Acceptance

"What you resist, persists" - Carl Jung

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Acceptance is an elusive undertaking. Many of us are overwhelmed by a nagging sense of negativity. We live in a state of perpetual cynicism and self-doubt. But if you try to suppress your suffering, it will only have more power over you. Only when you recognize your emotions and accept them does their grip start to loosen. 

Have you ever started daydreaming about something stupid you've done in the past? I still cringe over things I've done or said years ago (or maybe just yesterday). I quickly try to shove that feeling down and distract myself. But even if I shift my attention, this pain still lingers in the back of my mind. Instead, I should accept my suffering and lean into the pain.

Ignoring your problems won't solve them. We must confront our feelings and accept their existence. What we resist, persists. But when we recognize our emotions and accept them, their power over us starts to dissolve.

Journaling

Writing down our thoughts is a simple but powerful practice. We get so caught up in feelings that we lose perspective on reality. Reflecting on our experiences helps establish an emotional distance. We look at our lives more objectively when we put them down on paper. 

Each of us has a movie playing in our heads. We might imagine ourselves as the hero or villain, Or maybe we feel like an inconsequential character lingering in the background. Regardless, we frame our perception of the world with our thoughts.

I think it's important to take a step back and remember that you're in your own movie. Your thoughts, feelings, and emotions are powerful illusions that shape your outlook. Trying to grasp onto certain feelings or resist others is what causes us suffering. As long as we recognize this happening, then it won't have such a strong hold over us.

Wasted Days

Some days come and go without much thought or attention. They slip through our grasp, like sand through the knuckles of a clenched fist. 

What does it mean to waste a day? There is the famous quote, "Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." 

So is it just pure enjoyment that makes a day special? Wouldn't culture just descend into lustful hedonism if people only cared about pursuing pleasures?

Things like drugs, porn, and gambling tend to lead to a hollow happiness. Maybe we need a more clear definition of happiness. Like the happiness that comes from learning a new skill or overcoming a challenge.

Or what about relationships? We are social animals, and belonging to a group feels natural and important. 

But I don't think it's enough to just have friends, you actually have to do things together. 

A friend once told me he thought the best relationships were those in which you could just hang out and enjoy each others' presence. 

I agree to some extent, but I'd get restless if there weren't some kind of activity to do together. You could travel together, play a game, go to a museum, form a band, launch a startup...

When I look back on my favorite memories, they usually involve doing simple things with good people. 

I think part of the problem is that we tend to over-plan things. I get anxious if I don't have a structured schedule. However, we need to make room for serendipitous fun. 

Some of our best memories were the result of surprises and unforeseen circumstances. Nights that took strange turns and led to adventures. 

A lot can happen in a day. Some of my favorite movies took place over the course of a day...Ferriss Bueller's Day Off, Before Sunrise, Dazed and Confused.

I guess not every day can be a gem. Some days must be more special than others...otherwise none of them would stand out! But we need to make a conscious effort to make our days count.

Another quote I like is, "Life isn't about the number of days you live, but the number of days you remember."

So how are you making your days memorable?

Environment

"I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me." - Frank Costello, The Departed

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How important is our environment? How does where we live influence our happiness and well-being?

I've struggled to find answers to these questions. On one hand, I like the Dr. Seuss quote, "Wherever you go, there you are." I interpret this to mean we are ultimately responsible for ourselves, independent of our environments.

But our surroundings must have some impact on our outlook. Someone would likely a much different outlook if they were in California or Moldova.

It makes me wonder how various cities might be best suited to certain personalities. 

Maybe you yearn for the energy of New York City, or maybe you need to be surrounded by mountains.

I don't think there's a perfect location. There's probably some kind of trade off wherever you live. 

I supposed the 'life is what you make it' saying is also relevant here. But at what point is your quality of life dependent on what a city has to offer?

I think everyone should try living in different cities, and decide what things are important to them. You can't have it all in a city, but you find what matters the most to you. 

Decision Fatigue

The more decisions we make, the less willpower we have.

That's why Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day. Why waste mental energy on clothing when you're the head of a major company, making hundreds of decisions each day?

We don't all have to start wearing black turtlenecks to appreciate the principle here:

Our ability to focus is limited, so determine which decisions matter most. 

For example, I wanted to start going to the gym every morning. But getting ready meant finding an outfit, packing my gym bag, and putting on my contacts. It's a simple process, but annoying to go through just after waking up. 

So I decided to start sleeping in my gym clothes. Maybe it's ridiculous, but it's one less thing I need to worry about in the morning. I also began packing my bag ahead of time, and putting my contacts out by the mirror. I've minimized the early-morning decisions that were sapping my reserve of willpower.

Now it's easier to get up and go to the gym, because I've reduced the decisions involved in that routine. The fewer decisions I make, the more discipline and focus I'll have for making decisions later on.

Entertainment

Neil Postman wrote the cautionary book "Amusing Ourselves to Death," in which he argued that our obsession with entertainment was driving us towards distraction and superficiality. This book was written in 1985, but feels even more relevant in 2017. We're surrounded by social media, streaming services, and gaming apps. Billions of dollars are spent trying to exploit our base desires for pleasure.

Postman described the distinction between George Orwell and Aldous Huxley's vision of the future:

"What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture...As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us."

Has our inclination for pleasure gone too far? 

Maybe it's just a matter of moderation. What's the problem with indulging in the occasional game or Netflix series? After a stressful day or busy week, it's nice to relax and enjoy some simple entertainment.

And just because something is entertaining, doesn't mean it's inherently not worthwhile. A well-made show or documentary could broaden our perspectives. 

But we should be wary about companies taking advantage of our desire for entertainment. Major corporations are investing massive amounts of money into the production of games, shows, and movies. Maybe some of these are personally enriching, but many of them are likely simple and mindless. 

Businesses like Facebook, Netflix and Amazon have huge amounts of user data that they can use to find our weaknesses. They can use this information to produce shows specifically tailored to distract us. 

But our capitalistic economy revolves around supply and demand, so maybe consumers just need to demand more enriching entertainment and the companies will deliver.

Let's just not end up how like Father John Misty's song "Total Entertainment Forever," :

"When the historians find us we'll be in our homes
Plugged into our hubs
Skin and bones
A frozen smile on every face
As the stories replay
This must have been a wonderful place"

 

 

Judging

Judging others is widely frowned upon in modern society. A popular quote attributed to Plato pleads, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Who are we to judge another person? We can't possibly know everything that someone is going through or has experienced. 

But what if that judgment comes from a place of love and encouragement?

Sometimes those close to us might judge our direction in life, only because they're concerned. 

Throughout my life, I've been lucky to have supportive friends and family. But whenever they asked questions about the path I was on, I would get defensive. 

I couldn't recognize that their concern came from a place of compassion. They were hoping the best for me, and wanted me to achieve my potential.

I've spent a lot of time living in my own world. I've drifted in and out of things like entrepreneurial ventures, artistic projects, and wanderlust. I convinced myself that I was building skills and being productive, when in reality these endeavors were largely illusions rather than legitimate pursuits.

I could never fail at anything if I was always in the middle of a personal project that I believed was important. 

Eventually, I had to confront reality. I invested in my education and focused on pursuing a good career. 

It's fine to be a dreamer, but the life of a starving artist or idealist is over-romanticized. If you can't be independent and support yourself, then you become a burden on others. 

So when you feel the sting of social judgments, try to resist your inclination towards defensiveness. Those close to us want the best for us, and sometimes we need tough love in order to wake up to reality. 

 

Anger

A quote attributed to the Buddha goes, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

Why do we get angry? What purpose does anger solve?

Maybe there's an evolutionary reason for anger, like that it fuels our emotions and spurs us into action.

But most of the time, anger feels like a drain on our lives. 

Anger causes stress, which is awful for the mind and body. And yet, we regularly expose ourselves to things that trigger our anger.

Every time we read a headline or story that makes us angry, it takes a toll on us. But marketers have found that anger is one of the most useful emotions for generating clicks. And since clicks are the currency of online media, we are caught in the vicious cycle of a negative news storm.

So maybe we all need to take a step back and detox. If we go on a news diet, maybe our mood and general health will start to improve. 

Let's focus on the good things happening in the world, instead of every incidence of suffering. 

This isn't to say that we should ignore what's really going on. But you can find a balance between keeping up with current events and getting caught up in outrage culture. 

Next time you stumble upon something that makes you seethe, just imagine the pointless futility of grabbing a hot coal with the intent to throw it. Many events are outside of your control, but you can control your reaction to them.

A Tangled Bank

In an interview with WIRED magazine, Steve Jobs described his idea of creativity in the following way:

"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have."

Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs describes many of the formative experiences he had. A multitude of intersecting factors had a profound influence on him. His counter-culture roots made him comfortable with challenging corporations and tradition. His interest in Eastern religions inspired his obsession with minimalist design. Jobs' father was a mechanic, and taught him the value of quality craftsmanship when building something. And California's burgeoning technology scene was the perfect environment to learn about emerging trends.

These kinds of experiences and environmental circumstances help give Jobs a broad understanding of how the world worked. His interest in a wide range of areas gave him a strong intuition for sensing what the future would look like.

If creativity is just about connecting the dots, then Steve Jobs had a lot of dots to connect.

So why don't we encourage a more expansive approach to learning? 

People are often looked down upon for studying Liberal Arts, because it's not always clear how those lessons could apply to a career. 

But if we only focus on a certain subject, then we pigeonhole ourselves. We can't make connections between dots if there are no dots to connect.

We need a diverse array of experiences in order to think creatively. If we only do what everyone else does, then we'll only think the same things that everyone else thinks.

So we should seek out obscure books, travel to uncommon destinations, and interact with eccentric people. 

Steven Johnson says it well in his book Where Good Ideas Come From

"Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent. The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wider than the sum of its parts. Build a tangled bank."

 

 

An Uncomfortable Luxury

In one of her essays, Maria Popova suggests that you should "Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind."

This small piece of advice is incredibly powerful.

For most of my life, I've been a stubborn person. I've clung to certain ideas and beliefs far longer than I should have. 

It's easy to get caught up in your own perspective. It's hard to cope with cognitive dissonance and confront realities that challenge your worldview.

But Maria's advice tells us that it's ok to admit our ignorance. It's ok to change our minds.

It feels like there's a stigma against this flexibility. People who change their minds too easily are seen as wishy-washy or weak. 

But I think it takes strength to shift our views. If we're too set in our ways, then we can't grow. 

As Socrates said, "Admitting one's ignorance is the beginning of wisdom".

 

Art

Why do we have art? I think one reason is because it provides a connection. When someone expresses themselves through art, another person might find something in it that resonates with them.

I think we feel less lonely when our feelings are reflected back to us through art.

Maybe we feel something deep within us that we can't articulate, until we stumble upon a form of art that makes it clear.

And then we can share that art and experience it with others, giving us a way to build connections with each other. 

So maybe that's the role of art, to create a shared experience that can bring people together and help us all feel a little less lonely.

 

Values

Psychologist Amy Cuddy defines Presence as, "The state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential."

She goes on to say that it "stems from believing and trusting your story, your feelings, beliefs, values, and abilities."

So how can we be fully present if we haven't established our values and beliefs? 

If we haven't clarified these things, then we lack a strong foundation. It's hard to have a clear sense of identity if we don't stand for anything.

This reminded me of Benjamin Franklin's list of 13 Virtues.

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Franklin created this system as a way of developing his character. He would revisit days of the week and make a note when he failed to practice a particular virtue.

At the age of 20, Franklin clarified his values using this approach. It helped guide him throughout a life of remarkable accomplishments.

When you establish your values, it helps you focus. You can base every decision on whether or not it lives up to your values. So what do you stand for?

 

The Fig Tree

I am interested in almost anything. Regardless of the subject, I can usually find something that excites or intrigues me. 

I like being curious, but I might be using curiosity as a means of procrastination.

By convincing myself that I love everything, I avoid the weight and responsibility of committing to one thing. 

It reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s passage from The Bell Jar,

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree...From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor...I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” 

Does choosing one path in life mean sacrificing the others?

Maybe I’m too afraid of failing. If I only aim for mild success in a few areas, then I might never suffer from some major disappointment. Maybe I’m subconsciously sabotaging myself from taking greater risks in order to protect my ego.

This reminds me of a concept from Tim Ferriss about diversifying your identity. Another writer, Mark Manson, paraphrased the idea well,

"When you have money, it’s always smart to diversify your investments. That way if one of them goes south, you don’t lose everything. It’s also smart to diversify your identity, to invest your self-esteem and what you care about into a variety of different areas — business, social life, relationships, philanthropy, athletics — so that when one goes south, you’re not completely screwed over and emotionally wrecked."

So maybe we should be taking a few small bites from a wide range of figs. That way, if one fig turns out to be bad, it doesn’t devastate us. 

Perhaps it just depends on the individual and what lifestyle they want. Or maybe we should diversify our identities while we’re young, and then commit to a fig when we’ve found one that makes us feel especially passionate.

I just need to be honest with myself, and admit when I'm using curiosity as an excuse to avoid commitment.

Origins

Why start this journal?

1) Reflection

Writing these essays will force me to organize my thoughts. 

2) Feedback

I hope people respond with their own ideas and opinions.

3) Improvement

I want to become a better writer, and this seems like a good way to practice.


In terms of style, I want to keep things simple and straightforward. I'd like to ask questions more than offer answers. I don't know much about most things, but I'm curious about everything.