#2: How to Figure Out Life (Part 1)

This article is part of a weekly email newsletter. You can subscribe here.

This week’s topics are:

  • Essay: How to figure out life (part 1).

How to figure out life (part 1)

Start by watching this 1 min video about the meaning of work (Source: WEF) and this powerful 45 secs clip from Steve Jobs how he sees the world.

How to live your life to make it the best life you can is probably the question each of us has asked ourself many times — especially when big decisions are due. It’s probably also the question I have been pondering the most. Here are my thoughts.

Don’t listen to others. Advise from other people will never be made for you. It’s either what they believe to be the right thing (which can be true or false), what they believe is right for them (which is different from what is right for you) or what they want you to do (self-serving, even parents can fall into this category).

You should though ask others to share their reasoning for why they think you should do x or should not do y but you should not ask what they would do in your shoes. That’s they — not you. Get as much data as possible (from other people, from books, etc.) and then weigh the pro and cons based on what matters to you.

Don’t outsource decisions to other people. It’s convenient and it’s easy but it most certainly is not the best advice for you.

We are all very different and we all suffer from many biases. Taking the time to understand who we are, how we function, and what we really want is, therefore, a fundamental prerequisite to living your best possible life. I believe that most people spend way too little time on this so very fundamental question. Every step closer to the answer will significantly improve your life. It’s a super high ROI use of your time.

Before you start trying to understand who you are and what you want, you need to firstunderstand how you (humans) function though.

We are misled in the belief that we are rational actors and have our own best interest at heart. That is often not true (hence the saying we are own worst enemy) because there are two actors within us: our conscious mind and our monkey mind. The monkey mind is the one that we don’t control, that talks to us telling us what to do, that worries, is anxious, judges us, gets angry, etc. It’s buried deep inside you, it’s very powerful and it’s a product of evolution. As Daniel Kahneman puts it in Thinking Fast and Slow: Your monkey mind is an elephant and you are the rider. You are a lot smarter than the elephant but the elephant is much stronger and got his own mind.

More importantly, your monkey mind has not been optimized for you to live a happy, content life but to ensure the best propagation of your genes. This is a lengthy subject and I will talk more about it in the future. For now, just realize that your emotional world is not you but your monkey mind. It’s your body nudging you to a certain, evolutionary optimal behavior. (If you can’t wait for more on this topic, get this book: The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology)

If you are like me, you are more concerned with the quality of your life than the propagation of your genes, you need to take control rather than being controlled.Realizing that there are two minds inside you is the first step in gaining control. A modern analogy: Rather than technology controlling you, you want to decide when to engage with technology — e.g. by switching off notifications (visual, auditory and tactile) you are not urged to look at the phone everytime it lights up or vibrates. (I see any change in behavior requiring you go through three stages: Awareness, understanding, integration. Everything starts with awareness.)

Once you fully appreciate this fact and stop being steered by your voices and emotions (this takes time and a lot of conscious effort: it’s hard work to fight nature), you can start understanding what you really want. (I’m not saying stop listening to your emotions. I listen to them, but I try not to let them control me.)

So what should you do?

First, understand that there is no price to win in life. We are competing on an imaginary scoreboard. The quality of your life experience will have very little to do with how successful financially and professionally you are. You are evolutionarily primed to believe otherwise but lots of studies have shown that this is not the case (more on this in future newsletters). But you can also appreciate that without believing the research: When you look back and reflect deeply about what made and makes you happy, content and thrive in the long-term, you will realize it had and has little to do with your achievements.

Money is a tool and I see its primary purpose in buying you the personal freedom to do what you want — not owning many things. By doing what you want I mean the ability to control your time and what you spend it on — not living a lavish lifestyle.

If you are not fully enjoying your life right now but you think you will in x years when you achieved y, you got it wrong. Your life happens now and life is about the journey, the experience, not the destination. This fallacy is also born out of our genetic predisposition that achievement makes us more attractive to the other gender (resources, status, power, etc. — this applies more to men, evolutionary for women it’s other things that make them attractive to men) and hence drives our behavior. It indeed makes us more attractive but at what price? The price of us not enjoying, even suffering in our current life. That’s a high price to pay. And even when we achieved y, we will not be any happier but more likely regret having spent years working on something that doesn’t fulfill us (check out the five regrets of the dying here).

Where I am going with this exercise is that before you can identify what you really want in life you first need to understand what forces are behind how you behave. Once you realize that there is evolutionary clutter in your mind and that you have to learn to actively control it (if you want to live a life on your terms) then you can start trying to understand what you really want.

Therefore the first step is learning to silence your ever worried and stressed monkey mind. There are many books on this topic. My favorite one and that I have gifted the most is The Untethered Soul. It’s transformative and you will never look at life the same way. It’s also a more spiritual book. If you are unsure if it is for you, check this great review here.

You can live your life in many ways. Ultimately, you need to find the way that’s best for you. My sole goal is to get you thinking and provide you with tools to help you find better answers. Ultimately, only you can know what’s best for you but the answer might not be the one you thought it is. Start observing yourself and asking questions.

Before you read on: I would love feedback on the above. Was it understandable? Did it help you? What should I explain more or do differently? Please leave your anonymous feedback here or reply to this email. Thank you!

Lastly: Besides our monkey mind, our rational mind has also plenty of shortcomings. To get a glimpse of how biased we unconsciously are and how that misleads our decision making, check out this 17 mins TED talk by Dan Ariely (5m views, author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions). You will be surprised! And these are just the cognitive biases!

Cryptocurrency. Reinventing civilization.

NYT article: Making a Crypto Utopia in Puerto Rico. I met Brock Pierce in 2015 at Summit in Powder Mountain, Utah. He talked a lot about Bitcoin but I didn’t make much of it at that time (stupid me!). Fast forward to 2018 and Bitcoin allegedly made him a billionaire. He and a group of others are now using their newly found fortune to build a city and a new society around Blockchain and public records in Puerto Rico. You can have many opinions on what their motivations are but if they can pull it off it’s going to be an incredibly interesting experiment of a society around a shared purpose or believe (tribe). I believe the model of the nation-state has seen its peak (and has shown it’s many shortcomings) and humanity is ready for something new. I’m curious to see how this project will evolve.

Quantum Computing. More dangerous than AI?

WP article: Quantum computers may be more of an imminent threat than AI. I met Vivek at Singularity University in 2010. He always provides insightful and often contrarian and probing perspective on Silicon Valley and technological development. His most recent article is on quantum computing which has made huge progress recently. (Technological progress is non-linear and exponential: We always overestimate it in the short term and underestimate it in the long-term. To appreciate the power of exponentials watch this 1 min video.) It seems like a fully fledged quantum computer could be ready in two years and — besides all the possibilities it creates in solving hugely complex problems in seconds — it would also render all forms of today’s encryption breakable. Think of the year 2K computer bug but much bigger.

Sleep. New workout: Napercise.

Is the importance of sleep going mainstream? Last week I talked about the importance of sleep. A UK gym seemed to have identified a business opportunity and created a power nap work out class (called Napercise). Read more about and check out the entertaining video here (1 min).

Thought of the week.

We spend so much time optimizing our external world (how we look, what we eat, what we own, etc.) and so little on our internal world (how we think and feel) though the quality of our experience in life is mostly determined by how we perceive the world which in turn is determined by our mind. I expect a shift from working out in the gym to more time spent working out your mind. Think of a PMT instead of your PT — a personal mind trainer.

Movie of the week. Inception.

7 or so years later, I watched Inception (148 min) again. I still think it’s one of the most mind-bending movies. It made me think that we actually live in a dream world. How we perceive the world is a product of our mind and our mind makes us see the world that is optimized from an evolutionary perspective. It’s basically a dumbed down version of the world, ignoring “less relevant” aspects. You realize how limited your perception of the world is when you experience an expansion of consciousness. (more on that in another newsletter but if you are into this topic, check out Stealing Fire.) We also experience different layers of reality which you can observe yourself (I think of those as layers of an onion). When you are stressed you zoom in (inner onion layer) and suddenly the whole world revolves around the single thing that stresses you and the notion that if you can’t resolve it, it might catastrophically impact for your life. I’m sure we all have been there. If one moves beyond those circumstances and looks back you wonder how you could have gotten that hung up on something which in hindsight seems not a big deal anymore.

The opposite we experience when we are in an elated or peaceful state like surrounded by untouched nature. It puts us in awe and makes us forget all the “problems”. Suddenly we see the big picture and that those daily worries are really not that life-threatening (outer onion layer). We spend way too much time buried deep inside the onion. I always suggest to my coaching clients that they should get out of their current environment (the one that they are stressed, worried or unhappy about) and go somewhere beautiful where they will regain a healthy perspective again.

If you have not seen the movie, watch it. It’s mind opening.

Gadget of the week. Focus better at work.

Music is a powerful way of changing our state. It can evoke any emotion in us depending on the song we are listening to. I try to remind myself if I get overtaken by a negative emotion to listen to an upbeat song and it does change your mood quite instantly. It’s called priming. It also shows how much we are controlled by our emotions. You can also prime yourself to focus better at work. I’m aware of two companies that provide streaming focus music: Brain.fm and focus@will. The latter currently has a lifelong subscription offer here ($60 instead of $300). Check out both companies for free because they offer different styles of music. I personally prefer focus@will but it depends on your music taste. (I’m not associated with any of the companies nor do I benefit from sharing this deal with you.)

Quote of the week.

“The illiterate of the 21sy century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler.

As a reader of this newsletter, you will surely appreciate this truth.

Share the goodness.

If you enjoyed this article, please clap (as many times as you like) so others can find it and forward it to a friend so they can enjoy it too. Not getting my newsletter yet? You can sign up here.

More?

Read last week’s edition here and read the next week’s edition here.

I have so much more to say but, besides lots of positive feedback (thank you!), I got two requests: make it shorter including fewer topics (“it’s very rich”, “it’s overwhelming”) and share more of your original thinking than just external links. I tried to do both in this newsletter. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts here anonymously or hit reply. I really want and appreciate your feedback. Any — whether negative or positive — is welcome.

About this newsletter and me.

ConsciousX started as a passion project sharing the life insights I gained contemplating over the last years. As a result, I recorded 40+ videos on topics like why you should stop caring what others think of you (watch my video here, 6 mins), how to prime yourself happy (video, 4 mins), how to communicate with others (video, 7 mins), or why you should embrace uncertainty. You can find all the video’s here. If you want to learn more about me, check out my site. I also wrote some articles on Medium, for example on How to overcome anxiety or you can follow me on Facebook where I post links to interesting articles from time to time (my focus is now on this newsletter). If you want to get in touch, just hit reply and type away.

Have a great rest of the week!
Vincent

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store