This is a true story. Today, I attempted to put on socks. As I sat on the bed, I brought the opening of the first sock to the toes on my right foot, and dropped the sock. I sat on the edge of the bed and cried for two hours.
Okay, it was true until the crying part. I didn’t cry, or would never admit it. YOU CAN’T PROVE ANYTHING.
Why is it that it’s so easy to pick up a dropped sock and not as easy to apply for another job, to go on another date, to live another day with health problems, and so on?
This question seems facetious at first. Of course we persist ini putting our socks on. It’s a small, trivial task that we do every day. Putting on our socks isn’t in the same league as going on a date or facing a job interview.
But it’s easy to forget that putting our socks wasn’t always an easy task. When you were one-year-old, you might well have reacted in the same way that Stephen (allegedly) reacted in his story. The reason putting on your socks is an afterthought today, even you occasionally fail on your first attempt is that you persisted until it became ease to do.
This persistence, like so much of the effort we’ve put into our lives, is lost in the dim and distant past of our childhood. So it feels like it doesn’t count. It feels dumb to compare the efforts we’re asked to make now with those we made then. But the process is exactly the same. Try, fail, try again, improve. That’s the game until we die.
It’s tempting to look at those around us and wonder at how they make success look so easy. To try to replicate their success, fail to achieve it straight away, and conclude that there’s something wrong with us.
But that would make no more sense than a one-year-old feeling like a failure as they watched us effortlessly put on our socks. All we’re missing is persistence.
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.
"If you feel like the whole world is against you, it’s your mind that’s against you."
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.
Before we get started, can we just appreciate the honesty of this video’s intro?
Let’s be honest, you’re probably procrastinating while watching this video. And because of this, I’m going to keep this as practical and concise as possible.
Procrastination is the greatest scourge on our civilisation. Without it we’d already have solved world hunger, cured all disease, and built the flying cars that we’ve been promised for so long.
Common reasons we procrastinate are that our goals aren’t meaningful enough to us, we don’t have a clear enough plan for how to achieve them, or both.
If the goal isn’t important, we’re obviously not motivated to start, especially when there are more entertaining options available. If we don’t know how to achieve our goal, we’re overwhelmed by the size of our task and find something easier to do instead.
But the most important reason, the reason the video zeros in on, is what the goal is, and why it’s been chosen. The ideal goal is one that benefits you and simultaneously benefits those around you.
You are motivated to achieve your goals because you will gain personally, and your social environment supports you because they will benefit too.
There are many goals which fit these parameters, and best of all, the other two obstacles to procrastination are also alleviated because the people around you will help you fill in the gaps.
Sometimes you procrastinate because you’re feeling lazy, or because there’s something more exciting on offer. But if you find yourself procrastinating too often, try asking yourself who is benefiting from your goal.
September 20, 2020 5:39 pm - Steve Peters
A few weeks ago, I felt the most complete happiness I’ve ever experienced. It seemed to come out of nowhere. I was out enjoying a stroll, the sun was shining, the cicadas were singing, there was nowhere I needed to be. And right at that moment, I suddenly became aware that I was perfectly content.
There’s a persistent notion that meditation is always supposed to be a wholly pleasant experience. That feeling calm and peaceful is the point. But meditation isn’t a mental massage. Meditation is the act of spending time quietly with your thoughts. And depending on what your thoughts are, this can be difficult and even uncomfortable experience.
The point is illustrated neatly in this story from Mindful.org about a meditation teacher’s experience with giving their students more space to sit with their thoughts:
I guided the meditation with fewer words, leaving ever more space. The air seemed to crackle with restless silence. Afterwards, several students said they prefer more guidance—otherwise, they felt they were floundering. I grew curious and asked the group, “What’s wrong with floundering?”
There will be times when there’s nobody to guide you through the difficult moments in life. There will be times when there’s nobody to guide you through sadness or loneliness or pain. There’s no shame in relying on the support of others, but it would be a hame if that was the only lesson learned from a meditation practice.
Life is full of moments when we flounder. There’s no escaping them. But what’s wrong with that? The important thing is that we’ve learned how to right ourself when we do. The job of a teacher is to help their students find solid ground when they first encounter difficulties. But eventually, the job becomes allowing them to find their footing for themselves.
Sometimes you’re stressing out about something and you have sneaking suspicion that you’re being unreasonable. Or at least, you can see that your reaction might be disproportionate to the situation. But it still feels as if your behaviour is being caused by the situation. So how can you tell?
Seth Godin offers a simple answer
Has this situation ever happened without you (or anyone, for that matter) feeling the way you’re feeling?
Here, Seth highlights the distinction between having a feeling because of a situation and having a feeling at the same time as a particular situation.
The answer is option number 2 far more often than most of us would like to believe. People have endured all kinds of stress and hardships without giving in to stress or anger or defeatism.
To say that you have no choice but to succumb to these feelings it to say that you’re weaker than those who went before, and this is simply not true. We all have the ability to choose how we respond to life’s twists and turns, the trick is maintaining a wide enough perspective to do so.
A wise…man, once said: “Do or do not, there is no try”, and when you think about it, He’s right. Doing refers to what is happening right now, which is the only thing we can influence. Trying refers to what we want to happen, and we have no control over that whatsoever.
Trying shifts our focus from what we’re doing now to what we’re hoping will happen in the future, and by doing so, we make ourselves less effective..
This is the reason we perform better when we aren’t being watched or speak more confidently when there’s no audience or sing better when we’re not being recorded. The thought of future judgement, the embarrassment that we’re trying to avoid, acts as nothing more than a distraction.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The present is the only place where we have any power. The less we’re distracted from it, the better we perform, the less we’re affected by fear or nerves, and, ironically, the more likely we are to get the thing we’re trying for.
When it’s necessary to act, there is no try. Or at least there shouldn’t be. we should make no room for anything but doing.
September 4, 2020 9:36 am - Steve Peters
There are - obviously - many reasons why we do the things we do, but all of them can be placed into one of four categories: safety, self-esteem, pleasure and “just because”. These categories define what we hope to gain from whatever it is we’re doing and what need it is they’re serving so let’s look at each in…continue reading on Medium…