The making of new habits, moving towards something better, increased peace and life satisfaction. These are all things we think of when we think of ‘personal growth’. But growth isn’t all positives, it’s not all fun and games.
What people talk about less than the gaining of new values and perspectives that come with growth is the painful exercise of shedding old beliefs. The shedding of things that were once core to your being.
I’ve seen more change in this year than I have at any other point in my life, and grappling with all the things I was so terribly wrong about has been a tricky and trying experience. In this article, I’d like to share with you a few things I was very wrong about.
Be warned, this a very self-indulgent piece — it’s really just a letter to myself. But if you are a driven Type A person who feel you may be getting your priorities mixed up, read on, you might glean something…
I used to think watching TV was a complete waste of time. Why would I watch TV when I could create something when I could do something productive, something meaningful?
On the surface, this sounds like a common-sense argument. It’s not. It's pernicious. It’s pernicious for a number of reasons. Firstly, when you start viewing certain activities as a complete waste of time, especially if they are activities that the vast population enjoys, you start to disassociate yourself from the opportunity to socialise. My flatmates watch a lot of football. After work, they’d tune in to a game, crack open a beer and shout over their favourite teams.
I wouldn't watch the football. I’d go to my room and work. I told myself it’s because that’s what I wanted to be doing, and while to an extent this was true, there was a deeper, darker motive. I chose not to watch TV because this choice made me feel better than them. It was an ego-based decision, a decision that fed my own feeling of self-importance and success.
And this is the second reason adopting the mindset that a certain activity is a waste of time, it leads you to make judgements between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ activities. It puts you into a mentality that will have you are only seeking out opportunities to be productive, shunning activities that could bring you joy, just because your ego wouldn’t get its little self-importance massage.
Now I’m not I’m going to stop seeking out challenging, creative pursuits, but I am trying to stop being so relentlessly obsessed with labelling activities as good or bad. An hour of TV with a friend or loved one can be one of the nicest experiences on earth. Who gives a fuck if it's not productive.
If you’d have asked me 6 months ago what my life priorities were, I’d have given you an answer something like this.
In the past few months, I’ve realised that relationships are actually orders of magnitude more important than nearly everything else on the list. Humans are literally hard-wired to benefit from working with others, we need people around us to share our lives with, to communicate with, to support us and help us grow.
I’m blessed that I have a great friendship group and a loving family, but too often I’ve neglected this, thinking it will always be there, thinking it doesn’t need any effort to make it grow. This is such bullshit. In the greedy, consumerist society we live in it's so easy to get drawn into the easy to quantify measurements of success: money, free time, expensive possessions.
Relationships are harder to measure, so our egos deprioritise them. Really we should be investing as much time into relationships every day as we are in any other pursuit. Whether this is picking up a hobby with a friend, doing some small acts of kindness for your significant other, or spending more time visiting your parents.
I’ve been putting a lot more effort into doing cool things with my close mates, and I’m already seeing our relationships strengthen, and there’s not many better feelings than having a deep, meaningful relationship with a handful of close friends and family.
As you might be aware, I’m big on habits. From meditating daily, to frequent exercise, deep work and reading, I like to make habits out of everything. But I was wrong in thinking habits could provide fulfilment.
Positive habits can push your life in the right direction, they can help you achieve your goals, but they probably won’t make you happy. Why? Well, it’s simple, you already have the cake, you are just chasing the cherry.
If you are reading this blog post you have internet access, a smartphone, you have the gift of sight. Maybe you even have a loving family, some friends and a job that you enjoy. I have all of these things and more, so what good is an extra $100k, a ripped 6-pack, a slightly clearer mind — what are these improvements really going to do for my wellbeing? No, far important than chasing ‘growth’ is recognising what we have, really deeply feeling into the positive energy, love and the amazing nature of life that surrounds us.
I used to try and gain gratitude by journaling — and it is helpful to an extent, but really it was just me listing 3 things I was grateful for each morning, ‘hot coffee’ ‘that I get to see a friend tonight’ etc. This is not enough. Gratitude needs to become the operating system you run off. You need to attempt to feel gratitude deeply throughout the day. When you are eating, when you are conversing, when you are watching TV, when you are showering. We are unbelievably lucky, and we don’t even know it.
As a very driven, Type A personality, gratitude is still something I struggle with, I always need to achieve more, to be more successful, but this is something I’m really trying to change. If you have a similar disposition to me, I’d recommend you revisit your relationship with gratitude.
Looking at my role models it’s easy to see where the virtues I see as most desirable come from. I admire Kendrick Lamar for his creativity, Steve Jobs for his vision, Leonardo da Vinci for his curiosity, Russel Brand for his charisma.
Nowhere on this list is a role model I admire due to their kindness. Until recently, I didn’t even think of kindness as a particularly high virtue. The truth is, I didn’t really understand what it meant. I’d swing between associating kindness with ‘being nice’, something I have no intention of aiming towards, or associating kindness with doing what I felt was best for that person.
But this isn’t kindness at all. Kindness is a continuous act, whether that’s words, actions or initiatives, with the aim of doing what is best for somebody, not what you feel is best for them. That’s a subtle difference, it’s not good enough to do what you think is right, you have to know what is right for them.
This is why true kindness is so difficult to pull off. It’s easy to see someone in a tough spot and think ‘this is what I’d need right now’ but this isn’t kindness. Kindness requires true empathy. Kindness requires you to take serious time walking around in someone else’s shoes, and most people aren’t willing to spend the time going through this kind of work. Most people are nice, but few people are truly, deeply kind.
Kindness is what makes life worth living, it’s the most generous thing one person can do for another. I don’t want to be remembered for being innovative, creative or ‘successful’, just let people say I was kind and I’ll die a happy man.
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