Posted in Life & Happiness

Hanlon’s Razor

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

This concept has been around since the dawn of time, with many astute, wise people noting that more likely than not, people cause harm not because they wish to, but because they are human.

In 1774, Goethe wrote in his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther:

“Misunderstandings and lethargy perhaps produce more wrong in the world than deceit and malice do. At least the latter two are certainly rarer.”

The more popular, simplified saying at the beginning is now called Hanlon’s Razor and it summarises human behaviour concisely and poetically.

Firstly, it emphasises that people (including us) are stupid. We are flawed creatures. Sure, we may have very capable brains, but we are also hamstrung by psychological biases, manipulation, instincts and impulses. We know that we should exercise, but instead we find ourselves binging TV. We know that we should not lash out at our partner, but we find ourselves reacting to our emotions instead of being proactive. More often than not, we make mistakes and poor decisions not because we are bad people, but because we are human.

Secondly, it shows that we judge ourselves by our intentions, but others by their actions. This is known as special pleading. By our very nature, we are egocentric. We think that the world revolves around us and we play an important role in the narrative of those around us. This means that when someone wrongs us, we can take it as a personal attack against us. How dare your coworker give you sass when they must know how burnt out you are from work? How could your spouse not understand your emotional needs right away? Why would the universe do this to us?

But if we take a step back and change our perspective, we might realise that everyone else lives in their own egocentric world. Each person has their own insecurities, hardships and flaws.

The girl who forgot your coffee order may be severely depressed, affecting her concentration. Your boss may have snapped at you this morning because his marriage is in trouble and he is not sleeping well. Your boyfriend may have insulted you not to hurt your feelings, but because they misunderstood you, they phrased something wrong, or just simply that they are not emotionally intelligent.

If you replace “stupidity” with any other imperfect human characteristic such as laziness, stress, distractedness, ignorance or misunderstanding, then the world suddenly appears to be a different place. People seem less evil and life seems a little less unfair.

Lastly, it reminds us that sometimes, things happen for no particular reason. Because people are imperfect and the world runs on chaos and probability, we may be subjected to adversities that appear unjust and unfair.

It’s not because you are worthless or because someone is out to get you: bad things – horrible things – happen without rhyme or reason. The fact that something bad happened is no judgement of your character or a sign from the universe; that’s just life.

Next time you are wronged, try to stop and think before you immediately react with anger and frustration: if you were in the other person’s shoes, what intention or mistake might have caused this? Have you ever done something similar, such as accidentally cutting in line or spilling a secret through human error, not malicious intent? If you assumed the best intention, what might explain this person’s actions?

If you give people the benefit of the doubt, the world becomes a slightly less stressful place to live in.

0
Posted in Life & Happiness

Cakelet

If you are feeling lazy but want a decent, filling, wholesome breakfast or brunch, try making a cakelet – a cross between a pancake and an omelet. By combining the two, the recipe becomes surprisingly easier, resulting in a savoury, fluffy, tasty meal.

Ingredients:
2 large eggs
2 tablespoon plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup grated cheese
1 tablespoon butter
Pinch of salt

  1. Whisk the eggs until they are completely combined with no whites floating around
  2. Add the flour, baking powder, cheese and salt to the egg and whisk it lightly altogether
  3. Melt the butter in a small skillet (about 8″ in diameter) at medium heat
  4. Pour in the batter
  5. Once you see tiny bubbles starting to form and the mix starts to firm, flip the cakelet like a pancake
  6. Cook the other side for 2 minutes, until both sides are golden and it springs back when you poke the top
  7. Serve it any way you want it: the cakelet goes well with either sweet toppings such as jam or relish, or savoury toppings such as hummus, roasted tomatoes or bacon

If you find that the cakelet is too heavy, feel free to cut back on the amount of butter and cheese used. It is a very forgiving recipe that can be whipped up with little ingredients and minimal preparation, unlike a pancake or an omelet.

Photo courtesy of Bon Appetit’s Basically

Original recipe from Bon Appetit’s Basically: https://www.bonappetit.com/story/cakelet

0
Posted in Life & Happiness

Fork Theory

The Spoon Theory discusses our reserve for the amount of positive energy we have to give away, until we run out, crash and burn. This is a useful analogy describing the “fuel” we have to cope with life’s demands, but does not address the “damage” that we accumulate on a day-to-day basis.

The Fork Theory is an eloquent, complementary theory to the Spoon Theory to visualise the effect of stress and annoyances on our mental health on a day-to-day basis.

Unlike spoons which we give away from a collection throughout the course of a day, forks are negative experiences and events that we accumulate over the day. We are stabbed with various forks day-by-day. Some are tiny, such as stepping on a Lego block or finding out that you’re out of milk. Some are giant pitchforks, such as finding out that your partner is cheating on you or being diagnosed with a serious medical condition. Whatever the size of the fork may be, the damage from each fork accumulates until you reach a personal threshold.

Much like running out of spoons, when we are stabbed by the last fork that breaks our threshold, we stop functioning normally. This may manifest as breaking down in tears, a rage-filled tantrum or engaging in self-destructive behaviour.

From the perspective of those around us, it may seem as if we are being triggered by the smallest thing, such as seemingly breaking down because a jar won’t open. But forks are invisible to others; only we can see and feel their effects. Therefore, no one can truly know how many forks a person has had to endure before they cannot take any more forks.

The Fork Theory helps us understand (others and ourselves) why we can be so reactive or sensitive at times. As much as we try to be proactive instead of reactive, there will be days when a small annoyance, such as our partner forgetting something insignificant or a slight delay, can set us off down a spiral of anxiety, depression and frustration. It is important to know that the reaction is likely to the total accumulation of forks, rather than to the final, individual fork.

Ergo, the way we should address forks is to remove as many forks as possible to reduce the burden on our mental health. We all know that smaller forks are easier to deal with than larger forks. It is much easier resolving your hunger or cleaning the room than paying off your mortgage or attending therapy to heal old traumas. By clearing away the small forks wherever we can, we create more room and emotional capacity to handle the tougher, more painful forks, while giving us a buffer for any new forks headed our way.

For example, let’s say your partner comes home from work and you tell them that you would like to talk to them about a financial issue that you two are facing currently. Your partner acknowledges you, but also proceeds to head directly to the kitchen to eat a sandwich. You are perplexed by this action: are they blatantly trying to ignore you, or suggesting that you and the household’s finances are a lower priority than a mere sandwich?

If we apply the Fork Theory, we may react less angrily. Perhaps our partner is exhausted from work and starving because they missed their lunch, while already being stressed from the economy being down. We have just stabbed them with a large fork that is financial stress, so our partner may be taking a completely healthy, rational step to remove a smaller fork such as satisfying their hunger, so that they have a greater reserve to deal with the new fork, preventing a threshold being breached and causing a breakdown.

If the Spoon Theory teaches us that we must be mindful of how much reserve we have left to give out, the Fork Theory teaches us how to better manage our woes so that we can survive each day, while facing new challenges that life throws our way.

0
Posted in Life & Happiness

Spoon Theory

In 2003, a woman by the name of Christine Miserandino coined the Spoon Theory to explain what it is like living with a chronic medical condition to her friend. When asked by her friend what it is like to live with lupus (an autoimmune condition resulting in various symptoms such as joint pains, fatigue and rashes), she gathered twelve spoons and handed it to her friend.

Miserandino explained to her friend that the spoons represented units of energy. Doing tasks – whether they be simple or complex, fun or a chore – used up spoons.

Getting dressed in the morning? That’s a spoon. Catching up with a friend in the afternoon? That’s another spoon. Cooking a proper meal for dinner? That might even take up two spoons. Even the simplest task such as doing dishes or taking a shower uses up energy.

When all of the spoons are used up, you don’t know what will happen, but you do know that you won’t be able to do anything else. To make it safely to the end of the day, you must carefully ration your spoons so that you have at least one spoon left by the time you get to sleep in your bed.

Most healthy people have a much larger pool of spoons to start the day with: large enough that they can reliably do pretty much all of the things they want to do throughout the day, then replenish the spent spoons through sleep and rest. But for people with chronic conditions such as lupus or depression, they live with a constant awareness of the limited supply of spoons that they have, along with the crushing fatigue and lack of motivation that awaits when the spoons run out.

You never know when you’ll have a sudden need for more spoons: you might get acutely sick, a friend may need emotional support, your relationship may become strained. Ergo, not only do you have to ration the spoons for a typical day, but you need a rainy day reserve of spoons.

Of course, the Spoon Theory is not only helpful for understanding what it is like to live with a chronic condition (or being a “spoonie” as some people would say), but it also helps us understand what our own reserves are when we are reasonably well.

No matter how healthy and well-adjusted we may be, life will indubitably challenge us with various demands. We will have to expend physical and emotional energy to keep up, whether it be going to work to pay bills, supporting our loved ones through tough times, or even doing enjoyable things such as indulging our passions.

There will no doubt be a day when we run out of spoons and we find ourselves unable to do anything, even if it’s as easy as getting out of bed in the morning.

By knowing about the Spoon Theory, we can always be mindful of how many spoons we have left and have the wisdom to keep a spare spoon in our pockets for that particularly tough day.

0
Posted in Life & Happiness

Reactive Versus Proactive

The world functions on a cause-and-effect basis, where actions result in reactions. A relevant example for us is how a stimulus will prompt us to respond with an emotion. The stimulus could be physical, such as a hug making us feel loved or pain making us sad, or situational, such as feeling frustrated and angry when things do not go as planned. Our monkey brains are wired to rely on emotional reactions to guide our behaviour.

Emotional reactions can be useful as they are very fast and powerful. Fear activates the fight-or-flight response, letting us flee from danger or prepare us to fight. Disgust teaches us to avoid things that cause us to become unwell. Happiness and love give us energy to carry on through hard times.

However, as powerful as they can be, emotional reactions can also be deleterious. Being overly reactive makes us slaves to our emotions or can result in unhealthy behaviours. For example, reacting with rage, frustration and hysteria builds stress and makes us toxic to people around us. Our monkey brains were crucial to our survival as a species in prehistoric times, but in the modern world, it can cause more harm than good.

The problem with being reactive is that we are not acting, but being acted upon. When we are reactive, we cannot control our response or use rational thinking to solve problems. Instead, we are controlled by circumstances and conditions.

So how can we combat our tendencies to be reactive? The answer is to be proactive instead of reactive. Viktor Frankl wrote in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”

The secret to being proactive is understanding that between the stimulus and our response, we have the freedom to choose how we react.

Being proactive is an effective strategy in many aspects of life. Proactivity allows us to plan ahead and prepare for stress and challenges, letting us cope better when hardships strike. In sports and competitive games (or war), the concept of “offence is the best defence” is a fundamental tactic. One of the key concepts of resuscitation is having a plan and preparing for the worst, so that you are not caught off guard when the unexpected happens. This kind of preparedness and flexibility allow us to navigate through this uncertain, ever-changing world.

In a world full of hot takes where we are expected to respond immediately to everything from messages to tweets to headlines, pausing to think in that little space between stimulus and response allows us to access the power of higher order thinking, while letting us be calmer in anxiety-provoking situations. Overall, it helps reduce the stress and frustrations that build up in the background as we constantly encounter unpredictable changes that affect our lives, letting us be more present and content.

There are many ways to train ourselves in utilising this space to take back control of how we respond.

The first step, as mentioned above, is being aware and mindful. What emotion are you starting to feel, why might you be feeling it and do you think your reaction is justified?

Next, determine whether you have the power to change the situation, to remove or weaken the stimulus. Can you remove yourself from the situation? Can you break the vicious cycle by taking a time-out, or change your approach or perspective? Remember that our brains can easily magnify the perception of a threat, distorting our objective view of reality. If possible, take action to modulate the stimulus or your perception of it, so you don’t react as strongly.

If not, then shift your focus to how you can optimise and de-escalate the situation. Think of the consequences of your reaction, if there are any alternate ways to defuse your reaction, if you can think of a positive side or a silver lining, or if there is anything else you can do to help yourself. Instead of thinking “why is this happening to me?“, try to reframe it as “how can I solve this situation?“.

If you find that the fiery emotional reaction is still building despite this, then draw from the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer and accept that there are things outside of your control. Focussing on what you have control over and accepting that you cannot control everything empowers you to take charge of the situation. This lets you be the agent of your own response and story. Meditation is another powerful tool that helps train this approach to facing a problem.

Failing all of that, it is okay to respond with emotion. After all, we are only human and emotions are part of what makes us human. The important part is that you took action and you chose to feel that emotion, instead of being acted upon by the emotion. Indulge in catharsis and let your emotions out. Sometimes, the drunk elephant that is your emotional side just needs to vent and that is a perfectly healthy thing to do (in moderate amounts).

Don’t waste emotional energy to reactivity: be proactive and empower yourself.

1+
Posted in Life & Happiness

May I Have Your Attention Please

We live in the Information Era, where we have all of the knowledge of humanity, breaking news and updates from the lives of others at our fingertips in the form of smartphones and the internet. Thanks to big data, artificial intelligence and algorithms, we even have tailor-made playlists of music and videos delivered directly to us.

But along with convenience came a price. Entertainment is a business of attention. Companies constantly try to better capture our attention in the form of ads, algorithms and simple user interfaces. Our brains – as complex and wonderful they may be – much prefer the easy route than what is good for us. We have unfortunately become victims of those who wish to exploit this fact, to convert our attention and time into revenue.

Because of this, we now have shorter attention spans. Think about it: when is the last time you finished reading a book for leisure? When is the last time you sat and thought deeply about something with no distractions? When is the last time you laid on the ground and stared up at the sky, without checking your phone?

Everything comes to us now in small, bite-sized pieces. We have less tolerance for long pages of text or even videos longer than 5 minutes without being distracted by something else. Many people would have already closed this page, distracted by a notification from their phone or because they could not focus long enough to read 875 words on a page.

Our short attention spans result in us being less productive, less detail-oriented and thinking and feeling less deeply in general. We also engage in “unintentional leisure“, where we passively and mindlessly consume content and waste much more time than we intended. Instead of spending time on our hobbies and interests, our loved ones or productivity and creativity, we end up wasting a lot of time due to our fractured attention.

More importantly, the hallmark of being human is our ability to think. Because we have less attention and we feel like we need to constantly fill our time and attention with something new, we reserve less time to ponder and daydream. Instead of indulging in the luxury of idleness and letting our mind wander to explore the nooks and crannies of our brain and soul, we constantly crave a new distraction.

So how do we fight back and reclaim our attention? As highlighted above, one of the biggest threats is the internet and smartphones. One of the best ways to improve your attention span is to reduce the amount of screen time, by using apps that remind you how much time you’re spending online or on the phone, or specifically setting a blackout period where you do not use your phone for a set amount of time, whether it be an hour or a week. This forces you to engage in other activities such as picking up a book you had been meaning to read, starting a pet project or going on a walk with a friend.

Another tip is to find a passion that can engage your brain. We know from psychology that flow state – the state in which you are challenged and engaged at just the right balance – is one of the keys to happiness, because you can enter “the zone” where you are truly focussed and living the present. By getting involved in an activity such as reading, writing, music, sports, gaming, pottery or journaling, you can help train your brain to focus on a task for a prolonged time. This is particularly easier if you are actively interested in your passion, because you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

Lastly, like any attempt at positive human behaviour change, you need systems. Determination will only last so long, but systems and habits let you change your life for the better in a permanent way. Use timers, reminders and apps to actively push you to do the above activities. Force yourself to go somewhere without internet access, such as going on a nature walk or going to a cafe with just a notebook, and tell yourself that for that time period, you can only do one thing such as thinking, reading or writing. Even if you do not accomplish much in that time period, it is the habit formation that is the crucial part.

Focussing and attention are the skills that have allowed humanity to progress as a species, letting us achieve monumental tasks such as figuring out how the forces of nature interact, solving global-scale problems, and developing seemingly magical technology such as getting us to the Moon and back. It would be such a shame to lose this wonderful, innate ability just so some company can generate more ad revenue.

Now that you have shown that you can focus on reading 875 words, what is something you want to focus on? Whether it be reading an entire book, starting and finishing a DIY project or starting a healthy habit such as gymming regularly or writing a blog, pick something to focus on and train your attention span.

You will find that life is so much better when you can utilise your time in a meaningful, productive manner.

(Image source: Puuung http://www.grafolio.com/puuung1)
0
Posted in Life & Happiness

Intentionality

How many times have you opened a social media app, scrolled through all of the new information, closed it, only to re-open it immediately? You may blame it on muscle memory or a slip of the mind, but this is an intentional design of the app to habituate you into consuming content passively.

Recommended videos, autoplay functions, infinite scrolling and constant notifications are all examples of this. We are heavily encouraged to let go of our conscious choice so that we can be spoon-fed content endlessly and mindlessly. It is only after several hours that we notice that we have not done anything productive for the whole day.

This is unfortunate as our phones and the internet can be of great asset to us when used wisely. We can learn about almost everything from educational videos, we can feel deep emotions and explore different perspectives through movies, while games can be an excellent outlet for stress relief and to have fun with friends.

However, it is so easy to fall into the trap of unintentional leisure, where we passively consume entertainment with no control over it.

To combat this, we must learn to be intentional when it comes to leisure.

Every time you catch yourself reaching for your phone or opening up something like YouTube or Netflix, ask yourself what you are planning to do. Are you wanting to reply to a specific message, or are you just “checking what’s new on Instagram”? Are you planning on watching a specific movie you were recommended, or do you think you’ll end up binging an entire season of reality TV?

If you cannot answer the question, set yourself an “intention before opening anything. When you pick up your phone, tell yourself that you will only reply to the message you received from your partner, or that you will look up a very specific thing you were curious about. Then, no matter how much you want to open another app “just to check”, put the phone down. Set a goal and a tangible deadline, such as playing a game for exactly one level, so that there is a definite end, rather than endlessly scrolling down the rabbit hole.

Alternatively, set time aside. Tell yourself that you will browse Reddit or Twitter for exactly 20 minutes (a timer might help), or that you will only view the next three videos on your saved playlist on Youtube. You could even consider time tracking (recording how much time you spend doing each activity through timers or screen-time apps) so you can visualise how much time is spent on each leisure activity. This may highlight significant imbalances or unintentional leisure time that you want to rein back on.

On a similar topic, create systems to fight against your brain defaulting to the easy route. Have phone- or internet-free time set aside each day, disable notifications or make it harder to open apps and put up visual reminders (or have a mantra) to be active and intentional. Go for a walk without your phone, or go to a cafe with a goal to only read a book or write in your notebook for two hours, no matter how little you actually do. Systems and good habits are the best way to promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle, because they become a part of who you are.

Essentially, you want to be active and deliberate about how you use your free time, giving you more control and efficiency over how you enjoy your life. You have so little time in life to grow as a person, to expand your horizons and to follow your passions; why waste it on things that will not add to your life in any way?

(Image source: Puuung http://www.grafolio.com/puuung1)
0
Posted in Life & Happiness

Theme Of The Year

Even though nothing special actually happens on January 1st, we like to think that it is the perfect time to start anew and become a better you. We set goals and resolutions for the New Year in the hopes of making a positive life change, but we quickly find that it is insanely hard to change our behaviours.

Our brains love defaulting to the lazy option and will justify bad behaviours, so we fall into the cycle of mediocrity and bad habits. This is why in January, we see the gym full of people of steely resolve aiming to lose weight, but by February, the gym has cleared out and only the regular exercisers remain.

We can combat this tendency (and cliché) for New Year’s resolutions failing with SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-based), such as “I want to lose 5kg of weight within one year”. Having a clear, realistic goal that can be reviewed along the way is much more effective than a vague resolution that can easily be forgotten or warped by our feeble minds.

But even SMART goals have flaws. Not meeting goals can be crushing to our self-esteem, which seems contrary to our resolution to become healthier. The pressure of goals can take away from enjoying simple pleasures of life and we can easily obsess over meaningless metrics such as daily step counts.

If you feel that goals are too daunting or easy to fail, an alternative is to set a broad theme for the year. For example, the New Year could be a Year of Reading, Year of Less, Year of Health or Year of Balance. Instead of specific goals or unrealistic resolutions, themes allow you to set a broad undertone for the year, guiding your everyday decisions and actions.

(Image source: Puuung http://www.grafolio.com/puuung1)

For example, a Year of Novelty may push you to go on an adventure to a country you have never been to, instead of a safe holiday to a place you go to every year. A Year of Learning might make you choose to read about a new skill or hobby instead of watching another episode of reality TV. Themes act as algorithms or bots assisting your decision-making. Essentially, every time it is applicable, think about how a choice or decision (no matter how small) fits into your yearly theme and act accordingly.

When you look back at the end of the year, you will notice that there were ups and downs, such as your weight fluctuating, but as long as you keep to your theme, the general trend will hopefully have been positive and you would have enacted change. Changes in human behaviour happen on slow scales, so seeing the big picture is very important to keep up your motivation.

Themes should be broad, letting you adapt to change and unexpected obstacles. For example, an illness or accident may make a goal of saving $5000 for the year unrealistic. But a Year of Finance will accommodate for this, because you will instead be setting up healthy habits such as eliminating unnecessary costs such as subscriptions, keeping account books and tackling high-interest debts. Even slowing down the accumulation of debt will be a positive life change in this situation. Over the course of your life, you will be much better off because you changed your behaviour and created a healthy system.

It does not matter what word you choose as your theme, as long as it is applicable to and resonates with you, so that you stay interested in it. The act of applying the theme itself will become a habit, training your mind to be more focussed and act with direction. If a year seems too long, you can always change the time period to a month, a quarter or a season – such as Autumn of Gratitude.

At the end of the day, setting a theme for the year is a simple tool that is very easy to apply, while having the potential to be far more effective and powerful compared to a flimsy resolution. It takes little effort to set a broad theme and the direction you want to head in, especially if it resonates with your inner desire for positive change.

The only way to grow and improve yourself is to think about how to improve yourself and take action. Having a simple system such as a theme is the easiest start to getting in the habit of actively improving your life.

So why not give it a try?

I learnt the concept of having a yearly theme from CGP Grey, an amazing Youtube content creator! Check out this video for a nice, succinct summary and helpful tips 🙂
0
Posted in Life & Happiness

Shoot For The Moon

A common saying goes:

“Shoot for the moon: even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”.

The saying was coined by author Normal Vincent Peale, who was a minister famous for his books and work on the power of positive thinking. He was also widely criticised by many psychologists and mental health experts, who noted that his style of positive psychology was not founded in evidence and realism, but in naive optimism.

The saying sounds lovely at first, because it seems to be a beautiful metaphor for trying your best at everything. It says that whatever happens, you will land on another beautiful opportunity and good things will happen.

But of course, life does not work that way. As important as it is to make an effort to try and take action, you will not always be positively rewarded for it.

As it is with everything, science can help us break down the flaws with the philosophy of this saying.

Firstly, the Moon is 384,400km away from Earth. It took brilliant scientists and mathematicians with a significant amount of NASA budget 6 years on the Apollo program to put astronauts on the Moon.

Dreams are certainly achievable, but we cannot ignore that sometimes we have to pour in much time, resources and energy to achieve them. When we look upon someone’s success, it is important to consider how much effort they may have put in. Furthermore, it is paramount that we be realistic with our goals and dreams, in that we need to be patient and accept that it could take a series of failures, sacrifices and heartbreak for us to land on the Moon.

Secondly, space is unimaginably massive. If you shoot for the moon and you miss, there is a very high chance that you will float along the lonely, vast emptiness of space for the rest of eternity in a vacuum before you hit anything else (realistically, you will die of suffocation, thirst, starvation or being frozen first). The nearest star to us is the Sun, 150 million kilometres away. The second closest star – Proxima Centauri – is about 4.24 light years away. This means that even if you travelled at the speed of light, it would take 4.24 years, covering a distance of 40 trillion kilometres.

This fact teaches us that we have to be prepared for the fact that when we chase our dreams, there is a chance of things catastrophically failing. That is just life.

Lastly, even if by some miracle you survived the journey and landed among the stars, it would not be what we expect. As romantic as it sounds to land and live on a star like the Little Prince, in reality, stars look much like the Sun – a gigantic, glowing ball of fire. You will be incinerated even before you land on it.

And there is our final lesson from this saying: even if you achieve your goals, the end result may be completely different to what you expected. You may not even be happy with the outcome. So avoid pinning all of your hopes and happiness on achieving a single dream. Make sure to diversify your goals and identity.

As factually wrong as the saying may be, we can still learn valuable lessons from it, albeit completely the opposite message. But perhaps this is the more important truth in life: sometimes, we fail to achieve our dreams.

That said, we must continue to try for our goals and dreams, just with realistic expectations of how life can go. Had NASA given up after the tragic fiery accident of Apollo 1, we may have never been able to experience the glorious moment of humanity setting foot on another celestial body.

Shoot for the moon, but maybe have a backup plan. And if you fail, don’t lose heart and give up, but instead try again and try new, different things constantly.

1+
Posted in Life & Happiness, Special Long Essays

Serenity Prayer

In the early 20th century, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer preaching about how one should approach hardship. The most well-known version of the prayer goes:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

Regardless of whether one is religious or not, this prayer is very helpful as it highlights and beautifully summarises the philosophy of fighting for change and also radical acceptance. It has since been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous for their twelve-step recovery program and is often quoted in self-help and well-being texts and courses.

When we are faced with hardship or a stressful situation, our brain may easily default to fighting against it. We may go into denial, find something to blame, judge the situation, or simply lash out with anger and frustration. We may even choose to give up completely and flee from the situation, sometimes withdrawing into ourselves to protect our fragile egos.

But these are all destructive behaviours secondary to our primal fight-or-flight response that end up wasting our time and energy. It is driven by adrenaline, base emotions and instincts, meaning that it is crude, unrefined and can be harmful to our long-term mental health.

When we are unhappy with a situation, we will often have the power to change things for the better, even if we don’t see it at the time. We could address a problem directly by communicating our concerns with a colleague or asking for a promotion. We could change how we are behaving, such as trying a more assertive rather than aggressive tone, or using the tit-for-tat approach so that we are not too hostile or too much of a doormat. We could re-prioritise our life so that we have a better work-life balance, such as taking more leave so that we can destress and reset. We could alter our environment by leading a change in culture or moving jobs or cities (although geographic solutions are never a great answer). We could also change how we respond to our environment, such as learning self-soothing or grounding exercises to calm our unsettled headspace and feelings.

We often forget that we have the power to change things for the better because we get so caught up in stress and chaos, or because we don’t trust or believe in ourselves enough. This is why the first step of the Serenity Prayer is to stop and think about how we can improve the situation by changing what we can. Because some things such as love, happiness, our identities, our self-worth and our well-being are all worth fighting for.

Then again, there are some things we just can’t change, no matter how hard we fight. The beauty of the Serenity Prayer is that it acknowledges reality for what it is: we can’t always get what we want and we can’t win every battle. That’s just life. So instead of throwing ourselves against a brick wall – causing suffering and feeling powerless – we can choose to accept our situation. This is the concept of radical acceptance.

Radical acceptance is not the same as giving up. It is a non-judgemental view of the world, accepting that bad things happen sometimes without any specific reason. Instead of entering a spiral of anger, frustration or despair, we can choose to be mindful of our emotions, let ourselves feel them, but also recognise that they are not permanent and this moment – no matter how hard it feels now – will pass. It is an active choice to accept our situation rather than waste mental and emotional energy. You may not approve of the situation, but you accept that you cannot change it, so you must change your perspective and state of mind instead.

(Image source: Puuung http://www.grafolio.com/puuung1)

A good example of how the Serenity Prayer can help in daily life is when you are stuck in traffic. You could choose to rage at the car in front of you for their bad driving, rage at the city council for poor planning, or rage at the world for your misfortune, but this does literally nothing to help your situation. Instead, you can recognise that this is frustrating, then let that feeling pass so you can think of how to better use your time and energy. You can call in to let your boss know that you will be late. You can think of alternative routes that might help you shave some time. You can make a note to remind your future self to leave earlier or use a different route next time.

But if you can’t shorten the time that you are in traffic, then you can accept the situation for what it is. Now, you can use your mental energy doing and thinking about things you enjoy, rather than letting yourself be consumed by your emotions. You can listen to a podcast you had been meaning to listen to for a while. You can do some breathing exercises and meditate. You can start planning that pet project you were thinking about for some time. You’ll still be late to wherever you were going, but at least you’ll feel more settled and productive rather than having built-up anger and anxiety, ruining the rest of your fine day.

The simplicity of the Serenity Prayer means that it is applicable in almost all aspects of your life. For example, if you feel that you are unhappy with your relationship with your partner, friend or family, then you can do the same thing.

  • Explore your feelings and why you may be feeling them.
  • Ask yourself what negative, probably untrue stories you are telling yourself.
  • If you identify a specific problem, try to solve it using different strategies, such as talking to them, reaching out first or changing your own behaviours.
  • If it is an issue of self-esteem, read about how to improve your own mental health through positive psychology.
  • If you have exhausted all of the tactics and efforts to improve the situation to no avail, then either consider a drastic change such as investing less emotional energy into that relationship, or radically accept the situation.

It could be that you are asking too much of your partner – to be your best friend, lover, father, househusband and support person – and you have to accept that one person cannot fill every role perfectly. It could be that your friendship with a friend is of a fun nature, not a supportive nature. It could be that you and your mother will never truly be friends or understand each other fully, but it does not change that you love and care for each other. Change what you can; accept what you cannot.

Over time, practising the Serenity Prayer in your approach to daily problems will train you to be more mindful of your feelings, analyse situations rationally and help you to be level-headed and calm in critical situations because you will think less reactively and emotionally. Whether you are religious or not, the Serenity Prayer is a simple yet powerful tool in improving the quality of your life and well-being.

0