“It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.” — Charlie Munger
They say the mark of a charlatan is someone who always tells you what to do, but never tells you what to avoid. Sometimes, oftentimes, avoidance is the best strategy.
It’s hard to be smart. It’s hard to be certain of anything. Usually, the things you can be certain about are the things that definitely won’t work.
You have these dreams, ambitions, and goals. They require energy — lots of it. Recovering from your screw-ups also requires lots of energy. It’s hard to do both at once.
Maybe instead of trying super hard to be productive and successful, try not screwing up as much. Use the process of inversion to remove what doesn’t work and start with these 7 common pitfalls.
Feeling Sorry For Yourself
“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” — John Gardner
We can be honest with each other, right?
Feeling sorry for yourself feels oddly good. There’s this strange moral superiority you feel from self-pity.
Feeling sorry for yourself is a way to pat yourself on the back for coping with a life you don’t want. It’s your brain’s way of twisting your logic so you don’t have to face the truth about your role in what happens to you.
I’m not immune to feeling sorry for myself. Whenever I do catch myself wallowing in self-pity, however, I ask myself, “What am I getting from feeling this way?”
The answer is never results, progress, or change.
When you stop feeling sorry for yourself you can say, “Ok. This is where I’m at right now. What do I do?”
That sentence begins the journey of transforming your life.
Your Addiction to Outrage
“Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but, over time, devour us from the inside out. Except it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge it’s a pleasure.” — Tim Kreideir
If you’re willing to look, you can find more than enough evidence that the world is a terrible place. With algorithmic social media ready to feed you the latest outrage clickbait stories, it’s easy to fall into the traps of pessimism and learned helplessness.
Do bad things happen in the world? Yes, and they have been for the entire span of human history. On the whole, though, things have gotten a lot better. I choose to focus on the upside. I don’t spend time watching the news. Instead, I look for uplifting sources of information — other writers, entrepreneurs, and creators I look up to.
Where your attention goes shapes the way you see reality in a way that’s deeper than you understand. If you’re always focused on stories that provoke outrage, you’ll create a real perceptual blindspot to the possibilities in the world. You genuinely won’t be able to see them.
Why not choose to stand on the shoulders of giants who came before you? From suffrage to civil rights and creators of technology, generations of people sacrificed so that we could have better lives.
I get it. I understand why you feel the need to save the world. You care about other people. That’s good. But use that caring energy to care for yourself first so you can help those who need and are receptive to what you have to offer.
Comparing Yourself to Other People
“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”- Carol Dweck
I stopped reading 95 percent of blog posts from other people. My reading consists of books and not much else.
I had to remove myself from these environments because I was tired of comparing myself to other people.
No matter how successful you are someone will be more successful than you. The more you compare yourself to other people the more you’re unable to appreciate what you have and what you’ve been able to accomplish.
This seems simple, right? Too simple. The thing about life is the greatest answers are the simplest ones. You just need to be reminded of them about 1,000 times, especially with something like envy.
Some people reach out to me and I can sense they feel I’m above them just because I’m a writer. They only see my work. They don’t see the inner-workings of my mind — the voice telling me I’m a fraud who should just quit. These people don’t know I struggle to get out of bed some mornings, that I could’ve just had a nasty fight in personal life, or that I have a long list of dreams unrealized myself.
On some level, the people you look up to carry some amount of self-doubt and neuroticism. Remember that.
Also, remember that you have to be you. You have no choice. You might as well get used to it, run your own race, and avoid the emotional drainage of comparing yourself to people you don’t even know.
Your Busyness Badge
“People are strange: They are constantly angered by trivial things, but on a major matter like totally wasting their lives, they hardly seem to notice.” — Charles Bukowski
My life improved a ton when I just accepted that some things in life had to fall by the wayside. I created the priorities for what made a successful day, week, month, and life in general.
As long as I:
- Get my writing done
- Work on my videos
- Stay healthy
- Make time for family and friends
I’m good. I don’t need to answer every email, run every errand, check every box, and run around like a chicken with its head cut off. I’m not trying to be as efficient as possible or become a productivity robot. Neither should you.
If you consider yourself a busy person, you’re really just overwhelmed, lack priorities, and lack boundaries. You’re letting too many obligations encroach your time because you’re weighting each obligation equally. You don’t owe anyone or anything your time.
Once you become someone who consciously chooses not only what to focus on, but more importantly, what not to focus on, your productivity will explode.
It’s funny, people will run around their whole lives, busy as hell, but spend little to no time working on the thing they truly desire. What a waste. Invert this. Work on the things you truly want to pursue and discard everything else. Minutiae tend to take care of themselves eventually and you’ll also realize that much of it can be totally left alone for good.
“Keeping one’s distance from an ignorant person is equivalent to keeping company with a wise man.”- Ali Bin Abi-Taleb
You have a friend you care about a lot. For some reason, however, you always find yourself feeling a bit down after you spend time with them. Each time you see each other they’re armed with the latest complaint, dramatic story, or ailment.
“It’s fine,” you tell yourself. Everyone has problems. You’re a good friend, so you’re supposed to be there for them no matter what, right?
Negativity is emotional second-hand smoke. You can’t be around negative, ignorant, and sad people without their state rubbing off on you.
Jon Morrow, a disabled writer with a rare disease who owns a multi-million dollar company, said he had to stop hanging around other people with the disease “because they were waiting to die.” He didn’t do this because he’s crass and arrogant, rather he knew the people he surrounded himself with was literally a matter of life and death.
Look at your life. Are you surrounded by complainers, people with limiting beliefs, and ignorant people?
It’s time to cut out the cancer.
Playing Games You Can’t Win
You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence. — Charlie Munger
You have a natural talent or gift. Successful people identify what they’re good at and continue to hone those skills.
What do unsuccessful people do? Instead of focusing on what they know or want to get better at, they focus on what’s trendy.
Don’t write a book because it seems cool, write a book because you love to write.
Don’t start a podcast because you think it’ll make you famous, start a podcast because you have something meaningful to add to the conversation and the skills to pull it off.
Most people don’t want to stay in their wheelhouse. They want to compete where they shouldn’t because of the rewards. Not only won’t this work, but you’ll become frustrated at having to start over again the next time a shiny object comes around.
Following your genuine intellectual curiosity is a better foundation for a career than following whatever is making money right now. — Naval Ravikant
Of course, you have to start to get good at something. But consider your motivations beforehand. If you’re doing something for the money, fame, or validation that comes from outside of you, you’ll probably fail.
Why even waste your time?
“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”
There’s nothing wrong with having nice things. Material wealth has many benefits. You know what they say “Money doesn’t solve all your problems, but it solves your money problems.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be recognized for your work.
There’s nothing wrong with desiring a certain lifestyle.
The above only become problems when you turn them into attachments.
Chasing after status markers can quickly turn you into their prisoner. The things you own end up owning you. The identity you created and now have to maintain for your peers can become a fortress keeping you from a life you love.
Then there’s attachment to outcomes. We often misjudge our decisions. Decisions should be judged on what you knew at the time, not the result. If you made a decision with a 90 percent chance of a positive outcome yet the result was negative, you still made a good decision.
It’s both disconcerting and liberating to know that chance plays a large role in your life. If you know deep down you put in the right amount of effort, made an informed decision, and bet on good odds, there’s no shame in failure.
The bottom line — it’s okay to want, have, and do, so long as you behave freely instead of being choked by your desires.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.