Advice

Stop Trying so Hard to Finish Everything

Your accomplishments mean nothing. No really, I’m serious, nothing. You will die and your titles, bank accounts, possessions, and relationships will disappear, be liquidated, or slowly fade away. The end result of everything you strive to do in life is inherently meaningless.

I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Making grandiose pessimistic claims. Clearly this is the familiar writing tactic known as the hook: Draw my reader in with something dramatic, be it inspiring or deeply disquieting, and they’re stuck reading whatever nonsense I choose to follow it with. Though I won’t say I’m not using this tactic, I will say it has a greater purpose. The above statements, in my mind, are true. But only if you interpret them in the way I intend.

No one can really argue with the fact that material possessions, status, and other fruits of human life cease to mean much once the person they belonged to is dead. Your bloated bank account may go on to support generations of trust fund babies with your last name, but your decomposing ass won’t be around to know the fucking difference. I recognize that people have trouble with the concept of nonexistence. If you think human souls consciously reside in some ethereal nothingverse before and after death, that’s your own problem. I’m operating from the seemingly logical standpoint (as there’s no real evidence to the contrary) that nonexistence is just what it sounds like: the absence of the ability to experience the world. It is literally impossible to be aware, let alone enjoy, anything in the known universe when your consciousness does not exist. Moving on.

My point is not to drill into you that you will lose everything when you die. It’s an important concept to be aware of, but it doesn’t necessitate repeating at this point. What I would like to do is place emphasis on the phrases accomplishment and success. These are the end caps of journeys and experiences. The little star you get when you turn in your paper. The trophy. The diploma. You get the idea. People are obsessed with accomplishing things. Most of us would probably skip to-do in favor of instant to-done if we had the option. When people are obsessively goal-oriented, you get millionaires who can’t stop being entrepreneurs and folks who pay thousands of dollars to have sherpas carry their shit up to Everest base camp so they can get the “climbed Mt. Everest” star.

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Fucking cool: Now what?

I’m lazy so I would never fathom trying to climb a mountain. But I did notice my own obsession with accomplishment in the compulsion to finish books. If I didn’t get to the appendix, it was like I might has well have not even opened it in the first place. I needed to finish it to mark it off as done. I needed the accomplishment of reading that book. What I realized after some time is that nothing actually happens when you finish a book. When you turn the last page, you just close the damn thing and put it back on the shelf. No fireworks. No accolades. No one even knows you finished the book unless you tell them. Often, these accomplishments aren’t just meaningless after death, they are meaningless in life unless you decide to make a big deal out of them to other people.

One of the most liberating decisions of my adult life was to decide I didn’t have to finish books. I could read a book until it no longer felt interesting or important, than put it back on the shelf and possibly never look at it again. I no longer waste my time forcing myself to get to the end of a work of nonfiction that kind of fizzles out, or past the excruciatingly slow beginning of a novel (though sometimes this is worth it if you know something great is coming). There are literally millions of books out there. Why deprive yourself of a good one by using your limited attention on a bad one?

The obsession with finishing things comes from our focus on accomplishments, instead of the actual act of doing something. It has a lot to do with concept of the “disease of more,” which pushes us to constantly strive for new goals without even enjoying the ones we already surpassed. Yet, it’s hard to tell someone to revel in their success without encouraging them to act like an ass. How exactly do you enjoy success other than thinking about or telling people how awesome you are? I would challenge people to go a step further and not even focus on enjoying the success. Focus on what happens before. Focus on the struggle to make incremental improvements towards your goal. Focus on the, well, focus of your mind and/or body it takes to work on your goals. Revel in the fact that you are actually doing something with your life, when you could literally just sit around for 82 years and then die.

It’s not just the obsession with success that causes this problem for people, but our culture’s failure-phobia. Americans love inspirational quotes about never giving up and persevering against all odds. This culture is useful in much the same way teaching everyone to be a leader is useful (spoiler alert: it’s not). If you teach everyone to be a leader, you end up with a bunch of loud people who think they should all be giving orders while no one can listen their way out of a cardboard box. If you teach everyone to incessantly pursue their goals until an endpoint, because “failure” is not an option, you end up with a bunch of people killing themselves to finish things with very little benefit to themselves or society (and probably not enjoying it along the way).

Sometimes you just have to give up. But I would argue that giving up is synonymous with failure only in rare cases. To me, the word failure only applies when you actually eroded yourself in the attempt. Quitting rehab and relegating yourself to being a crack addict would be considered a failure. Letting your friendships atrophy when you move away to a new city would, in most cases, be considered a failure (unless your friends really sucked). In most situations though, the only things “lost” by a supposed “failure” are time and/or money. As I’ve previously stated, money is inherently meaningless and while I can’t say the same for time, chances are if you were wasting it before you quit you sure as hell would have been wasting it if you hadn’t. Payouts at the end of a struggle don’t give you back any of your time, they only serve to make you feel as if you haven’t wasted it.

Unless your goals are really out there, you probably have to do some learning and personal growth to attempt to achieve them. This doesn’t all evaporate when you end the pursuit. My experience working in a startup wasn’t erased from my brain the second I left. Sure, quitting a job you hate after two months doesn’t really look good on a resumé. But people often delude themselves into thinking career prospects are their only reasons for staying, when in reality it’s pure failure-phobia.

Next time you find yourself struggling to finish something you hate, do an experiment and try quitting. See if the universe implodes. Obviously, don’t be a dick. You should probably finish writing that birthday card for your mom and scooping your cat’s litter box. But quitting things that don’t affect anyone other than yourself can be shockingly empowering. Accomplishing things can often feel like taking charge, but really you may just be stumbling downhill, gaining speed as you go but loosing the ability to stop or change course. Choosing to withhold your time, energy, and attention can bring back a sense of control and serve as a reminder that you’re driving this fucked up train called life.

Categories: Advice, Culture, Humanity, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Make Your Life Better, Right Now

Alright bare with me folks, I promise I’m not selling essential oils, shake weights, or sex toys (but if I was going to suggest any of the three for making life better, I would definitely go with the sex toys). I’m also not touting “4 Ways To Fix Your Life and Be Happy”. Anyone who tells you they’ve figured out how to be happy is either lying or assuming you’re an identical person to them. Either way run.

I have simply observed the power of certain tasks to improve my life and I’d like to share them. Some of these tips may seem obvious, but I encourage you to take a look at those around you and determine how many of them actually do these things regularly. I’m guessing not many. The selling point of these tips is they require almost no time, money, or changes in philosophy, just perhaps a little dedication. So, for anyone who needs a little pick-me-up, here are 5 EASY ways to make your experience on planet earth a little better, almost immediately.

  1. Drink water.

It feels so silly to have to say this but after seeing people day in and day out drink nothing but coffee, soda, and alcohol I feel the need to remind the human species that we RUN ON WATER. While coffee and soda don’t dehydrate your body as per a common myth*, completely replacing water with them in your diet brings several other ill effects such as increased sugar intake and serious caffeine dependency. Water is the ultimate refreshing beverage and hey, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a developed nation it’s usually cheap or free! Aside from just generally keeping your body a nice, squishy, well-oiled machine, the most shockingly beneficial thing about water to me is its ability to ward off headaches. I used to get a lot of headaches and now not so much. Although some of this is likely due to improved stress reduction and management, I actually believe most of it is just hydration. I tend to get headaches when I leave my water bottle at home, but days I keep it on me and sip periodically are typically smooth sailing. Now, I’m not saying you need to drink the absurd amount of water some health gurus recommend, in fact sources say even the oft-repeated “8 glasses a day” is bull (see same article I cited above). Judging by the size of my water bottle, I probably drink around 35 oz of water on an average day but much more on a day full of strenuous exercise.

  1. Start monitoring your sleep.

As most of us know, sleep makes a world of difference in how you feel each day. However saying, “Hey, you should just get more sleep!” to someone who works two jobs to pay rent or is getting their phD is a dick move. I’m sure most people would just LOVE to “get more sleep” but their schedule and responsibilities do not allow that right now. Therefore, a smaller and more tangible step for someone feeling tired or sleep deprived all the time is to start monitoring your sleep in some way. This could range from just keeping a journal on your nightstand to buying a fancy activity tracker wristband such as a Jawbone or FitBit. I personally use a $1 app for my iPhone called Sleep Cycle. The app (supposedly) uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to track your movements while you sleep to judge what phase of sleep you are in at all times throughout your night. It then uses this judgment to try to wake you up at an “appropriate” time—aka when you’re not in a deep, dark, tar pit of a sleep coma. Although according to current research, the sleep stage you’re awoken in doesn’t affect cognitive performance**, I for one believe it affects my mood and immediate feelings about how my day’s going to go. Most people I talk to agree getting woken up during deep sleep or an intense dream is pretty awful.

Although I won’t say the app works perfectly, I certainly prefer it to my old alarm and the data it provides are where the real usefulness lies. Whether using an app, journal, or device, the goal is to take note of the factors each day that may be affecting your sleep length or quality, and matching those up with feelings and behaviors you observe in yourself. Do you often eat a large dinner close to bedtime? Start writing down when you do or don’t and you may begin to notice a correlation with the way you sleep or wake up. Once you start to pick out these patterns, it often becomes clear that small and easy changes could make a huge difference for your sleep quality. One of the most important things I found was that I sleep much better when I read before bed than when I spend time on my phone or computer. Although this pattern is statistically validated, the push for me to stop reading on my phone before bed came from my own data instead of from real science. Go figure.

  1. Do something to improve your space.

Do you find yourself sitting at home sometimes feeling frustrated yet not sure why? Perhaps it’s just me but this tends to happen a lot. I discovered some time ago that all I need to quell this restlessness is a change of functional scenery. I say functional scenery because I don’t believe just decorating can produce this affect. Aesthetics are important and feng shui is great but I’m all about maximizing the utility of a space. A functional space improvement adds a new, usable dimension or property to your environment, specifically the one you see every day. An example of this could be moving your furniture into a more “social” arrangement, perhaps facing each other instead of a TV. Another could be de-cluttering and organizing a table so the top can now be used as a workspace. Often, you don’t even need to buy anything for this; it’s just a small, seemingly obvious change you just never thought to try. Sometimes you won’t notice the difference or even dislike it. But most of the time it improves your space in a way that allows you to be more of something desirable to you: organized, social, creative, hardworking, sexually devious, whatever!

  1. Do something for someone else.

My final and sappiest tip is to be selfless in some small way. Or big way. That depends on your passion, time, and resources. However, I believe all of us are capable of doing something at least small for someone just about every day. Now make no mistake; just as in the natural world, altruism is not the warm, fuzzy act it often appears. I don’t consider myself a bad person but I’m not Mother Theresa. Obviously I care about people and want them to be happy. But often, I do random acts of kindness predominantly because they make me happy. I would even wager that I often get more reciprocal happiness than the act was even worth. For example, giving a homeless man five dollars may make his hour better but it will probably make my whole day better. Perhaps this is why a study a few years back found spending money on other people is the best way to “buy happiness”***. So donate ten dollars to charity, share your lunch with someone who doesn’t have one, go play with the animals at a shelter, or at the very least smile at someone (sometimes this is all I can muster). I promise you won’t be disappointed.

* http://www.huffingtonpost.com/monica-reinagel-ms-ldn-cns/dehydration-myth_b_1080956.html

** http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/dream2.htm

*** http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88682320

Categories: Advice, Lifestyle | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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