We all have negative thoughts and self-doubt from time to time. We’d be disastrously over-confident if we didn’t. The problem comes when these negative thoughts overwhelm us, or worse, become our default way of thinking.
The video above from Happily, presents two strategies based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to defeat negative thinking.
Why does work make us stressed? Think about it. Most of the work we need to do is well within our capabilities, we usually have enough time to do it (even if we do procrastinate until the last minute), doing the work will lead us to something we want.
Work stresses us out because we are overwhelmed, not by the work that’s in front of us, but by all the other things that are piling up around us. Stress is more often a problem of focus than a problem of ethnic work itself.
Henrik Edberg at Positivity Blog offers this list of simple tips for being more productive whilst also staying sane in the process, starting with this very Zen approach to focus:
1. Do just one thing at a time.
It will help you to get your task all the way to done, to feel less stressed and confused and you’ll do a better job compared to if you multi-task things.
And if you feel stressed and overwhelmed during your day then you can tell yourself this simple thing to regain focus and inner clarity again.
"What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly."
We spend most of our time sleepwalking through life. Which is a shame, because it’s short. Leo Babauta from Zen Habits brings us a great list of practices to help us be more present. My favourite was the very first on the list:
Practice fully pouring yourself into every act. This is a Zen practice — being fully in every task you do, every act. If you’re sitting in meditation, be fully in your seat, not have your mind be somewhere else. If you’re brushing your teeth, just brush your teeth — and be completely immersed in that. This is a practice, of course, which means we’ll forget to do it most of the time, but it’s an incredibly rich practice. Fully express yourself in everything you do.
I’ve heard many people talk about imposter syndrome over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it summarised as neatly as The School of Life does in this video about it:
The root cause of the importer syndrome is a hugely unhelpful picture of what other people are really like.
This simple sentence sums up the entire problem. We look at people who are more successful than us, or who we admire, and we imagine their internal world to be completely different to ours.
“How can they possibly experience self-doubt?” we ask ourselves. They have millions of fans, or are well respected by their peers, or have won prestigious awards. “How can they ever feel as if their opinions stupid?” Everything they say is so insightful and clever. “How can they ever worry about how they look?” They’re always so well presented.
This may all be true. The people we admire have very likely reached a point in their careers or their lives where they are surrounded by evidence of their ability. Yet current success doesn’t guarantee future success. Many very successful people admit that they still worry about how their new work will be received. Rather than freeing them from doubt, success simply moves the bar which separates success from failure.
Self-doubt is a human trait, not a trait which only afflicts an unfortunate few, or which fades once a certain arbitrary point has been reached. The thing which separates people who succeed from this who don’t is the ability to persevere despite any feelings of doubt they might have, not the fact that they don’t have them.
Seth Godin on the systems hiding behind the problems we face:
Your back hurts and you think you need surgery to help with the pain.
[When can we talk about the technique you use when you go running every day?]
Your employee shows up late regularly. How can you get them to care more?
[When can we talk about your hiring and leadership approaches?]
There’s racial injustice and unfairness all around us.
[Can we talk about persistent indoctrination around caste?]
We spend most of our time focused on problems because frankly, there are a lot of them. Problems are common and often immediate:
How do I pay this bill on time? What do I do about this pain I’m feeling? How do I resolve this argument with my spouse?
Because problems are sitting right in our faces, demanding that we solve them, we often give much less thought to the systems which generated (and will continue to generate) those problems).
Systems are the rails that guide our lives, problems are the fallen trees or mudslides that occasionally block them. Tackling immediate problems is, of course, necessary. But changing the tracks that our systems put us on is usually a better-though more demanding-use of our time.
Reductio ad absurdum might sound like a spell from the Chamber of Secrets, but it actually refers to the practice of testing an argument by pushing it to its logical extremes.
Perhaps the most well known example is that favourite if parents everywhere: “if your friends all decided to jump off a cliff, would you do it too?”
But reductio ad absurdum does have more intellectual applications. in fact, as Daniel Dennett explains in this video, Galileo used reductio ad absurdum to demonstrate that light objects and heavy objects must fall at the same speed (accounting for air resistance) all the way back in the 15th Century:
Let’s suppose that heavier things do fall faster than light things. Now take a stone, (A), which is heavier than another stone, (B).
That means, if we tied B to A with a string, B should act as a drag on A when we drop it, because A will fall faster, B will fall slower, and so A tied to B (A+B) should fall slower than A by itself. But A tied to B is heavier than A by itself, so A+B should fall faster.
If lighter objects fall more slowly, A+B should fall both faster and slower than A by itself.
I’m always hesitant to include videos in my writing, especially if they’re longer than five minutes or so. Most of our attention spans have been so addled by TikTok and Instagram Stories, that anything longer than that just doesn’t seem worth paying attention to (my attention span can barely make it through an entire .gif). But the video above held my attention. In fact, I can confidently say that this video of Representative John J. Deberry Jr. of Memphis, Tennessee, speaking about racial equality and civil rights, is the most valuable ten minutes of attention that you’re going to pay today.
If you’ve grown tired of seeing politicians and celebrities and other public figures too afraid to say that violence and hatred, even if they come in response to racism, are poisonous, this will be a breath of fresh air. If you haven’t grown tired of it. If you believe that the violence we’re seeing is an inevitable or even necessary response to the racial problems we face, I beg you to take the time to listen to this speech. There’s no false outrage here. No moralising or victimising. Just a man with the courage to point out what is wrong.
He speaks with a passion born of the fact that he cares deeply about these issues. This is a man who has experienced the horrific injustices that many of the people rioting and supporting violence use to justify their actions. This is a man who was forced to sit at the back of the bus, who was denied access to white-only spaces and water fountains, who had to use the back doors when entering public buildings. He didn’t just read about these things, he lived them.
And yet, or perhaps because of that fact, he is able to say clearly what so many seem too frightened to admit; there is no justification for the violence we’re seeing. No amount of rage or hurt makes it ok, or anymore likely to solve these problems. This is a man who has seen, first hand, the power of dignity, compassion, and determined, peaceful protest to change the world. Perhaps we haven’t seen enough of that in recent years. Perhaps we’ve lost faith in that power. Perhaps we no longer believe that we can change the hearts and minds with kindness and compassion. But as Rep. Deberry himself puts it:
“I saw men and women stand with courage and integrity and class, and they changed the world. They changed the world because what the world could see in them, was the lie that was being told about them.”
That black people are violent, and lawless, and stupid, is the lie that is being told about us. It’s the lie that’s been told about us from the start. It’s the lie that justified the belief that we were good for nothing more than to be worked to death as slaves. It’s the lie that convinced generations that the black community’s struggles with crime and poverty were a result of laziness and weakness, not discrimination and the legacy of Jim Crow. It’s the lie that encourages policemen to put their knees on our necks and bullets in our backs.
It’s a lie that’s so often repeated, that some black people have even begun to believe it themselves. So they act it out on the streets, and on their neighbour’s businesses, and on anybody who dares to disagree with them. I believe we’re better than this, and clearly, Rep. Deberry does too. We have the right to be angry. We have the right to demand justice. We have the right to expect to be judged by the content of our character, but the way that we pursue those rights is a reflection of that character.
This struggle isn’t just about hearts and minds, it’s about our souls. It’s about how to build a society which we can be proud to leave to our children. The status quo is clearly not the answer, but neither is a world which is divisive and violent and fuelled by rage. That rage needs to be put aside, not for the sake of those who want to oppress us, but for the sake of the people who will follow in our footsteps.
When we look back at Rep. Deberry’s generation, we see men and women who we can be proud of. Men and women who we can aspire to be like. Men and women who maintained their dignity during hard times, so that they could pave the way for us to live in easier ones. We see men and women who exposed the lie that had been told about them. What will the next generation see when they look at us?
The Last True Hermit tells the story of Christopher Knight, a man who spend twenty-seven years living in complete isolation in the woods of Central Marine.
Knight survived for all that time, through the harsh Maine winters, by stealing food, clothing and supplies from camps and houses nearby, a practice which eventually led to his capture when the local police chief rigged a nearby camp with a silent alarm.
The entire story is absolutely fascinating (do yourself a favour and read the whole thing), but the part that most caught my eye comes near the end. Michael Finkel, the report who wrote the piece, presses Christoper to share his insights; what did he learn after spending almost thirty years alone? Surely he must have gained some kind of unique perspective on the human condition after living for so long in a way that few other human beings have ever lived:
Chris became surprisingly introspective. “I did examine myself,” he said. “Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.”
It’s surely impossible to imagine solitude on the scale that Christoper experienced it, but this description powerfully brought to mind my experiences of meditation. The feeling of “just being there, without the need to define myself,” is one I’ve experienced many times during meditation and which is difficult to maintain when in the presence of others.
Perhaps that’s what Christoper had been seeking when he’d decide to walk alone into the woods 27 years ago. A space where he could just be.
If life is truly meaningless, is committing suicide the only rational response? Camus’ answer ws an emphatic “No.” There may not be any explanation for our unjust world, but choosing to live regardless, is the deepest expression of out genuine freedom.
Life can seem pretty pointless sometimes. We’re born, we live our lies and we die, all within an infinitesimal sliver of time. Most of us won’t leave much of mark on the world, the world won’t remember our names even a hundred years from now, so what’s the point of it all?
This was the question that troubled many philosophers of the early 20th Century, particularly agains the backdrop of war and sickness that loomed over their lives.
But Albert Camus rejected the conclusion that life was meaningless. In fact, he believed that the very decision to go on living gives life meaning. To illustrate his point, he cites the myth of Sisyphus, the Greek king who was condemned by the Gods to roll a boulder up a hill, before letting it roll back down, repeating the process for all eternity.
Only when we accept the meaninglessness of our lives, can we face the absurd with our heads held high. When Sisyphus chooses to begin his relentless task once more, one must imagine him happy.
Now, in meditation circles, anger often gets a bad rap. We imagine that we aren’t supposed to ever get angry, or if we do, we’re bad at meditation.
But trying to never be angry won’t work. If you think about it, we can’t make anger go away any more than we intentionally produced it in the first place. So, when are angry we just have to be angry.
Instead of fighting with anger, we have to turn toward it, to experience it without affirming it and waving it around, and to investigate what it really is. It turns out, the closer you look, the more anger can teach us.
As Norman points out, anger is often seen as a failing in meditation circles, whilst happiness or sadness are not. But why is this? Do we choose to be happy or sad any more than we choose to be angry?
Emotions are unavoidable aspects of the human experience, and anger, in particular, indicates our desire for something to change.
Maybe it’s unreasonable for us to expect this change, in which case our anger can only cause us suffering. Learning to let go of needless, unproductive anger is perhaps the greatest gift that meditation and mindfulness has to offer us.
But maybe the changes we want are realistic, and anger motivates us to achieve them. Perhaps anger is the catalyst we need to go out and protest, or to start a difficult conversation, or to take a good look at ourselves.
Because above anything else, anger can teach us about what’s going on inside us. If we can examine the source of our anger, rather than helplessly reacting to it, anger can be a great source of insight into our beliefs, our values, and our fears.
Anger can be a great teacher, but it’s not an easy one. Learning its lessons requires patience, humility and wisdom. All of which should helps us to be angry less often.