sometimes it makes sense to delay gratification, but you must be careful with this idea, happiness can be delayed forever! 

Having said that, some things you can aim for really do tend to improve happiness, better daily task-personality alignment, more pay and a decent boss make do all make a difference to happiness.

SIDE: in the chart on a pg it shows happiness by job type, I notice that gardening an floristry are at the top. I have also heard that Kevin Kelly says one of the things you need to do before you die is build your own house and have noticed that this kind of work seems to be more deeply satisfing generally. THEREFORE: a physical craft / outdoor construction is probably a really good hobby to add wholesome, concrete to a human experience that is increasingly transient, digital, intangible.

Secondly, Mistaken Projections

‘Nothing is quite as important as you think it is while you’re thinking about it.’

We are not good at predicting how happy an event will make us.

People rate anxiety and depression about equally with having difficulty walking in terms of their effect on happiness. In fact, anxiety and depression have about 10x more affect.

‘Whatever your own precise focus (whichever filters you see memory through), you’re unlikely to remember the past in ways that are consistent with the facts. What this means is that your inaccurate memories may steer you toward decisions that are not consistent with the future maximisation of your happiness and away from the need to establish the appropriate balance between pleasure and purpose in your life’.

Translation: Your memories are distorted and this can lead you to overemphasise the importance of some things to happiness and under-emphasise the value of others. For instance, you may have worked in sales for a year and you remember it being fun and so you want to work in it another year. It could be that you remember the highest point vividly and that has been given the same weighting in your memory as all the other experiences you had combined. In fact, it might have been 99% grind. If we define happiness in terms of positive emotion over time, then this is a distorted judgement. The same could happen with an overemphasis on the most negative experiences and ignoring the everyday feelings of wellbeing.

Thirdly, mistaken beliefs

‘We are often wrong about the kind of people we are and why we do what we do and the expectations we have and the benefits of accepting who we are.’

The accuracy of self-evaluations isn’t very important as long as they aren’t noticeably detached from reality (e.g. believing you are generous but noticing that you can’t bring yourself to donate money to anything)

We are far more context-driven than we like to think and consistently attribute others behaviour to broad traits while attributing our own to the context. People don’t like to admit that cheating on your partner and success with an exercise plan are heavily context-dependent. About 66% of the variance in exercise workout success is down to non-personal factors, like having a gym nearby. Most men and many women cheat if the context is right (attractive keen friend drunk after night-out) – but not every man get’s that chance.

Mis-alignment of attributes with behaviour is not comfortable. E.g. behaving unconscientious while being ambitious and goal-orientated does not feel good.

In general, it’s better to have modest expectations. Expecting to be very happy is probably a surefire way of not being so.

IDEA: Evaluate your goals, fantasies and expectations of yourself and your life systematically and consider if they are realistic and if you are better off just changing your attitude rather than changing your behaviour. Which aspects of yourself are you not accepting. If they are unrealistic, you are setting up life to be painful when it otherwise could be wonderful. Remember the feeling when you got 98% on that exam? It was so sweet because you didn’t know if you’d even get an A!

IDEA: Based on my ‘distractions’ document and on my meditation month challenge, I have learnt that my inner world is dominated by fear and fantasy and that both of these lead to ‘grass is greener’ style schemes for how to better my conditions. Most of my ideas are abstract, future-oriented, it’s all based on this fundamental premise that ‘things are not as they should be’ and ‘I must find a smart way to get ahead’. This type of thinking generally seems counterproductive and rarely if ever manifests itself in practical action. In fact, it often distracts me from my daily responsibilities which leads to less attainment in every area (including leisure, creative, explorative stuff and work). To some degree, this may be learnt behaviour as my dad also does this a lot. This behaviour is partially driven by inspiration and a high need for cognition in low-stimulation environments, so it’s hard to separate the value from the waste and misery it causes. This style of thinking MAY have genuinely helped me better my life, but of that, I am not sure, since the best ideas seem to come effortlessly often while doing more focused work rather than through idle reflections, in which case there is no added value to sacrificing lots of time and energy for scheming. I have already made a commitment to quitting this style of thinking, but didn’t really address the root cause of this style of thinking which is basically egotistic ambition (ambitions which are not related to the self in some way are more detached from emotion because the outcome of them is not related to your identity, this paradoxically makes less ego-bound endeavours easier to engage with consistently, with perspective and balanced energy, which then leads to success). In other words,  selfish ambition, ego-over-extension, is possibly the cause of much unhappiness in my life and holds me back from attainment. 

Q: What would happen if I lost my egotistic ambition?

My hypothesis, which I’d like to test for a week, is that it would make me far happier and free up my attention and energy for projects, the people in my life, new experiences and my responsibilities. In other words, by desiring these things less, I might actually be present enough to engage with what matters properly. What would be the long term affect of that? A far better shot at happiness, responsibility and ironically, the self-realisation and achievement I wanted all along.

What if to a significant degree, life comes your way and it’s better to take things as they come than try to impose your will on your life and the world? YES – that’s it. One of the characteristics of ego-ambition is that it wants to control outcomes because it makes my happiness outcome-dependent. The strange effect of this seems to be that in a desire to control outcomes to shield and gratify the ego, emotions become aroused that make it harder to attain favourable outcomes.

For instance, when I quit school, I imagined my future self reading books, being fully engaged with them and then applying those ideas directly to a business I was growing. What actually happened is that I felt an overwhelming sense that I needed to prove myself – to myself more than to others – and this made all activities, both work and leisure, unenjoyable.

Basically, egotistic ambition can make you less engaged with the present, which in turn can mean you don’t move towards a favourable future or enjoy your life. So, you double-lose.