Reflections on Fear

Fear of failure. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of being vulnerable. Fear of success. Fear of responsibility. Fear of action. Fear of passivity. Fear of being let down. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of emotional pain. Fear of physical pain. Fear of being yourself. Fear of reputation. Fear of expectations.

Fear of … fear of … fear of …

Fear has many faces and everyone is afraid of something. Some fears are rational, others are irrational, many are debilitating, some are paralyzing and yet, all can be conquered, if you wish it so.

Fears are often based upon action. When we wish for a certain outcome to take place and so, we start to make plans of how we can turn that wish into reality but then, our minds automatically begin to think of scenarios where our actions will lead to a different event, a painful, embarrassing event, where failure can occur and hence, fear builds upon successive thoughts and we find ourselves at the mercy of fear. Unwilling to act because we are afraid of a possibility that may occur.

Should I still act? Or should I do something else?

She’s going to say no, so let’s do something else. Don’t bother, you won’t get the promotion, let’s go a different way. You’ll never be able to do that, it’ll be a waste of time.

In order to deal with such fears we often lower our gaze, set our sights to something smaller, something manageable which we can achieve with little risk and so, we settle due to fear.

Pain is another cause of fear. Most people don’t like to get hurt. They rather avoid pain, whether it is physical or psychological. We rather be comfortable and repeat pleasurable actions which have a small chance of hurting us. This is why when we think of taking action that will cause us to be uncomfortable and go beyond our perceived limitations, fear begins to kick in.

A marathon would be good to run but think of the last time you tried to run and the pain it caused your feet. To create a piece of art would be fulfilling but think about the pain of rejection. It’d be good to join a group but think about the awkwardness that could take place.

Once more, we bow to fear and do not attempt something great, something meaningful and we mistake our timid actions for actions but in reality, you are still living passively, not living life as it is meant to be lived for you allow fear to manipulate your wants and needs.

What to do then? What to do when you are afraid?

The answer is simple.

Act anyway.

Fear is imprisoning. If you allow it to dictate your life, your emotions, your actions then you will never be free. You will remain a mass of unfulfilled potential, inexperienced being, alive and yet not living.

We have to understand what Frank Herbert understood about fear. In his classic novel, Dune, Frank Herbert uses the analogy of death when he speaks of fear. When you allow fear to manage your actions, you have just experienced a little death and as time goes on and you make more decisions due to fear, you experience more little deaths and eventually, obliteration.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Fear lives in the future. Where something could happen. Or it may not. What you fear may come true or it could not. Perhaps if you still act in the face of fear, you’ll realize that even in failure, your perceived trauma greatly outweighed the real consequences. Understand that pain is temporary, that the discomfort will go away but the accomplishment of acting even though you were afraid will stick around, you will look back and think of what you achieved rather than the pain you felt.

That painful moment, that fearful moment becomes a fond memory. It can turn into a catalyst of the simple and powerful thought “what else can I do?”.

An additional thought begins to occur “What else am I afraid of?”.

When you act regardless of fear you begin to make changes in your habits, in the way you think, in your character. You stop your life from being led by something else and you begin to lead your own life.

Through fear you get freedom, otherwise, it’s obliteration.

Reflections On Mastery Through Resistance Practice

Recently I read Robert Greene’s book, Mastery. The book puts forth the argument that everyone can master a skill which they love if you follow the outline that has been present throughout history. Greene draws from famous figures and links them to his principles and steps in order to showcase that no matter the discipline, whether it be sciences or art or sports, the underlying facts are the same. Simply put, in order to become a master at your craft, one needs to practice, with intent and focus, for hours on end coupled with discipline, self-control, and emotional stability.

Hence, there are no magic tricks. No short cuts. No Genie granting your wishes.

The reality is that in order to mastery something it will take years if not decades to get good at so you have to be in it for the long haul.

Now in the book, there are many different practices and principles one needs to understand in order to fully grasp the idea Greene has put forth. However, I will just be concentrating on one particular practice.

Robert Greene refers to it as Resistance practice. I previously discussed Steven Pressfield‘s notion of Resistance and Greene’s beliefs are similar to Pressfield. In whatever you do, there will be resistance, whether that comes in the form of external obstacles or whether it manifests itself through self-doubt or other psychological barriers. Knowing this, one must essentially strengthen their will and focus towards resistance through practice.

So, instead of waiting for some barrier or obstacle to come your way and then seeing if you can withstand it, you must create your own. That is just one part of it, the other being the constant practice of actually overcoming those barriers or obstacles. In this way, you build up your ability to combat resistance which allows you to achieve a higher level of proficiency in your craft.

An example of resistance practice would be to give yourself deadlines. Such self-imposed difficulty was what the great poet John Keats often practiced as Robert Greene mentioned in his book. Keats would give himself goals to write 50 lines each day and would commit to finishing long poems, up to 4,000 words, within 7  months. Through such deadlines, he would have to force himself to overcome laziness and self-doubt, to become more time efficient, to be more disciplined and essentially, to improve his character in order to meet his demands.

And so, we need to change our mindset when it comes to resistance.

Resistance is an ally. We need it to get to the next level in our craft. The lack of resistance or the lack of intensity allows us to remain comfortable and safe. Growth comes when you are uncomfortable. Resistance is uncomfortable which is why we must practice it in order to grow. The pressure of resistance aids us in creating what we dream of, making that dream a reality.

Reflections On Productivity

Laziness and procrastination often come in my way of having a productive day. Having spent years honing these two terrible habits, now I’ve become good at the things I don’t want to be good at. The worst thing is that when I am being lazy or procrastinating, I am well aware of what I should be doing and so, these habits just produce feelings of guilt and shame after having failed to do the right thing. The next day, those feelings of guilt may rule my action and make me stay on the proper path but then the day after, it is back again, fighting these habits, it seems to be an endless struggle if one agrees with Steven Pressfield and his thoughts on Resistance. Which I do and so, this understanding makes the feeling of guilt even worse, for I knowingly give into resistance.

However, there are good days, many of them and those good days are a product of two things. Scheduling the day and following my routine. I work best when I am less “free”. By that I mean, if I know exactly what I need to do at each hour of the day from waking to when I go to sleep, this includes resting, then, I am more likely to follow through with my schedule. In his book, Can’t Hurt Me, David Goggins issues ten challenges to improve one’s own life through your own actions. One of the challenges is to start scheduling your entire day so you can realize how much time you really have, how much time you actually waste and how you can always find time to do the things you want to do. This has been incredibly helpful. Goggins suggests starting this process by taking small steps. This is true with most things. First, simply block out the time that is dedicated to priority items, such as work or school. Once that is scheduled in, one can see what time periods are “empty”. Pockets of time prior to or after the priority items. The second step is then to fill out these “empty” spots with things that you want to do. Goggins says to start simply by scheduling a 20-minute block of time dedicated to a specific want, where you are completely focused on that want for that period of time. Over time, that block can grow and change and each night, you schedule your next day in several blocks of time and one comes to an understanding of how much time they really have and how best to use it.

Scheduling has helped with my procrastination. If I was “free”, meaning I simply had a checklist of things I wanted to do today, I often found myself wasting the day and then trying to cram in my checklist in the evening when I’m tired and lazy. Such a combination often resulted in failure. However, by starting early in the morning and making use of my day, evenings can be more relaxing and I can be at ease, having done the things I wanted to do.

Laziness is still an issue. Which is why a routine is so important. Laziness can be countered by being almost in a robotic state, where one can dial in and focus on their daily routine and start to act without allowing the mind to interfere. Of course, this doesn’t work every day. Resistance wins every now and then but most of the days, I am able to overcome my impulse to do nothing and follow my routine.

Routine and schedule also have an additional benefit. Simply, you can see what you were supposed to do today. If you fail, you can see what you failed at and you can pinpoint the exact part of your routine or schedule where you got off the path. You can also remember the train of thought that made you get off. Reflecting on such things, you can do better next time, see the warning signs coming, know the moment of weakness is approaching and that resistance is fighting back. Here, by saying disciplined, tuning out the mind, and following your routine, you can win the day.

Reflections on Resolutions

With the coming of the new year, many people, myself included, make promises and goals which they hope to achieve in the near future. Goal setting exercises are not only useful but they are needed as well. At least for myself, I do better when I know what my target is. It’s hard to navigate through the day or week or month without a plan and a strict schedule. Without such things, I find that I have wasted the day.

Which is why for the next year, I’ve made resolutions as I have done previously. However, in the previous years, I have failed to stay true to my word because in those years, I had simply just made a list of things that I hoped I would be able to do but I did not make a detailed plan on how I meant to achieve my goals.

Furthermore, even the goals were vague. They were as simple as getting stronger or read more books or to write consistently. Such vague goals are hard to track and without consistent feedback of whether I am improving or if I’m plateauing and failing to keep going in the proper direction, I find myself giving up, giving into a list of excuses and ultimately being content with failure.

In order to counter such a possible future for myself, I need detailed goals and a plan to achieve them. Instead of simply saying “get stronger”, I have to list exactly how much weight I plan on lifting in a particular exercise by the end of the year. Instead of saying “read more books”, I need to make a list of 50 books or so that I plan on finishing next year. Instead of saying “write consistently”, I need to dial in either a number of words per day or number of pages per day and so on, applying more specific goals at whatever I wish to improve. Careers, relationships, hobbies, etc, all can be broken down into specific targets or marks that you wish to hit.

Detailed goals are the first step, the second step is the plan. With planning, one needs to answer how and visualize possible failures or obstacles. How do you plan on achieving this goal? Would you have to wake up earlier in the morning? Would you have to make better use of your lunch break? How should your works be split? Does it mean cutting back on distractions that take up your time? Would you need constant reminders to stay on track? What daily practices do you have to do? Weekly? What takes priority? Can you split your time efficiently or is it best to tackle each goal one at a time?

Answer each question may raise more questions but through this exercise, you get to narrow down how you need to act in order to get to where you wish to go.

The biggest obstacle when it comes to such an exercise is yourself. Your own habits and actions. In a way, your self sabotaging manners cause you to fail. At least, I have found this to be true for myself. Hence, why you must visualize. You have to see yourself doing the task that you have set for yourself and then see all the ways that you may prevent yourself from fulfilling the tasks. This may be as simple as understanding your desire to hit the snooze button and then scroll through social media before getting up in the morning, however, by the time you get up, you may have wasted the early start that you had planned in order to get one of your tasks done. Or, visualization may tackle more important issues, such as negative self-talk. Perhaps you have to see yourself attempting and failing a task and then know your negative self-talk will cause you to either not try again and give up on the task or try with a lousy effort, fail faster and then give up. Through visualizing you can at least know that certain obstacles will be there and so, you can plan for those obstacles rather than blindly running.

Resolutions, goals, promises are important, in many ways, this is how people find meaning in their lives, it gives people a sense of direction which is why that feeling of not achieving your goals hurts so much and feels so horrible because it really did mean something to you. Having specific goals and a plan of action can help, however, even such things are bulletproof. Failure is part of life and you may fail to keep up with all your resolutions, however, if you can improve even one aspect of your life through resolutions and goal setting, then its worth the effort.

Reflections: Need To Hold Oneself To A Higher Standard

Recently I have thought a lot about where I aim. What I mean by this is in order for me to become the individual I wish to be, I need to have some kind of target which I aim at otherwise I would be lost. Without a target, I would lack a sense of direction. So, having established a need of a target, the natural question arises is simply, what kind of target is this? What is my aim? Who do I wish to be?

The simple answer is, I wish to be great. To be all that I can be. My aim is high and not low for a low aim seems to be a waste of life’s opportunities and experience. A small aim seems petty, it seems concerned with petty pleasures and desires and with it, the accomplishment of small aims seems to lack a true feeling of fulfillment for I know that this accomplishment is cheapened by my lack of effort that is required.

This is an easy notion to understand because there is a clear difference in accomplishment when you finish something that you found difficult in comparison to finishing something that was easy.

Attempting to do something great is accompanied by a sense of fear or stress because there is a chance of failure. When you aim low that chance of failure lessens and with it, the fear and stress also go down. But when the aim is high, then not only is there the notion of failure but also of effort. Reason being, a high target cannot be reached through minimal effort. It requires the sacrifice of comfortable things and a comfortable attitude and this in itself is a deterrent to a higher aim.

However, if the aim is high and one is able to reach it and accomplish something that is truly difficult for that individual, the reward is equally as high. What I mean by reward is not necessarily material or external but rather it is the internal reward that I aim for. The knowledge that I can accomplish a difficult task. That may seem like a simple understanding but what comes with this accomplishment is a molding of one’s character that becomes more disciplined and seeks to work rather than shying away from such a thing. The reason being, higher aims require one to develop and change their character to meet that aim.

These aims then become a higher standard by which you live your life by. The standard which is kept simple and straightforward and easy to understand. This standard is one that involves sacrificing the pleasures of the present in order for the development of a good future. In order to stay firm on this path of sacrificing petty pleasures, one has to be disciplined and equally important, one has to control the thoughts that enter and leave their mind. For negative and pessimistic thoughts lower ones aim. Hence, the standard now involves discipline of action and thought and additionally, an optimistic view that one’s effort will result in a better future and a sense of trust that the sacrifices in the present are worth making. Another standard that is required is a constant attempt to seek the uncomfortable. The reason for this that by staying comfortable, you only change minimally, if you change at all. The comfortable approach is one that is aimed at the low. When you become uncomfortable and attempt something new and difficult, you challenge your mind, which will be coming up with a million different reasons as why you should abandon this cause and stay comfortable, and when you can overcome this, you are able to tame or at the very least, resist the mind, then you come to a realization that this things that you were avoiding, that made you uncomfortable, were not all that bad, this realization opens up the world to you and with it more experiences that result in a fulfiller experience of this finite life.

So, the way I see it is that if you keep your standards low, you will adapt to meet them. If you keep your standards high, you will adapt to meet them as well with effort. However, it is the internal growth that differentiates one adaptation from the other. The internal growth is what is accomplished when that target is high and the aim is constantly readjusted towards this higher target.

Reflections: On Human Nature

Recently I have been studying the First World War and along with this, I have also spent time reading about the atrocities committed in the Second World War, specifically the Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust. These conscious human actions have made me think about good or evil and whether or not humans are good. I’ve come to lean away from believing that most humans are fundamentally good and neither do I think they are evil. Rather, they have the capacity to do both, which is in some ways a sad truth but in another, it is a gift because when you do meet a genuinely good human being, it means that person has molded and made themselves good.

We all can commit horrible evil and to do wonderful good. Believing this is unsettling as well because to me this means that a person foundation can be determined by others. It can be swayed to one side or other by how the group is feeling because many people never create their own good or evil, their own limits and restrictions, instead they borrow that from the group they belong too.

What I mean by this is that it was ordinary men, truck drivers, waiters, business owners who participated in the Holocaust. The Japanese soldiers in Nanjing were regular working civilians as well but they still committed those acts. They knowingly committed these acts.  These people were not born like this. I am sure they told jokes and laughed, shared food, acted selflessly towards one another, told each other about their loved ones and about their hopes and dreams and then they committed rape and mass murder and then, those who survived the war, went back to their civilian lives.

It’s almost like this moment of madness in the otherwise neutral way of life. This plain existence on a chart that is disrupted by a sudden uptick and then back to the horizontal line as if the madness that is in us is able to breathe life for a moment. But this moment of madness existed and has always existed in humans. Almost everyone would have been a Nazi and they would have done those acts and the same goes with Japan and Nanjing.

This is no excuse but rather something that is evident of humans. Humans are adaptive. At the end of the day, humans will do whatever it takes to survive and to keep going and if this means to allow the madness inside of them to come out and rage, then so be it and if it means to keep the madness caged and lead a civilian life, then it shall remain caged, for the most part. You see it, madness, peak its head out in civilian life as well but not as much because there are laws to stop that and there is a certain way of life that everyone has agreed upon to live that stops this madness from raging.

But at war, when there is disorder, when it is not reason that leads but rather your appetite, your emotions and feelings that lead you and control you, it is difficult to keep the madness caged and it comes out and when it is unfiltered, you see the evil in man and the evil that has always been in man be unleashed and the consequences of this evil are hard to comprehend. This is compounded when the leader of the group allows the madness to go and even encourages it. Perhaps this is why it is easier for most people to cage off the group and say that something was wrong with that group. Something was wrong with the Nazi’s or the Japanese men at Nanjing but I don’t think they were any different from most people on the planet.

The reason for this is that there is only a small minority of individuals who lead their lives based on their own principles and rules. Most people live life according to the principles and rules set by group so, when those rules change, the individual follows and lives by the new rules but if one sets his or her own rules or principles then the outside does not affect it and by doing so, that individual can be the one to not only say no to killing an innocent child but try to save that child and even give his or her own life to do so.

However, most people don’t have to come to terms with such a thing. Most people live quiet lives where there is no need for the madness that is inside of them and whatever little madness does leak out every so often, it is easy to cage again. Most people then believe themselves to be good or at least lean closer to good rather than evil. They put up these false thoughts that they could never commit horrible evil.

But how do you know this to be true? If you have never faced a circumstance that tests your goodness and presents evilness as a viable choice and a choice that is being made by those around you, how do you know how you will act?

I doubt very much that the ordinary German or Japanese citizen ever thought that in a year or two they would be killing innocent women and children. Yet they did.

So, I think of the good and evil question and I cannot say the human being is either. It is good when it needs to be and it is evil when it needs to be.

Such are we.

Reflections: On “It Never Is As Good As It Can Be Done”

Action involves a level of acceptance that what you are doing is not as good as it can be done. The act of action takes away from the ideal thing that was in your mind and leaves you with something that is an inferior form of that thing. This truth can be unsettling for you still know what it could have been and yet, you have to make peace with what it ended up being.

I struggle with this in my writing all the time. Those perfect sentences or scenes in my head can’t be replicated by the pen. With each word and each sentence, the ideal form of the story changes and by the end of it, the act is in some ways a failure. Failure to create the perfection that only seems to exist in the mind.

Yet, you have to keep acting. The writing still must be done. Next time, you hope to step closer to that ideal vision or the ideal form of the story and you fail again and the time after that take another step closer.

I feel like this is in many ways what my life has been about. Acting on the vision of perfection which becomes more imperfect with each action. However, the opposite of this is not ideal either. Inaction and just dreaming. That will lead you nowhere but where you are right now and I must move forward.

As Rudyard Kipling said in his poem If, “If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim”, avoid these complacent acts and you may step closer to becoming a man.

So, there must be action. With that comes the acceptance of imperfection. With imperfection comes the knowledge that you can do better. With this knowledge comes the second act, an action that sets to improve on the previous attempt.

As Kurt Vonnegut puts it, “So it goes”.

Endless attempts to create the forms that don’t exist in this world. You reach into this other world where these forms exist in the hopes of pulling these forms to our world but all you get is torn piece of cloth or fading memory of the form at best and usually, it’s even less. Yet you have a simple understanding something greater exists and you have to make do with this and attempt to create your own perfection.

The quote “it never is as good as it can be done” is not a pessimistic one. It’s optimistic. It says you can get better, to do better, you have improvements to make and it’s a lifelong truth, a companion that stays with you and at the end of it, it gives meaning to life for it makes you live, create and take action.