When you are planning your backpacking trip, you might find it hard to decide whether to plan your route, or to freeball it and go where the wind takes you. Both are great methods of travel, and you won’t really know which you prefer until you do it! Here are some pros and cons to […]

At some point, most people today have been confronted with the elusive question of the meaning of life. Recently, this has been bothering more so because I couldn’t understand the meaning of my life–or rather what to do with my life–and wanted some sense of direction that I couldn’t seem to find. So when I […]

I know that from this title you are probably thinking, “Wow, this must be some hippy post.” And I would say, “Yes, you are right about that.” Because sometimes, you have to get a little bit hippy if you want to survive in this world.

We’ve all faced moments where we have felt attacked from some source of negative energy. This could be coming from a person or some even happening in your life. I don’t have to explain to you that this does not feel good. It debases you–makes you feel like you are now unsafe in this world of what, at is core, is order, harmony, and love. How do you get back to this calm place of inner strength?

The first thing to do is to look inward–this is where the discord is coming from. Without a pre-existing source of internal discord, a negative emotional response could not have been triggered from the external source. Because we have less control over the people and conditions around us than we do over ourselves, the best thing to do is go straight to the source, and look within.

In the intense emotion of the moment, I find it comforting to think of universal order personified. This may be through a God, or an energy–whatever works for you. It’s that feeling of nurturing; that everything is safe and going to be okay. From that assurance of protection, a sense of calmness floods you. You can imagine a safe place in your mind that you can go to for a short meditation of sorts. It will be different and deeply personal for everyone. It could be a forest that you have imagined, it could be your grandparent’s living room you were always at when younger, it could even be some random cave in the middle of the Himalayas. None of it matters. But this is your sacred place: your place of peace. Sit here for a while, feeling the universal energy pulse around you like a river and remember–we are all connected.

In these moments, I have found inspiration hit me as if coming from nowhere. I have found solace, and divine energy. A renewed faith in the universe and life. Every moment is an opportunity for us to move from anger, bitterness, and confusion to a state of love and compassion. You wouldn’t expect it, but our open wounds can be the most fruitful ways to open our hearts.

Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see Life with a clearer view again.”

–Alex Tan

Have faith that every moment happens for your benefit, and go forward with renewed strength.

Recently, I was working my university’s commencement ceremony as a gate-keeper. A few others and myself would stand at certain points in a location to ensure that attendees of the ceremony would not get through. Basic crowd-control. This was my most recent brush-up with what I like to call “The Law of Self-Assurance.”

Let me explain. The people who were power-walking and looked like they knew where they were going were usually able to bypass us and our screening speech (What are you looking for, how can I help? i.e. Whatever it is is not important and you shouldn’t be here). They would do this without a badge or graduation robe. Half of the time we didn’t go after them because it would be too much trouble, and the other half because it actually seemed like they knew what they were doing and therefore should be there. The people who were lolly-gagging, looking around, or talking with others were unable to pass us. Here, we can see the Law of Self-Assurance in effect.

The Law basically states that if you act with self-assurance in what you are doing, people will let you do it with little to no questioning. The reasons for this simple rule are as follows:

1) Very few people have full information on anything, so if you look like you know what is going on, they will assume that you do know what is going on. In our case, we did not know all of the different components of how the event worked and who else was involved. Therefore, the people passing with an air of purpose might know more than we do, and so it is easier to let them do it. The key is to activate the Law of Self-Assurance amongst people who do not know any better (most people).

2) Effort. Humans will want to expend the least amount of effort in many situations. By looking self-assured and filled with purpose, you have laid down the groundwork for what people should expect from you. Questioning that image would be going against the grain for an on-looker, forcing them into a situation in which they expend the most effort–highly unwanted. Each day, many of the decisions we make are decisions we have made before and make continually out of habit, or are those that others have made for us. This is because it is the path of least resistance and effort for our brain to take so that we can expend energy on something that we have not encountered before. Naturally, if someone has done the work of deciding for us of who they are and what their role is in the situation, we are more likely to allow that assumption to perpetuate that question it.

3) Most people dislike confrontation, either because of possible expended effort or a fear of rejection or disapproval. Although you don’t want to get into an altercation with the poor gate-keepers, they do not know that. There is an innate fear in people with rejection and confrontation, which is why people have a natural response to predict and scan for situations in which these altercations might occur so that it can be avoided. By looking self-assured, they already know that you are less likely to agree with what they might say because what you are doing is counter to their plea. Consciously or not, they attempt to avoid this and therefore let you do what you want.

Above are some points as to how the Law of Self-Assurance operates. There are certain conditions to the law, as well as exceptions depending on the situation. However, these points generally remain true. What is more important than how it works is to know that it does work. Between you and I, we know that you actually have no place being where you are, and hence cannot actually believe that you genuinely belong there unless you are deluded. The confidence and belief in the Law is what takes the place of that, and allows you to carry on getting where and what you want with panache and flair.

So the next time you want to do something or go somewhere that you are not technically invited to do, try out this Law of Self-Assurance and see what happens!

“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Truth be told, Eleanor’s quote is not what inspired this revolutionary thought in my life, but I felt that it added a bit more punch to the statement when coming from “The First Lady of the World” than from a self-proclaimed confused college student. The instigator of this revelation within myself was the proverb:

“Sunshine all the time makes a desert.”

After having a stressful time in school, I had supplemented my personal research with a wave of self-help books and articles whose genres ranged from biographical, scientific, new-age, religious, etc. It was fortunate that there was such a large wave of burgeoning writers going through their mid-life crises, so I didn’t find myself at a loss for reading material. Happiness was and continues to be one of the trendy topics in research–it’s what we are all looking for and can’t seem to have enough of. Like John Lennon, I decided that all I wanted to be was happy.

One day I was thinking about my obsession with happiness and realized that life isn’t about that. All of life is beautiful no matter what is happening. We prefer the good moments, but we really would not be able to appreciate that without the bad. I’m so happy because I knew what it was like to be in the exact opposite situation and I knew how to appreciate what I had. And life is about the balance and the existence of opposites. Not only would we not be able to appreciate without the opposite, the good would not even exist without the opposite. Our willingness to feel the beauty of life comes with our acceptance of how things are.

Because of the nature of reality, we cannot really want just happiness, we want something else. I believe that that is fulfillment–fulfillment from a life well lived. That is the eternal questions–How can we live life well? I cannot say I know the answer to this since each person is so different, but some things I think are generally true. As children, we have dreams of what we wish to be or things that we feel compelled to do with our lives. It is in the striving of stretching ourselves to be these new visions of ourselves that makes life worth the living. The goals that we each have within ourselves–the dream of the champion within us–is what propels our actions in this life.

Once we can let go of the idea that happiness is something to strive towards, we can appreciate life in its fullness. Only by accepting what is can we move towards genuine improvement. The fulfillment of having lived our lives our way and to the fullest of our capabilities is “a life well lived”.

“What am I supposed to do?!” is the main undercurrent thought in my life–and that probably will not change until I make up some relatively satisfactory answer.

Ergo, I spend much of my time looking for this answer. One of my methods is to browse random sites on StumbleUpon. I wasn’t expecting to find anything that useful, but I did: Paul Graham’s would-have-been high school commencement speech, “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”. On one hand, the material was a little too apt not to sting, since I did indeed wish I had known this in high school. On the other, it isn’t too late for me to utilize this (she said unconvincingly).

I’ve distilled the main points that I found to be useful to a college student, and encourage you to read the short speech for yourself.

“The best protection is alway to be working on hard problems. Writing novels is hard. Reading novels isn’t. Hard means worry: if you’re not worrying that something you’re making will come out badly, or that you won’t be able to understand something you’re studying, then it isn’t hard enough. there has to be suspense. 

Well, this seems a grim view of the world, you may think. What I’m telling you is that you should worry? Yes, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.It’s exhilarating to overcome worries. You don’t see faces much happier than people winning gold medals. And you know why they’re so happy? Relief.

I’m not saying this is the only way to be happy. Just that some kinds of worry are not as bad as they sound.” 

George Sheehan wrote something similar in his book, Running and Being. That we find pleasure in stretching ourselves over and over again no matter the strain–or because of the strain. I read a lot, but what do I create? I consume without offering my gains back to the world–and that is the problem. We will not be able to consume and learn more if we are not going to offer something back and complete the cycle. One may think that I would be satisfied with contemplating life and just traveling around the world my whole life. But I doubt this. I would like to do that, but will I not miss the pleasure of the chase, of the risk of putting yourself into something and possibly failing? I can’t say that I fully understand the reason for the necessity of this cycle, but I do sense that it is there. I don’t like to fail–that’s for sure–but I would rather fail than have my soul withering away inside of my seemingly young body from the disuse of my potential. It is in the overcoming that I may remain alive in this life.

“When a friend of mine used to grumble because he had to write a paper for school, his mother would tell him: find a way to make it interesting. that’s what you need to do: find a question that makes the world interesting. People who do great things look at the same world everyone else does, but notice some odd detail that’s compellingly mysterious…

If it takes years to articulate great questions, what do you do now, at sixteen? Work toward finding one. Great questions don’t appear suddenly. They gradually congeal in your head. And what makes them congeal is experience. So the way to find great questions is not to search for them–not to wander about thinking, what great discovery shall I make? You can’t answer that; if you could, you’d have made it.

The way to get a big idea to appear in your head is not to hunt for big ideas, but to put in a lot of time on work that interests you, and in the process keep your mind open enough that a big idea can take roost…

Put in time how and on what? Just pick a project that seems interesting: to master some chunk of material, or to make something, or to answer some question… Do something hard enough to stretch you, but only just, especially at first. If you’re deciding between two projects, choose whichever seems most fun. If one blows up in your face, start another. Repeat till, like an internal combustion engine, the process becomes self-sustaining, and each project generates the next one. (This could take years.)”

Sometimes we try to put the cart before the horse and think of what we want, and do what we think is necessary to get there. However, in my experience and studies, this is rarely to case. We need to do what we want, and this will lead us to the things that we want–whether we knew it or not. That is the only sustainable model. If you like running a business, it will lead you run more of that business and you will be happy and wealthy. If you want to be wealthy and think that running a business is the only way to get there, then you will do that, but perhaps you don’t like running a business. You will not be able to sustain this action for long and the wealth will have been short-term.

So before you start plotting and scheming ways to get what you think you want, why don’t you take a look at what interests you? Before giving up on the world, try to remember when you were young and interested in everything. This curiosity is the reason people get up in the morning and have any sense of meaning in life.

Experience as much as you can each day–something new–if you can’t find or remember an area of interest. It is effort, but not in vain. This question and thirst is what will sustain you throughout this life and lead you to your greatness.

I find that university wants me to already have this question when I have not even had experience yet. I know absolutely nothing of the world and my interaction with it is limited–how am I to know which questions I would like to ask? Sometimes we might have to break away from the system even if it pains us so that we may reenter later with the sense and conviction necessary to make that system grow our potential.

“Your life doesn’t have to be shaped by admissions officers. It could be shaped by your own curiosity. It is for all ambitious adults. And you don’t have to wait to start. In fact, you don’t have to wait to be an adult. There’s no switch inside you that magically flips when you turn a certain age or graduate from some institution. You start being an adult when you decide to take responsibility for your life. You can do that at any age.” 

You can do it at any age, or never at all. I do wish that I had realized the full immensity of these words while in high school, yet it is better late than never. Some people live their lives already dead, with self-imposed restrictions or restrictions that they could easily cast off. Being an adult is not just the actions that you take, but the internal conversation that you have with your life. Are you making decisions for yourself? Are you doing what is necessary to live the life that you want to live? We have control of our lives, but it takes some effort and breaking away from the normalcy of the rut of despair that we have put ourselves in. Be conscious of whatever situation you are in, and take responsibility for the actions that you need to take to live this adult life. Do this, or forever live with the shackles of your own making.

I implore you to read his would-have-been-speech (the link to which I have provided below) no matter your age. There is something about the unpleasantness of life being put into words that makes our fears a little less pressing and change a little less daunting.

 

Paul Graham’s “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”: http://www.paulgraham.com/hs.html

Being a college student, there are naturally multiple high-stake decisions that I have to make. For example: What college to go to, to stay or to go, what major to pursue. All of these decisions deal with setting up the rest of my life basically, or so it seems. Even if things go a different way in the future, a smart decision still has to be made now.

These sorts of decisions continue the plague us throughout out lives: Should I change careers? Should I marry? Have a family? When? Should I move? And the list goes on. One thing stays the same in this life and it is that everything changes. Stress introduces itself to us when we have more options and are aware of our responsibility to instigate the changes in our own lives.

Therefore, I have spent hours trying to find answers and trying to figure out how to make these decisions, so I’ve decided to compile a nice little list of decision-making tactics:

1. Be psychic. My best case scenario is that I encounter someone who can tell me these answers or somehow become endowed with these powers myself.

2. Use my subconscious. By now, we all know that the subconscious is the part of ourselves that actually wears the pants in the relationship. Reading through The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, I came across a chapter regarding having your subconscious aid in your decision making process. One way is to think about the question and the options before sleep and to affirm that you know the answer. Hopefully after a week or two you wake up with the answer through your dreams or clear knowing.

Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/68984.The_Power_of_Your_Subconscious_Mind

3. Change perspective on decision-making. I recently watched Ruth Chang’s talk on TED, How to Make Hard Choices, and it provided a completely new look at making decisions. I have found that when making decisions that carry quite a bit of weight and consequence, I become filled with anxiety. I try to analyze myself, include lessons from the past, integrate all components that affect the decision, and also try to predict to the best of my ability what will happen. However, there are sometimes so many options and factors that it would be impossibly to weigh everything out and come to a sensible conclusion in that manner. And as mentioned, I can’t predict the future. Her video asks us to change our perspective from one of trying to make the choice that will yield the best outcome with a bucketload of anxiety. To her, making decisions should be one in which you GET TO construct your future. You make the decision not with a fear of making a misstep because as we all know, things go wrong. You make a decision with the excitement of being able to shape who you are. After looking at my choices this way, the useless feeling of anxiety that hindered my decision-making process left me.

Link: http://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices

4. Pretend you are in a video game. Some people say that our experience of reality is actually simulated in a sense, and I agree with this because I think that there is a bigger picture than this. However, you do not have to believe this to use this technique. Playing a video game or board game is very similar to the game of life, or so its called by some people. In the game, we are removed yet also engrossed. The main point is to use strategy. Sometimes we get so emotionally invested in our issues that we don’t focus on utilizing logical process to make decisions. Take a break out of your day and pretend this is a video game, just more complex. Look at your objectives and then look at the problems. Breaking it down in this manner can actually make it much easier for you to make better long-term decisions– then you can go back to living your life as life.

5. Pretend you are giving advice to a random person. I find that when we are confused and ask for advice, we actually know what we want to do and are just looking for an outside opinion to confirm our thoughts. Nobody knows you or your life better than you. In many cases, you are fully equipped to make a better decision for yourself than anyone else. So here is the process: write down your questions, answer it objectively as if it was someone else’s problem, and lastly integrate this advice into your own life.

And it cannot be said enough, no decision IS a decision! As my dad says, “Make a decision, whether it’s right or it’s wrong. You can change it later.” If you find yourself paralyzed by decision-making, use some of these tips and remember to MAKE THAT DECISION and don’t be scared of making a wrong turn. If you do, you can weather it and get back on track, because that is what we do!