Admit it. You’re frustrated.
Each day, a lot happens around you. It’s enough to drive you crazy. You do your best to keep up with it all. And you do a commendable job.
But it doesn’t make you happy. Why?
Why do you experience the tug of dissatisfaction? Why does it feel like you were meant to do more? Where is the peace and happiness your parents promised you would get when you grew up?
I hate to sound preachy. But I’ve got to tell you something, because you deserve a better life.
Ready? Okay, here we go.
Serenity – inner peace – does not depend on your environment. It depends on your choices. You cannot run away from your problems. Because they will follow you to the remotest village in the Himalayas. But you can escape to a peaceful place within, while living in the world’s busiest city.
However, our obsession with our beliefs is the biggest obstacle to achieving inner peace. In this 24/7 connected world, people hold on to their beliefs like they’re life vests on a sinking ship. The problem here, as Mark Manson points out, is that the beliefs are the sinking ship. These beliefs are results of years of conditioning. They rob people off their happiness and peace of mind.
Certain life skills help people improve their quality of life. But almost always, people don’t want them. Here are the five most crucial ones. Leave a comment to share with me how many of them make you uncomfortable.
1. Regulating Emotions
The complexities of emotions don’t make human beings superior to animals. Excitement, lust, greed, anticipation, anger, fear, joy – animals experience them all, albeit in varying degrees. But their lives revolve in the present moment, and their actions deliver instant results.
Human beings, on the other hand, have lived in a Delayed Return Environment since as early as 10,000 BC. As James Clear highlights, actions you take today will not yield instant returns. If you work today, you will get a paycheck later. If you plan a project today, it might take a few months (or years) to see the light of day.
Human beings evolved to adapt to The Delayed Return Environment. We now differ from animals in the ability to regulate our emotions. We can encounter a situation, and consciously choose how to respond. This is the most powerful tool in our arsenal.
But most people still live like animals. They are addicted to emotions, which in turn, compromises their ability to abstain.
Emotions should be utilized, right? You should get angry when someone hurts you. You should jump with joy when something good happens. You should feel pained when someone you love doesn’t love you back. You feel what you feel, and there’s nothing you or anyone can do about it.
But here’s the thing. Basing your happiness on external circumstances will not get you far. Ever. In fact, it will make you depend even more on validation from outside for your self esteem.
Emotions are not fixed. They are flexible. It’s all in how you interpret the situation, Jeremy E. Sherman wrote. You don’t have control over a situation or your environment. But you can exercise control over how you respond.
To regulate your emotions, recognize what’s in your control and what’s not. The only thing in your control is your mind, writes Ryan Holiday in The Daily Stoic. Even your body does not fall in this category. You can fall sick or injure yourself. And no matter what you do, it will take time to recover.
But you can switch your thinking with the snap of a finger. That’s how obedient the ‘arrogant’ mind is. The more you do it, the more you develop the ability to control your emotions.
For most people, learning stops along with studies. Or within seven days of being exposed to something new.
Most people get sucked into the daily grind. They move from one day to the next, living like their lives are Groundhog Day. They turn into self-professed know-it-alls, believing they have answers to every question. When their thinking is challenged, they behave like stern professors who have little knowledge.
But lifelong learners are different. They enjoy life, and are filled with wonder and amazement. They go deeper into what interests them, and are delighted with what they learn.
Learning comprises of two methods – guided learning and heuristics. The former is when we learn based on others’ teachings. The latter is when we learn by ourselves.
Many people struggle because they try learning everything on their own. When you start learning, internet articles are potent tools to help you grow. Reading blog posts and a few books is enough to make you grow quickly early on. But soon, progress will slow down. You will hit a brick wall. At such times, guided learning – from people who have accomplished what you want to – is essential.
But guided learning can become addictive. Since someone else lays the path for you, it takes the responsibility of learning off your shoulders. Many people jump from one guided learning course to another without applying any of it. No wonder the self-help industry is worth eleven billion dollars.
Overindulgence in this easy form of learning limits your ability to discover answers for yourself. Hence, heuristics – learning and discovering for yourself – are vital. Apply Michael Simmons’ Five Hour Rule to learn by yourself. Spend five hours each week (one hour each day) for self-learning and application.
“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” – Isaac Asimov
The real joy comes when we modify others’ teachings to form our own path. A combination of guided and self learning plays a crucial role in this. As does solitude.
3. Embracing Solitude
Solitude is essential for reflection and learning. But it also frightens us.
Solitude makes people uncertain. It’s so despicable that a recent study showed that people would rather give themselves electric shocks than be alone with their thoughts for fifteen minutes.
People have to call or text someone when they are bored. Or get on social media. They have to make plans every weekend to escape the ’emotional torture’ inflicted on them during the week.
Lifelong learners, on the other hand, love solitude. They understand the difference between being alone and being lonely. Their sense of wonder makes them utilize solitude to discover more about themselves and things around them.
However, merely being alone is not important. As Tom McDermott stated, “it’s not about aloneness, its about what [geniuses] do when they’re alone.”
The difference between Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Richard Feynman and the rest of us, Tom explains, is that they appreciated the value of their ability to wonder. And they leveraged it to become successful. They spent most of their alone time chasing answers to questions nobody would ask.
How can you utilize solitude to discover interesting questions and their answers? By developing the ability to do focused work.
4. Focused Work
“Deep work is like a superpower in our current economy: it enables you to quickly (and deliberately) learn complicated new skills and produce high-value output.” – Cal Newport
Most people turn to their smartphones for gratification when things gets tough. This offers instant gratification, which disappears as quickly as it comes. But deep, focused work enables you to feel gratified for extended periods of time, and positively affects your self esteem.
By increasing the intensity of focus, you can improve the results. Focus also has a positive effect on the time you can spend on a task. Eventually, you get into what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow. This state is one where people lose self-consciousness, but feel terrific when they reflect on the work they completed.
To develop the ability to do focused work, give preference to depth over breadth. Break your goal into smaller goals, and achieve them, two at a time.
Want to improve communication? Break your goal down into subtasks and complete two at once, before moving to the others. Want to get better at dating. Examine where you need improvement. Then focus on just two aspects at once. Want to study better? Follow the same technique.
To improve your quality of work, increase your intensity of focus, and the time for which you can maintain it. Gradually, you will witness a marked difference in the quality of your output. You will feel happier and develop better self-esteem.
When something good happens to people, they don’t shy away from taking credit. But when something bad happens, they feel victimized immediately.
Develop the ability to be accountable for your experiences. They often are a result of your actions. Sometimes actions don’t yield the desired results. But instead of feeling like a victim, learn from them so that you get better results next time.
If you only experience happiness, you will not value it. Life is an amusement park where you can choose your roller-coaster ride, but cannot predict how it will turn out. You can complain about it, or enjoy the unpredictability. You can resign yourself to a turbulent life. Or you can choose to be at peace instead of war.
What will you choose?