The Self-Improvement Fallacy: 6 Delusions That Keep You Chasing Happiness Forever

Admit it.

There’s a part of you that is reading this with the hope that I will give you the answer.

The answer to what, maybe you’re not entirely sure. But you can sense that it’s the answer you’re looking for. Something that will make you feel slightlybetter than you feel right now. Which is fair. You wouldn’t click on this article headline if you thought it was going to make you feel worse than now. Right?

Unfortunately though, we have a problem, you and I.

I’m not going to give you the answer you want. Frankly, you don’t need any more answers. Actually, you don’t need any more ideas at all.

But wait, isn’t this article just more ideas as well? No. Well, yes, but there’s an important distinction: my intention with this post is to subtractrather than add. By the end of this page I want you to leave you feeling a little bit lighter and more relaxed. Right after we cut a hole in the bottom of the backpack of beliefs you carry with you.

Let me be honest. As a writer and reader, I have been a repeat offender of the transgression I’m about to share with you. Likely more so than you.

I’ve easily read over 200 books on topics around self-improvement. I’ve also written 200–300 self-improvement related articles — myself!

Which is why I’m perfectly positioned to say what I’m about to say.

Self-Improvement is a fallacy, and I’ll tell you why.

All self-improvement boils down to one thing. The entire multibillion-dollar industry feeds itself on this principle: you are not ok with the present experience.

Self-improvement is an attempt to move towards a “better” state in which you will feel content with how things are. We call this state of being happiness.

If we watched a movie with a character who had everything we believed we might want (money, wealth, relationships, amazing experiences, etc) but that character was fundamentally discontent — would that be the happiness we want?

Of course not!

But herein lies the problem — we don’t need to improve anything to feel ok with right now.

“What’s wrong with right now if you don’t think about it?”

— ‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson

Let’s make it simple.

When we were young children, assuming we were healthy and living in a safe and loving environment, we were generally happy. Why? Not because we found the answer in some repetitive self-improvement book, or we went on an expensive yoga retreat, or we got a 20% raise at work.

It’s because we hadn’t yet accumulated all the ideas that get in the way of us feeling ok.

I know this because I used to run on the self-improvement treadmill all day, every day, and I never got where I thought I was going.

But when I started to strip away the following delusions, I could actually begin to feel the contentment I did as a child.

So without further ado;

Here are Six Common Delusions That Keep You Chasing Happiness Forever

#6. When I Figure Out Why I Feel [Down, Sad, Anxious etc.], Then I’ll Be Happy

This myth is debunked the second you see a baby smile. Do they need to analyse their emotions before they can experience joy? What about all the non-human apes; bonobos, chimps, gorillas? Do they need to figure out their feelings before they can run around with a grin? No, because happiness is something that is inherent in their natural state.

But not us. Not human adults. We’re intelligent and sophisticated. We sit with our thoughts, reflecting on our fears, our sadness, and our anxieties. Because on some level we believe that with just enough rumination we’ll get the magic answer that leaves us permanently fulfilled.

There is significant value in talk therapy, but not the value we expect. A coherent story might appear to release a bit of tension, until it doesn’t. Children fall over and cry, then they pick up their toys, and get on with whatever they were doing. They don’t analyse why they cried, whether they’re going to cry again tomorrow, if their crying means that they’re fundamentally deficient and should be banished to a life of time-out for the rest of eternity.

They just start playing again, and at some point, the residual effects of those tears vanish, and they’re blissfully content with the next moment. It’s not an unsophisticated approach to such emotional challenges, it’s very adaptive.

Children have less to worry about, yes. But that doesn’t mean their attitude is any less valid, it just means that it doesn’t come as naturally to us as adults. Somewhere along the way, we picked up the capacity to reason and reflect on our emotions. Now we think that the way to solve all emotional issues is to think our way out of them.

Related Beliefs

  • I’ll be happy when I work through all my past traumas.
  • I’ll be happy when I dissect every argument I’ve ever had with my mother.
  • I’ll be happy when I assess the symbolism in all of my dreams.

#5. I Should Be More Successful

There are two problems with this idea:

1. Many of us aren’t even sure what success means.

Success is defined as the outcome of an aim or purpose. If that is the case, how can I be more successful? I am not an outcome, nor an aim, nor a purpose. I am a process. The reason we even have the concept of success is for guidance. A successful ‘you’ is a location on a map, it’s a direction on a compass. Saying ‘I’ want to be more successful is like saying I want to be more north. But the earth is not flat, and you are not a single goal. Keep travelling north and you will keep having a north to travel to. Ad infinitum. Keep trying to BE more successful and you will keep having an idea of a successful you to move towards. Yet you’ll never quite reach it.

2. Why should we be more successful?

We think we should be more successful because of the misconception with our definition of success. We think success will get us somewhere. The second you think that ‘you’ are moving towards success, failure will creep up right behind you. That’s why upon achieving goals we often have an anticlimactic feeling “ok…what now.” It’s not because happiness was in the goal, or that it was hidden in the process of striving for a goal. It’s actually because in striving for a goal we placed ourselves in a structure in which we were allowed to stop thinking about happiness.

Related Beliefs

  • I’m not as successful as my [brother, mother, friend, work colleague, celebrity, athlete]
  • I thought I’d be more successful by this age
  • As long as I hit all my goals by 35, then I’ll be successful

#4. I Won’t Be Happy Until I’m My Best Self

Ugh.

This is another muddled idea that just ends up getting in the way. You hear other platitudes mixed in with this. Instagram captions might refer to it “Living my best life.” New age spiritual junkies use the term “Your highest self.” A silicon valley executive might even call it “Optimal functioning.”

Your best self, like success, is an idea. It’s a direction to travel in, a constantly moving target. It is not a place that you reach at a specific point in time.

What happens when you’re sick? When you age? What happens when forces outside of your control derail your ‘best-self’ plans?

This bullsh*t idea of your becoming best-self is not the benchmark by which you should choose to accept yourself. Your best-self is a noun. Your actual-self is a verb. In the stream of life, the points at which they meet are likely to be few and far between. Deciding that you can’t be happy with life until you are “your best self” is like saying an Olympic swimmer shouldn’t enjoy being in the water until they’re standing on the podium receiving a gold medal.

Related Beliefs

  • I need to live my best life
  • I need to live with NO REGRETS
  • I need to win, no matter what the cost

#3. I Could Be Doing Something More Important Right Now

Technically that statement is true. But so is “I could have been born an Emperor of Never-never land.”

Both of these statements have an equal material relationship to the present moment. That is, neither of them actually exist outside of our thoughts. The only difference is that you think that this statement might bring you closer to happiness, whereas you’ve been smart enough to accept the fact that you will never be emperor of Never-never Land.

Some people think that accepting that things are enough will turn you into a lifeless couch potato. That’s just a deficiency story taking another form. We don’t walk down the road to get milk and spend every step reminding ourselves where we are going and why. That would be torture. We can still move through life with goals and preferences without our happiness being contingent on them being met.

Related Beliefs

  • I should be more productive right now
  • I should be doing something more enjoyable right now
  • I need to make a REAL difference in the world

#2. Finding Happiness Is Difficult

We only believe that finding happiness is difficult because we still believe that happiness is something you find. You don’t find happiness, you only ever find fleeting moments of pleasure.

Lasting happiness is something that you uncover. Something that you reveal when you remove a series of beliefs such as those being presented to you here.

When you have a whole society looking in the wrong direction to find something, and a relatively small percentage stumbling across it, the perception of it being a rare jewel is likely to be written into the way of life. This is perpetuated by hollywood-esque narratives that are built into our popular culture.

A story is not an experience. Success is a story. My best life is a story. Fulfilment is an experience. And it doesn’t require fighting dragons, climbing mountains, making millions, seducing the boy/girl of your dreams, sacred pilgrimages or any other incredibly difficult fantasy.

Maybe uncovering happiness is actually quite simple. Like taking a deep breath right now and embracing the idea that this experience right now is enough. It may seemingly get worse in the future, or better, but that could be enough also.

Nah. That couldn’t be it.

Related Beliefs

  • I just need to achieve my life goals, then I’ll be happy
  • Finding peace of mind can’t be easy
  • I need to overcome my fears before I can feel ok

#1. I Should Be Happier Right Now

Which brings us to the last point. The deepest belief that gets in the way of your capacity for happiness.

The subtle but persistent idea that you should be happier than you are right now. Maybe no tool in human history has perpetuated this fallacy more so than social media.

Consider how crazy this is.

We open social media and look at 2-dimensional images of other people, intentionally curated by them. We then pretend that based on those pixels, we understand their 4-dimensional experience. And finally, we conclude that they have something that we don’t, and that something is wrong about our experience because of it.

It’s ok to want pleasure. It’s ok to strive for peak experiences. But these are moments that come and go. They mean nothing about our inherent value, how we should be feeling at any given moment, or our birthright to feel happy.

How about you? What ideas have got about the idea of happiness? Let me know in the comments.

21 Viktor Frankl Quotes on the Meaning of Life, Love, and Suffering

Viktor Frankl Quotes

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” – Erich Fromm

When we intuit authority or truth to someone else’s words of wisdom, we could say that we are instinctively judging them on three things.

Firstly, the validity of their experience. We need to know that they have firsthand experience with the peaks and troughs of life, that they haven’t been sheltered from either the extreme good or bad sides of human nature. We also consider the context within which their ideas are being expressed, and try to gauge if they’re still relevant for us.

Secondly, we look at their motives. What do they stand to gain from the wisdom that is being shared? Is there a monetary incentive? Do they have a heavy cultural or experiential bias in favour of the view that they’re sharing?

Finally, we consider their history and relationship with suffering. Suffering is the common thread which ties together any searches for meaning and resulting wisdom. The seeking in and of itself to be said to a universal reaction to the tension of human existence.

When we consider these three criteria, Viktor Frankl is one man who manages to tick all boxes.

An Austrian Psychotherapist, Frankl was the found of logotherapy, a method of existential analysis that placed meaning and suffering as the cornerstone around which much psychological dysfunction could be assessed and treated.

Frankl’s ideas can be summarised in three points:

  1. Our primary motivation is our will to find meaning in life
  2. Meaning can be found in any circumstances when we give ourselves over to something greater than our self, whether that is a cause or another person
  3. We always have the freedom to find meaning, even in the face of unchangeable suffering

However, Frankl’s psychoanalytic views were not merely theory. In fact, they were practical in every sense, as in 1944 he was sent to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, and forced to explore his beliefs right down to their core.

A combination of luck and will allowed him to survive the experience, and he went on to write his seminal work ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ which has sold over 10 million copies and been translated into 24 languages.

When we look at his life in context, Frankl’s ideas emerge from a compelling experience, his motives are pure – he originally intended to publish the book anonymously – and his relationship with suffering unquestionable. To that end, the wisdom he offers transcends his time, and his books are incredibly valuable.

I STRONGLY recommend you watch this short video before reading the quotes, it will give you a richer understand of the context in which his profound words emerged!

So, without further ado, here are 35 quotes by Viktor Frankl on meaning, living, love, suffering, and compassion. This includes excerpts from his books Man’s Search For Meaning, Man’s Ultimate Search For Meaning, and The Doctor and the Soul.

Viktor Frankl Quotes On Meaning

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct.”

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

“The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualisation is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualisation is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”

Though he underwent horrific life circumstances, Frankl’s drive to find meaning was insatiable. He was a firm believer in the ability for human beings to act with a degree of dignity regardless of their circumstances.

Viktor Frankl Quotes On Living

“The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.”

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

“It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”

“We cannot, after all, judge a biography by its length, by the number of pages in it; we must judge by the richness of the contents…sometimes the ‘unfinished’ are among the most beautiful symphonies.” 

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

 “The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life. But how many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?”

“I do not forget any good deed done to me and I do not carry a grudge for a bad one.”

Frankl’s commitment to personal responsibility and commitment to a higher cause was profound, and reflects an attitude of a lot of existential thinkers. Though a scientist, he deeply valued the spiritual nature of life, and took to it with a gratitude and a humor that we often find in eastern traditions.

Viktor Frankl Quotes On Love

“For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

“Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.”

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is able to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized.”

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“I do not forget any good deed done to me and I do not carry a grudge for a bad one.”

“I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.”

Frankl’s belief in the importance of love was a result of the unbelievable sustenance that his own love for his wife gave him during his time in Auschwitz. He saw love as a key ingredient that fuelled meaning, and found in his own experience that it made him more resilient than he could have imagined.

Viktor Frankl Quotes On Suffering

“To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.”

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

“It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.”

“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.”

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”

“To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.”

“What is to give light must endure burning.”

Suffering, life love, was to Frankl another aspect of the human condition that was both fundamental and infinitely flexible. He noticed not only how far suffering could go, but also how human beings could respond to it and what could be learned from it.

Viktor Frankl Quotes On Compassion

“Today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in doing so blurs the decisive difference being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness. If one is not cognizant of this difference and holds that an individual’s value stems only from his present usefulness, then, believe me, one owes it only to personal inconsistency not to plead for euthanasia along the lines of Hitler’s program, that is to say, ‘mercy’ killing of all those who have lost their social usefulness, be it because of old age, incurable illness, mental deterioration, or whatever handicap they may suffer.”

“No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honest whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.”

“Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.”

“If we take man as he really is, we make him worse. But if we overestimate him…we promote him to what he really can be.”

Reading Frankl’s words, you understand that he was a deeply compassionate person. He was able to express sympathy for not only his fellow prisoners of war, but also his captors. This echoes ideas that have been explored in religions all around the world, particularly long-term meditators in the East, and is a direct result of his contact with such extreme aspects of human nature.

If you enjoyed this article or have any questions, please leave a comment in the comments section below or send me an email at ben@projectmonkeymind.com, I’d love to hear from you!

43 Life-Changing Quotes For When You Are Feeling Defeated

Feeling Defeated Quotes

“Life is like a boxing match, defeat is declared not when you fall, but when you refuse to stand again.” – Kristen Ashley

Everybody has had the experience of feeling defeated and discouraged. There is a universal resonance with the story of the hero who was down and out, ready to quit and give up. It’s natural, we’re all human beings. 

The word defeat comes from the Old French desfait, meaning to undo, to reduce to near nothing. When we feel like we’ve lost something, our energy is drained, and it is this lack of eagerness that we feel when we say we are defeated. But just because we feel defeated, it doesn’t mean that we are. Our energy naturally ebbs and flows, and while your brain might tell you that you want to quit one day, it’s likely to turn around after a good night sleep and say something completely different. 

Side note: If you are feeling defeated and depressed, it may be necessary to get some help. Here’s a list of crisis helplines by country if you’re having suicidal thoughts.

What does it mean to feel defeated?

Feeling defeated means that first and foremost you have something you were up against and you lost. This may be a goal, a relationship, a health problem, school, work, or any other challenge. 

To be defeated means that you have a sense that you’re down and out. The challenge in front may even appear to be insurmountable. Remember, the feeling is not the fact. Just because you experience an emotion it doesn’t make it a reality. For example, when the body is sick we often find ourselves impatient, negative and close-minded. The same is happening when you are exhausted, your mind starts to create images of a version of you that has lost.

For that reason, it’s important to stay motivated. To read positive quotes and be inspired by people who have overcome the same challenges that you’re going through.

The following quotes and sayings, should you be willing to look deeply into their meaning, will help you to see things from a new perspective, and hopefully inspire you to push on and keep going.

Quotes about feeling defeated in life

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald 

“The world isn’t sunshine and rainbows. It’ll beat you down if you let it, and nothing hits harder than life.” – Rocky Balboa

“I accept this defeat with humility and courage, and I welcome the next challenge with open arms.” – Anonymous

“Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.” – Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was widely considered one of the greatest boxers of all time, but even he suffered several loses. The difference is, he never chose to take any individual defeat as final. Ali always waited till he regained his strength and came back to face his challenges even after his loss to Leon Spinks, even after being stripped of his boxing license for opposing the Vietnam War.

“Perhaps someday I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.” – Sylvia Plath

“We are never defeated unless we give up on God.” – Ronald Reagan

“Setbacks in life are opportunities to perform at a new level.” – Willian Cranch Bond

“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” – Rainer Mike Rilke

“Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

“In the end, everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not yet the end.” – Fernando Sabino

How do I get over a defeat?

Getting over a defeat requires patience, time and focus. Here are five tips to help you overcome a setback.

Define the enemy. When we say that we feel defeated we are presuming there is something that has defeated us. If we don’t even know what that thing is, it means that we don’t have clarity over our emotions. Sit down and really meditate on why you feel this way. Did you get rejected at a job interview? Are you trying to work on a project but you can’t muster the energy? What it is that has you feeling beaten?

Define failure and success. If you have now decided that you feel defeated, then you need to define what success and failure looks like. Take for example the case feeling like a loser at work. What does success at work mean to you? What does failure mean?  How can you try and win when you don’t even know what it is that you are losing?

Reframe Your Situation. When we feel like giving up, like we’ve lost and no longer have the energy to continue, it’s important to take a step back and get some new perspective. Instead of saying, I’ve lost. Say, I feel defeat today, but tomorrow is another opportunity to get back on the horse. 

Paint a picture of what success looks like. You cannot move forward without knowing which way to go. Once you’ve defined what success looks like, paint a clear image of the scenario in your mind. Some people call this positive visualisation. Your mind is attracted to what it knows, play a successful scenario in your head over and over, like a musician rehearsing a performance, and you’ll start to unconsciously gravitate towards optimism. 

Inspirational quotes about feeling defeated

“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.” – Marcus Garvey

“Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful.” – Zig Ziglar

“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” – Chinese Proverb

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Nelson Mandela

“True defeat only happens if you stop. If you never stop, you’re never truly defeated.” – Anonymous

“He knows not his own strength who hath not met adversity.” – William Samuel Johnson

“Defeat your fears and you can never be defeated.” – Jeffrey Fry

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” – Marilyn vos Savant

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man, true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway

“See any time you feel pained or defeated, it is only because you insist on clinging to what doesn’t work. Dare to let go and you won’t lose a thing except for a punishing idea.” – Guy Finley

“The defeat in your head is not the same as the defeat in your heart. If your head tells you to stop, try listening to your heart.” – Anonymous

“The gospel is for the defeated, not the dominant.” – Tullian Tchividjian

“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” – Maya Angelou

How do I stop myself from discouraging myself?

When a strong emotion catches hold of us it can create habit patterns in our mind. For example, negative emotions can create the habit of feeling like you’re not good enough. Unfortunately, there’s only one way to overcome the habit of discouraging yourself; do the opposite. You need to positively encourage yourself, over and over again.  

Quotes for when you feel like giving up and quitting

“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” – Steve Jobs

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino

“Tough times never last. Tough people do.” – Robert Schuller

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” – Lance Armstrong

“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better we can bear a hardship today.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“When you feel too positive to be doubtful, too optimistic to be fearful, and too determined to be defeated, you are undeniably on the way to success.” – Dr Prem Jagyasi

“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Ernest Hemingway

“Defeat doesn’t finish a man, quit does. A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He’s finished when he quits.” – Richard M. Nixon

“You are not a victim. No matter what you have been through, you’re still here. You may have been challenged, hurt, betrayed, beaten, and discouraged, but nothing has defeated you. You are still here! You have been delayed but not denied. You are not a victim, you are a victor. You have a history of victory.” – Steve Maraboli

When You Feel Like Giving Up

Bible quotes about feeling defeated

The themes of battle, victory and defeat run consistently throughout the bible. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, agnostic, or atheist, you may still be able to find comfort in these words which have served so many people in history. 

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crush; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” – Corinthians 4:8

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” – Corinthians 5:7

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” – Thessalonians 2:11-12

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” – Lamentations 3:22

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” – Corinthians 16:13

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” – Psalm 34:19

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31

“Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” – Hebrews 10:35-56

“Taste and see that the Lord is god; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” – Psalm 34:8

When You Feel Like Quitting

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6afQxRNtUso

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I’m Tired of Everything: 6 Psychological SECRETS To Enjoy Life Again

I’m Tired Of Everything

It was 2011, and I was staring at my bedroom wall. My mind was empty. But not empty in a clear, focused, meditative way. It was just dull. It was like someone had gone into my brain, turned down the colours and muffled the volume a little bit. I was sick and tired of my life and deeply exhausted.

The thought of standing up and going to make lunch was weighing down on me. Literally. The idea itself felt heavy. It physically felt like getting up to prepare some food was going to take all the strength I could muster. All I could think of was how exhausted I was.

“I’m Sick and Tired of Everything in My Life.”

I was tired of my life. Sick and tired of people. Sick of being depressed and constantly feeling tired. Tired of everything.

I picked up the phone to call a psychologist. I couldn’t do this anymore.

It rang once – I quickly hung up.

“I don’t need any help!” I naively told myself. But I did, I definitely did. It was about to be the worst week of my life.

I picked up the phone again, it rang twice – I hung up.

“Sh*t! I need to do this I thought.”

Again I dialled the number. It rang once. Twice. Three times.

“…H-Hello?”

Actually, I’ll come back to that in a second….

Let’s go back. Well, forward I guess. Let’s go forward to what I know now, and back to what I was missing then.

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I’m Tired of Life

Typically, when we’re tired of everything, it’s not because of one single event. It’s usually the effect of a number of different experiences or situations that tire us out just a little bit. The cumulative weight of each of these saps our energy until we are exhausted. Exhaustion is uncomfortable, and the minds translates this discomfort as “I’m sick of life.” Also, interpersonal relations are a huge emotional investment, which is often why we become so tired of people. This is made worse when it’s hard to explain how we’re feeling when we’re depressed.

To restore balance and overcome our exhaustion we need to make some adjustments in our life. Most of these changes are small, and some, where necessary, are big – and all of them make a difference.

The following 6 suggestions are the most important to consider when you’re sick of life.

What to do when you’re tired of everything?

Tired of this world?

Finding Micro-Meanings

When we get tired of life, one of the mistakes we can make is to compare ourselves to others. It’s easy to look at those who appear motivated and driven, and start to wonder why the same attitude doesn’t come so easily to us. If we take this a step further, we may believe that other people have some huge meaning driving their actions, and even this is exactly where we’re lacking.

Enter the find-your-passion culture.

The last twenty years have seen media and entertainment littered with the message that we all need to find passion and purpose. We need to do something meaningful and leave an imprint on the world.

Not only is this idea unrealistic, but it can create a lot of anxiety. Telling someone they need to find a world-changing passion to get them out of bed in the morning is like telling them they need to drink a $400 bottle of Kona Nigari Water every time they need quench their thirst. Maybe there are a handful of people out there actually doing it, but you’ll get almost the same result by continuously sipping filtered tap water.

So what should you do? Find micro-meanings. This means you find something that is meaningful ‘enough’ to drive you to the action. Nothing more. You don’t need to be driven by a purpose that will hold value over your entire lifetime, you just need something that is worthy enough of taking the first step.

Apply for one new job because there is enough purpose in the potential pay increase to submit the application.
Start a diet for one day because you’re motivated enough to see how it goes.
Go for a ten-minute run today because you’ll feel better after getting outside.

It’s very rare that someone who is successful and driven found a purpose that lit a fire under them overnight. What happens 99% of the time is that these people have built momentum over years and years by continuously focusing on what was right in front of them.

Find a micro-meaning that is enough to take the first step towards building momentum – don’t look for a magic reason to change your situation.

How to get started:

  1. List 5 things you want out of your life right now.
  2. Break them into the smallest possible step you can imagine.
  3. Write down why you would be motivated to do each of these 5 tiny-steps.
  4. Choose one to do immediately.

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Constantly feeling tired?

Replenish Your Energy Levels

We are both physical and mental beings. A lot of the time when we say we are tired of life, we do so with the conviction that it’s impossible to find meaning or purpose in our situation. The reality, on the other hand, may just be that our bodies and brains are simply in need of rest.

There are a number of ways to improve your energy levels. A lot of the time when we get sleepy during the day, it’s because we aren’t respecting our bodies natural rhythms or we are eating the wrong kinds of foods, or more commonly, too much food. Counterintuitively, restricting your diet with intermittent fasting can improve vitality by reducing the amount of energy our digestive system needs to spend.

There are countless ways you can optimise your energy

  • Drink more water
  • Optimise caffeine intake
  • Optimise your sleep
  • Change your diet
  • Practice Intermittent Fasting
  • Take supplements

To look at these in more detail, check out this article on supercharging your energy.

How to get started:

  1. Track your energy level every 3 hours for 3 to 7 days (the longer the better). You can simply write a number out of 10, and if you’d like, 1-2 sentences about how you feel if you’d like.
  2. Pick ONE thing that you could do to replenish your energy levels.
  3. Introduce this new habit and continue to track your energy levels for 7 days.
  4. Watch for a difference, and if you don’t find it helps you can leave it be. Though do your research, some changes may take longer for the benefits to kick in.
  5. Keep trying new things every week and seeing what works best for you.
  6. Only try ONE thing at a time to ensure that you know which change is having a positive impact.

Too Tired To Care?

Emphasise the right Motivation

There’s a good general rule when it comes to what you want in your life. The more an idea is talked about by a mass audience, the more it becomes shrouded in ambiguity and the more we lack a clear definition of what it truly is. The result is that we may end up chasing something that we 1. Don’t understand and 2. Wouldn’t want if we did understand.

Here are some perfect examples:

  • Happiness
  • Wealth
  • Health
  • Enlightenment
  • Motivation

Unless we define these terms clearly, we may not actually know what we want.

To one person happiness means having a stable situation and avoiding excessive negative emotion, to another it means having an abundance of rich experiences, even if that means a lot of stress. To another, health may mean being comfortable with their body image, competing at a high level in their sport, or simply avoiding regular illness.

Case in point – as I write this, the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page for motivation has the following quote “an individual is not motivated by another individual. Motivation comes from within the individual.”

Who is to say that that’s the case? A significant part of our drives as humans are social, and we’re constantly being influenced by one another. It’s clear then that there is already a lot of ambiguity around the idea of motivation.

So let’s define motivation as it relates to being tired of life.

A very simple and clean definition is that motivation is a reason behind your drives and actions. It’s very common for someone to say ‘I’m not motivated” but that’s somewhat of an oxymoron, because, using this definition, to move is to be motivated. Even in the deepest of depressions a part of us still motivated to breathe air and go to the bathroom. You’ve been motivated enough to read this article this far.

So you need to find the reasons behind your actions.

How to get started:

What you really mean when you say “I’m not motivated” is that you’re not driven by what you would like to drive you and in the direction you would like it to drive you.

So what you really want to ask is
What do I want to be motivated to do?
Why do I really want to be motivated to do that? (you may want to ask this question 2 or 3 times to get to the real motivation)
How can I emphasise the reason behind that motivation?

For example.

  1. What do I want to be motivated to do? I want to be motivated to go for runs five days a week.
  2. Why do I really want to be motivated to do that? So I can feel healthy.
  3. Why do I really want to feel healthy? So that I can feel confident at work.
  4. How can I emphasise the reason behind that motivation? Write down five ways in which confidence can improve my life and five ways that I’ve displayed confidence in the past.

Remember that a lot of untangling motivations comes down to clarifying what we want by repeatedly asking questions. We are motivated by dozens or even hundreds of different beliefs or ideas that we have about the world, and once we are more aware of these, we can use them to our advantage.

Understanding how motivation works can be amazingly useful. If you’ve got a minute to spare I highly recommending watching this video by ASAP Science.

Sick of Everything?

Find Perspective

The human brain, in some ways, functions like a camera. We’re constantly needing to zoom in and out, depending on the context, to make sure we get things done. For example, when you’re at work, you need to act in a way that the project you’re working on is the number one priority in your life, otherwise you won’t dedicate the time and energy to it. However, this doesn’t mean it is the number one priority, it doesn’t mean its more important than your family for example.

Imagine a businessman who dedicates a lot of time to his job, to provide for his family. He succeeds and they live a comfortable life. But he’s still so zoomed in on the work, that he’s lost perspective around how important his family is, and he unknowingly starts to neglect them.

Sometimes we simply lose sight of what matters. We focus on our body image because we know it will improve our confidence, but then we improve our body image, become slightly more confident, but continue to be focused on improving how we look.

The same thing happens with worries and concerns we ruminate on.
How much money do I have?
Am I in the right job?
How can I improve my relationship?
Do I feel passionate enough about my life?

These are valid concerns to have in certain moments, but we need to ‘zoom out’ every once in a while and place them in the context of our entire life.

How to get started:

  1. Write down three things that are frustrating you about life right now.
  2. Try to look at things that you’ve focused on for a long time and may have lost perspective over – the more time we spend on something, the more we tend to lose perspective.
  3. Rewrite them from the perspective of 1. Your most negative self and 2. Your most positive self
  4. Realise that you have a choice in what perspective you take on your circumstances

Life is Exhausting

You Must Find Structure!

People rarely understand just how important structure is to energy levels. When we don’t have a solid structure or schedule, it’s hard for our bodies and brains to know when to exert energy and when not to. When you don’t wake up at the same time every day, or you inconsistently take naps during the afternoon, this can be very detrimental to your body’s natural rhythm.

We see this commonly with people who want to retire, but when they do so and their days no longer have structure, they may have an emotional slump.

How to get started:

  1. At the end of each day, write down three things you NEED to do tomorrow.
  2. If you’re not currently employed, these can be absolutely anything, but you need to take them as seriously as you would an important work project.
  3. Split your day into three sections, all focused on these activities. Fill in the gap with smaller activities.

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Tired of People?

Time To Find REAL Love

Finding love doesn’t necessarily mean falling in love in the Disney-esque romantic sense. You don’t want to simply find another attachment. My definition of love is that it covers three things.
Attention: when we love something, we direct our attention towards it and become aware of its subtleties.
Affection: the object of love receives positive emotions from us.
Action: we act in a way that expresses our love.

If you can find a partner that you love, great. But you can also begin to practice loving what you already have in your life; sports, music, relationships, hobbies, foods, movies etc.

For example:

If you love cooking, you will: 1. pay close attention to the ingredients as you prepare a meal, 2. do so with a good attitude, 3. make cooking a priority in your life.

If you love your children, you will: 1. Pay close attention to your children, their likes and dislikes, 2. Express affection towards them, 3. Act in a way that is in their best interest.

Carl Jung said:

“What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes? Herein lies the key to your earthly pursuits.”

When we are in love with our work, relationships, or hobbies, we fall into the flow state more naturally and more frequently. In fact, the flow state has been found to be one of the most significant predictors of a happy life.

How to get started:

Finding something to fall in love with is probably the most difficult task on this list. However, there are a couple of things you can do to make it come a little easier.
Be open-minded. When something interests you, give it a try. A lot of the time we don’t realise how much we will enjoy something until we have some experience with it.
Practice concentration meditation. This will help you accumulation new knowledge and skills quicker, and fall into the flow state more consistently.
Commit to something. Some things we don’t like at first simply take time, commit to something for a few weeks and if you don’t like it, try something else.

BONUS: How I Got Over the Worst Week of My Life

So where were we? Oh, that’s right.

“I don’t need any help!” I naively told myself. But I did, I definitely did. It was about to be the worst week of my life.

I picked up the phone again, it rang twice – I hung up.

“Sh*t! I need to do this I thought.”

Again I dialled the number. It rang once. Twice. Three times.

“…H-Hello?” I mustered.

But before anyone could even answer, my pride swiftly returned. I hung up.

“I don’t need ANYONE’S help!” Yes, I did, yes I definitely did.

My parents were going through a separation, I was three years into a degree that I realised I didn’t want, I had an active social life but was feeling incredibly lonely, I had no idea what to do with my life, and persistent injuries were keeping me from exercising.

I didn’t book the appointment with the psychologist that day. But I needed it. A lot was going on in my life at the time. I was barely coping.

And then the straw that broke the camel’s back.

24 hours after I hung up that phone, a friend of mine was in a car crash – and he didn’t make it.

It was a shock to the system that I couldn’t seem to shake. My emotional wellbeing seemed to spiral down. I couldn’t focus at university, I wasn’t hungry, I was exhausted, I was getting headaches and stomach aches, and I was extremely tired of my life. I spent six months I was just going through the motions.

In the end, I did see a psychologist (but that’s a story for another day), and I managed to get enough momentum to pull myself out of that slump.

Here are ways that I took the above ideas to heart:

  • I ate healthily and made myself to go to the gym. (Replenished Energy Levels)
  • If I had interest in anything at all, even for 5 minutes, I read about it. (Micro-meanings)
  • I constantly journaled, looking deeply at what I really wanted out of life. (Right Motivation)
  • I watched lots of documentaries about people who had dealt with hardships and overcome them. (Perspective)
  • I made sure I new overslept or took naps, and allowed myself leisure time every night at the same time. (Structure)

I didn’t find real love in this time, but I read a book by Stephen Batchelor called Buddhism Without Beliefs, which would spark my deep interest in spirituality and completely change the way I saw the world.

These examples may not work for you, but if you can apply these principles to your own life, you’ll be able to find new energy and vitality that can help to turn around feelings of exhaustion and get the necessary momentum to change your life.

25 Carlos Castaneda Quotes To Awaken Your Inner Shaman

Spirituality is universal. It couldn’t be any other way. 

What do I mean by this?

In reality, independent of cognitive labels, there is no split between the physical, psychological or spiritual worlds. When you look in your direct experience, you can never find a line distinguishing them. We only separate these domains for the sake of communication and scientific investigation. 

Why, however, is this important to point out? Well, because religions and belief systems are simply pointers from apparent mental and physical worlds to the spirit world. 

To say that one tradition has the answer is an oxymoron, the answer lies outside of tradition. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that each tradition has its own unique way of explaining things, and different ideas will connect with different people. 

My mother was raised a catholic and my father Jewish. I was raised an atheist – but later turned to Buddhism, before becoming interested in Yoga and Advaita Vedanta in search of something more. Ultimately, however, no teaching was more believable than actual experience. 

Along the way I’ve explored Christian mysticism, Sufism, and even neo-shamanism. One of the most well known neo-shamanistic writers was a Peruvian-American who draws inspiration from the ancient Toltec culture of Hidalgo, Mexico. I have spent years in both Mexico and Peru respectively, and I can tell you that their cultures – both modern and traditional, vary greatly. Make no mistake, he was not born into the tradition he introduced to the world.

Born on Christmas day, 1925, in Cajamarca Peru, Carlos Castaneda went on to study a PhD in anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles. In the early 1960s, his work as an anthropologist took him to Arizona, where he met Don Juan Matus, a shaman who was shrouded in mystery and promise. After a series of initiation ritual of sorts, whereby Castaneda was supposedly introduced to a series of hallucinogens, he returned to Los Angeles and wrote his first book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. 

Published in 1968, the book was well-received by the Californian counterculture of the time, and spurred two further works; A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (1971) and Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (1972). Castaneda was reclusive, despite the fact he developed a degree of fame and unintentionally became a figurehead for the new age movement. 

His books have been translated into seventeen languages, and are still well known, now 50 years later. Admittedly though, they have not been without controversy. The three books have been criticised for appropriating the shamanistic cultures from which he drew his ideas. It’s a valid criticism, it should be made clear that his books are one academics modern interpretation of Toltec spirituality. He doesn’t speak for their culture. Also, though Castenada had a PhD in anthropology and his first books were initially taken to be works of non-fiction, they are now largely regarded as works of fiction. 

However, none of this takes away from the value of the ideas presented in his work. 

As you will see below, from wherever you are reading this article, his words often still resonate over half a century after they were written. Ideas will always be just that, ideas. If, however, they can point you towards something important, then they are valid. 

Whenever wisdom is repackaged form the modern age it becomes stripped of some of the authentic culture presented in their original form, and even to some sense diluted. This is clearly what has happened with mindfulness when Jon Kabat-Zinn brought it over from Buddhism to Western Medicine. 

So without further ado, here are;

25 Carlos Castaneda Quotes To Awaken Your Inner Shaman

Death & Spirit

“In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”

“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.”

“We hardly ever realize that we can cut anything out of our lives, anytime, in the blink of an eye.”

“Malicious acts are performed by people for personal gain … Sorcerers, though, have an ulterior purpose for their acts, which has nothing to do with personal gain. The fact that they enjoy their acts does not count as gain. Rather, it is a condition of their character. The average man acts only if there is a chance for profit. Warriors say they act not for profit but for the spirit.”

Many shamanic traditions have a different attitude towards death and spirit than modern culture. Though specific beliefs vary between cultures, there is commonly a ritualistic partaking in some form of acted death – such as psychedelics or long periods dancing or in a fasted state. Like many esoteric traditions, spirit is something that is more fundamental than the body, and therefore the death of the body is not feared, as it is simply a natural process of the essence returning to the earth. Castaneda often talked of ‘The Warrior’ and contrasted this to ‘The Normal Man’ – a warrior is someone who has seen the truth of spirit, and as a result, does not fear death.

Dreaming & Awakening

“Once it has learned to dream the double, the self arrives at this weird crossroad and a moment comes when one realizes that it is the double who dreams the self.”

“Forget the self and you will fear nothing, in whatever level or awareness you find yourself to be.”

“Through dreaming we can perceive other worlds, which we can certainly describe, but we can’t describe what makes us perceive them.”

“The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.”

“What makes us unhappy is to want. Yet if we would learn to cut our wants to nothing, the smallest thing we’d get would be a true gift.”

“Beware of those who weep with realization, for they have realized nothing.”

“There is no beginning, the beginning is only in your thought.”

“Don Juan had always said to me that our great enemy is the fact that we never believe what is happening to us.”

Dreaming and Awakening are often to domains and metaphors that are used to examine the nature of experience and question our assumptions about reality. In 1993 Castaneda wrote a book called The Art of Dreaming, which explained the process of lucid dreaming and its application in spiritual endeavours. Lucid dreaming has been used for thousands of years as a spiritual practice, most notably in Tibetan Dream Yoga. Don Juan Matus’ approach to dreaming, as described by Castaneda, takes the dreamer through 7 gates which are obstacles to pure awareness. 

Intention & Emotion

“To worry is to become accessible, unwittingly accessible. And once you worry you cling to anything out of desperation; and once you cling you are bound to get exhausted or to exhaust whoever or whatever you are clinging to.”

“A warrior takes his lot, whatever it may be, and accepts it in ultimate humbleness. He accepts in humbleness what he is, not as a grounds for regret but as a living challenge.”

“The trick is in what one emphasises. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”

“A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war, wide awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance.”

“Once you decide something put all your petty fears away. Your decision should vanquish them.”

“Think about it: what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone.”

“I have no routines or personal history. One day I found out that they were no longer necessary for me and, like drinking, I dropped them. One must have the desire to drop them and then one must proceed harmoniously to chop them off, little by little.”

“…only if they remain totally detached can they have the energy to be free. Theirs is a particular type of detachment which is born not out of fear or indolence, but out of conviction.”

Like many psychological systems throughout human history, Castenada emphasised intention and its impact on our emotions. This intention meant the literal emotional intention, such as trying to think positive thoughts, but it was also a broader way of engaging with life. Notably, he had a very controlled and strict diet and believed that what you eat was a direct reflection of mental content. “Si comes mal, te sientes mal y ves todo mal” he told one reporter – meaning “If you eat bad, you’ll feel bad and see everything negatively.”

Life

“A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”

“A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting.”

“The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”

“The art of a warrior is to balance the terror of being a man with the wonder of being a man.”

“You say you need help. Help for what? You have everything needed for the extravagant journey that is your life.”

Life, from Castaneda’s perspective, was something that was both eerily short and vastly expansive. This is because the shaman lives from a place of connectedness with the absolute, and radical honesty with his humanity. The human experience of life is brief and is to be lived as such. Fear is put aside and challenges are confronted head-on, the senses are to be enjoyed but not to the point of hedonism. Level Headedness is what guides the warrior.

Why Is Life So Boring?

Have you ever had the experience where one simple sentence has changed the way you see the world?

As a self-confessed book nerd, I’ve had it happen many times.

The first time I read Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor, or Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, I came across sentences that I’ve read, highlighted and re-read year after year.

One of these quotes that I continue to find meaning in, is from the French writer and mathematician, Blaise Pascal. He said something that I still think about to this day:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

This quote is over 300 years old, but in the era of smartphones, social media and Netflix it is truer now than ever. There is no need to worry that you’ll ever be left to just sit in a room alone. Entertainment is only ever a click away.

You would think, then, with all these ways to stay busy, that modern people would be less bored. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

Think about it: how long does it take for a web page to load before you feel your jaw tense? How many minutes can you sit still in a room and not pick up your phone to check your Facebook feed? How long will you watch a video on YouTube until you decide you’re bored with what you’re seeing and click on something else?

At some point in your scrolling and searching, you’ve probably read a think piece about the ills of modern technology or the tragedy of how quickly we become bored now. It’s easy to nod halfheartedly in agreement and give the issue no further thought. After all, you’re aware of the iron grip your phone has on your life and how merciless you are to the compulsion to ease your boredom.

But what if you become curious? What if you started to ask, “What is boredom? Why do we get bored?” You might be surprised by just how interesting boredom can be.

So if you’ve come to this article and you’re wondering why your life feels so boring, we’re going to take a deep dive into the question.

Why is life so boring?

If you want to blame a single cause for the modern epidemic of boredom, blame your brain. It wants you to be bored. At least, it’s got things it wants you to do, and boredom is one of the tools it uses to get you to do those things.

“But didn’t people get bored less easily in the past?” you might ask. “Couldn’t they read those really long-winded novels and wait weeks just to get a letter about the weather in Topeka?”

While it’s true that we certainly have a shorter attention span now than people did in previous generations, as a psychological phenomenon, boredom has always been with us. As a species, we are novelty seekers.

Scientists have even located a region of our brain that is entirely devoted to the processing of novel stimuli. This region is close to the hippocampus, which is involved in the formation of long-term memories. This might explain why novelty has been linked with improved learning and memory formation.

While this brain system is universal, it is more active for some people than for others. In a February 2012 New York Times article, John Tierney describes healthy “novelty seekers” who exhibit the trait of “neophilia” – a strong affinity for novelty. He cites researchers who see neophilia as “the quintessential human survival skill” and who have linked it to a “migration gene” that developed 50,000 years ago and can now be found in humans all over the world. Basically, if we didn’t get bored and want to seek out new experiences, we wouldn’t have spread to the far corners of the earth.

This research reinforces what we might already suspect: without boredom, we wouldn’t have as many vibrant human cultures or innovations as we do today.

How Our Brains Make Us Bored

You’ve probably heard of dopamine. It’s the Instagram model of the neurochemistry world: sexy, unavoidable, and all about that party lifestyle. It’s what’s rocking out in your brain when you’re eating, drinking, having sex, or listening to music. It’s even activated when you see that someone has liked your latest Facebook status.

But dopamine isn’t just partying all the time. It’s also involved in some of our most essential daily brain functions, including memory formation and learning. It’s active in the brain when we’re processing things that we haven’t seen before, or, that make us feel curious, no matter how simple those things may be.

The flip side is that low dopamine levels make us feel listless. Reduced levels of dopamine are linked to low mood, difficulty thinking, lethargy, reduced sex drive, and anhedonia. Of course, these are also all symptoms of depression. When it’s not severe enough to indicate a mood disorder, this lack of psychological energy, or arousal, is precisely what we’re experiencing when we feel bored.

Boredom and Attention

Many definitions of boredom centre on its relationship with attention. When we’re bored by something, we have trouble focusing on it; when something engages us, it holds our attention, and we don’t feel bored. So it’s no surprise that when we’re paying attention, our brains reward us with the neurotransmitters and hormones that make us feel good.

The weird thing about our brains is that they seem to do everything they can to not pay attention. This is because attention takes energy and there is an abundance of stimuli in any given moment. We tune out people who have a boring speaking style even when they’re sharing essential information. We have to keep re-reading the same page of a book we want or need to read because our minds wander. We doodle at work meetings and forget people’s names right after they tell us.

Fortunately, attention is a trainable skill, by consciously practising focusing, you become better at it, it becomes more pleasurable and uses less energy.

Our Brains On Auto-Pilot

As we go through the daily routines that bore us, we often find ourselves on “automatic pilot.” We daydream as we’re driving our cars or taking a shower. The complicated suite of action and knowledge these tasks require occurs at an “automatic level of attentional processing.” This is a feature of our brains, not a bug: we tend to perform tasks that involve complex motor skills better when we don’t have to think about them.

One way our brains get around having to enlist our conscious attention is through schemas. These are mental maps that tell us what to generally expect when we are in certain situations or see something that fits into a predefined category. Our brains have to readjust and process when something defies our expectations, which is why the most surprising experiences we have are often the most memorable.

For example, when you lean over to sniff a flower, you expect to smell something sweet if you smell anything at all. When you sniff a flower that smells like hot garbage, you’re shocked into much more vivid awareness as you try to integrate this new experience. You might be disgusted, confused, or curious—but you’re definitely not bored.

We Literally Don’t See What’s Right in Front of Us

Our mental maps allow us to respond to familiar scenarios more efficiently, but they also trip us up on a regular basis. “Inattentional blindness” is what happens when something occurs in our field of vision but we literally don’t see it.

The main reason we don’t see something is because we’re not paying attention to it. The other is that it’s not what we expect. Our schemas tell our brains to screen things out because they doesn’t fit.

One famous example of inattentional blindness is the “invisible gorilla” experiment. Participants watched a video and were instructed to focus on a game being played by two teams. The people focused on counting passes didn’t notice when an actor in a gorilla costume walked across the screen.

This is a purely cognitive version of the general psychological phenomenon known as habituation. Basically, the more we’re exposed to something, the less it lights up our brain. A sudden noise startles us the first time we hear it, but a few minutes later, we don’t notice it anymore. In other words: things that were interesting at first quickly become boring.

One problem with the modern world is that after being exposed so frequently and so casually to intense and novel stimuli, everything becomes habituated and it’s tough to find something that can hold our brain’s attention.

Two Types of People Who Are Prone to Boredom

There are many factors that affect how often we get bored. One factor identified by researcher John Eastwood is how easily our brains become aroused. What’s interesting is that people on opposite ends of the arousal spectrum are equally likely to be bored.

First, people who have difficulty achieving a state of cognitive arousal are prone to boredom. If you’re this type of person, you’re probably a thrill seeker. It takes so much to get your brain going that you’re willing to risk it all to escape the boredom that always threatens to return.

According to Eastwood, people whose brains are easily aroused are also likely to suffer from chronic boredom. If you’re one of these “highly sensitive people,” you are likely to experience symptoms of anxiety. You may find the stimulation of everyday activities like going to the grocery store to be completely overwhelming. As a result, you may recover from these stressors by secluding yourself in soothing environments that are inherently boring. The price you pay for not feeling anxious is feeling bored.

Both types are at risk of developing compulsive behaviours or becoming depressed.

Why is MY life so boring?

Are you depressed?

Boredom and depression both arise from a state of low psychological arousal and are linked to low levels of dopamine. They can become two parts of a vicious cycle: people who can’t overcome boredom become depressed and people who are depressed often feel bored.

One of the major distinguishing factors between a typical state of boredom and the anhedonia of depression is how hard each is to overcome. When we’re bored, we can usually find something to do to re-engage with the world and feel pleasure. When we’re depressed, however, it’s hard to find anything to bring us out of our bleak, grey mood.

This is what makes depression so dangerous. When we try to feel better and fail, again and again, we start to feel hopeless. Others’ repeated attempts to help can alienate them from us when we don’t respond. For this reason it’s important to reach out for help when we become depressed. Professional intervention, whether through talk therapy, medication, or other approaches, is specifically targeted to break this cycle.

Are you lonely?

One way to understand loneliness is to think of it as a specific type of boredom caused by a lack of social stimulation. Just as our brains drive us to seek new experiences, they drive us to seek connection with others. And similarly to how we may feel bored in a stimulating environment, we can feel lonely even when we are surrounded by other people.

Feelings of loneliness can arise even more sharply when we feel like we are failing at attempts to connect or feel like other people don’t understand us. Both depression and loneliness feed on a cycle of negative thoughts in which we see events and social interactions in a negative light. Chronic loneliness puts the brain into a “self-preservation mode” that makes it easier for us to feel threatened and withdraw from others.

Loneliness has been shown to carry significant health risks. Just like depression and anxiety make it hard for us to seek or find relief from boredom, they make it hard for us to break the painful cycle of loneliness. We have to reach out and risk being vulnerable, which requires us to move out of our comfort zone.

No matter what our minds tell us when we’re in a depressed state, we’re never as alone as we think we are. Once we do the courageous thing and reach out, we will find a way to connect again.

Do you have enough meaning in your life?

Existential boredom arises when an inability to feel excited by life is paired with the belief that life is meaningless. Someone suffering from existential boredom might ask “What’s the point of life?”. This more philosophical mood is also known as ennui, a state of weariness with the world.

If you’re feeling ennui, you’ll see attempts to alleviate boredom as futile and inauthentic. Your boredom is more deeply-rooted than you not having something fun to do. In your philosophical funk, you find even the concept of fun suspicious. You see people who are always looking for the next bit of entertainment as trying to avoid truths about life that you’re staring in the face—especially the truth that life is absurd.

While this perspective can be caustic, it has a silver lining: it can drive a search for meaning. When we try to alleviate feelings of depression, loneliness, or boredom with superficial entertainment, we rarely experience deep or lasting resolution. Meaningful experiences, on the other hand, can lead us to life-changing shifts in perspective and the discovery of a personal sense of purpose.

How to Overcome Boredom

For mild cases of boredom, relief might be as near at hand as a few runs through a  mobile game or an episode of a favourite show on Netflix. For more severe or chronic cases of depressive boredom or ennui, more is needed.

The key to overcoming any type of boredom is training your attention. You can make anything more interesting if you convince your brain to pay attention to it. The brain is easy to trick; a short period of sustained focus is all it takes, and suddenly, the most boring thing you’ve ever seen is deeply fascinating.

Psychiatrist Judson Brewer pegs curiosity as the essential ingredient in this transformation. When we practice mindfulness – being attentive to whatever is happening in the moment – we break free from compulsive inattention, and we experience dopamine flooding through our systems.

Late Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa also recommended training the mind, specifically through meditation, as a way to overcome boredom. He taught his students to make boredom itself an object of focus during meditation and learn how to relate to the experience of boredom in a different way. The result is what Trungpa called “cool boredom”: a calming type of boredom stripped of any feeling of aversion to it.

The best way to resolve deeper states of boredom, especially ennui, is to seek meaning. Research shows not only that a sense of boredom and a lack of life meaning are closely related and predictive of one another, but that we naturally take action to create meaning when we feel bored, reconfiguring boring objects in our mind to align them with something that has more personal meaning. This is what we are doing when we see faces in clouds. This deeply human tendency reflects our creative capacity,  one of our most powerful tools for conquering boredom.

The Power of Creativity

When our brains are quiet—and bored—the “default mode network” kicks in. This pattern of brain activity is associated with “daydreaming, imagination, and self-referential thought.” Artists, writers, and other creative types are deeply familiar with it, as letting the mind wander is an important early stage of the creative process.

The writer Brenda Ueland calls it “moodling,” which she defines as “long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering… the dreamy idleness that children have, an idleness when you walk alone for a long, long time, or take a long, dreamy time at dressing, or lie in bed at night and thoughts come and go, or dig in a garden, or drive a car for many hours alone, or play the piano, or sew, or paint ALONE.”

Nietzsche wrote that artists “require a lot of boredom if their work is to succeed. For thinkers and all sensitive spirits, boredom is that disagreeable ‘windless calm’ of the soul that precedes a happy voyage and cheerful winds. They have to bear it and must wait for its effect on them.”

“Our boredom often contains the seeds for our brilliance. It’s in our so-called boredom that we travel to those liminal spaces, unpaved roads, and uncharted waters, where everything is an unknown and anything is possible. This is the place where our most provocative, resonant and impactful work emerges.” – Srinivas Rao

Flow States: The Antidote to Boredom

Srinivas Rao also notes that depth, or an “intensity of focus” achieved through removing distractions and training the mind, “is the precursor to flow.”

“Flow,” a term coined by positive psychology researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a state in which you are so engaged by a challenging task and so profoundly focused that your sense of self and the chatter of narrative thinking fall away. In other words, the default network gets incredibly quiet.

There are steps you can take to increase the chances of entering a flow state, which is most common during athletic or creative activity. These include making sure the task is something that gives you immediate feedback and that allows you to set clear goals.

Just as boredom arises from being unable to pay attention, flow arises from having our attention captured fully by what we’re doing. Whether we’re pushing ourselves to excel physically in a fitness routine, engaging in a complex creative activity, or practising a meditative discipline, there are countless ways to get our brains to engage. This natural focus is enhanced when we find a sense of purpose and meaning in these activities.

It’s true that we can fight boredom by seeking distraction, but we need other, deeper alternatives to keep from falling into a destructive pattern of craving and compulsion. By finding goals to pursue that mean something more than just “fun,” we can not only beat boredom but build a life that matters: one that is satisfying, creative, and fully engaged with the world.

How to Concentrate on Studies for Long Hours (Like a Zen Master)

How to Concentrate on Studies for Long Hours

Have you ever wished you could control your mind better?

I’ve definitely felt that way before. Heck, there’s a reason this blog is called Project Monkey Mind.

It’s frustrating, because you know that you really need to concentrate on something, and you’re trying your best, but you just keep on getting distracted.

To be fair, you’re not alone. Focus has become a huge topic in recent years, largely because technology related interruptions have been making it harder for us to sustain concentration for long periods of time.

But this doesn’t mean that we can’t see significant improvements to our attentional-control. Our ability to do so is a puzzle. We don’t need to solve all of it at once, we simply need to figure out which pieces will make the difference for us.

One primary issue we have is that we come across advice about concentration, most people fail to take into consideration the scope of factors that impact our ability to focus, instead opting for a one-dimensional approach. Maybe they say it’s your diet, or your willpower, that you need to be more organised with study materials, or that you should “try meditation.”

This is why in this article I’m attempting to cover everything!

To maximise our ability to concentrate on our studies for longer hours, we need to consider how we can:

  • Improve our baseline ability to concentrate
  • Decide on the best time of day for us to study
  • Eat the right foods before studying
  • Create the best environment for us to study in
  • Clear brain fog
  • Approach work with the right mindset
  • Create an effective study plan and set goals
  • Avoid distractions while studying
  • Remember what we study
  • Safely take supplements or nootropics that optimize our brain for study

But first, we need to ask an important question.

What is concentration?

Put simply, concentration is the ability of an individual to direct their attention towards a desired object of focus. In psychological research, this is also referred to as attentional control. The ability to concentrate is an executive function, mediated by the frontal areas of the brain. There are a number of reasons why your attentional control may be limited, many of which we’ll cover here. From a clinical perspective, autism, ADHD and anxiety are some disorders that may limit our attentional control.

It’s often said that modern society has eroded our ability to focus on a single object at a time. This is because of an overwhelming amount of stimulus, typically in the form of marketing, implicitly conditions us to jump from one thing to another. Fortunately, the brain is largely a creature of habit, so by retraining it, we can mitigate some of these maladaptive patterns of attention.

How can I improve my concentration?

Here are a few effective practices for improving your concentration. Remember that your brain is like a muscle, you want to train it, then allow it to rest, and you can see significant gains, but they will generally take persistence and time.

Meditation

The most effective way to improve your concentration is undoubtedly through meditation. However, not all types of meditation will serve this purpose in the same way or to the same degree, you need to make sure you’re doing the correct meditation. When studying meditation, scientists generally place practices under two broad categories. These are open-monitoring and focused-attention, the second of which is most effective at improving your ability to concentrate.

In open-monitoring meditation, the practitioner is instructed to place their attention on the thoughts and feelings that arise, and simply observe them as they pass, without judgement. The most well-known form of this meditation is mindfulness, which has not been shown to directly improve our ability to concentrate.

The second form of meditation, focused-attention, has us direct our awareness toward a single object, be that a sensation, mantra, or the feeling of the breath. While this meditation is incredibly effective, and long-term meditators have been shown to have superhuman levels of focus, it can sometimes take hundreds of hours of sustained practice before you will notice significant changes in yourself.

Further Reading: The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind – B. Alan Wallace

Read out of your comfort zone

There are a huge number of benefits to reading. Not only will it improve your vocabulary and general knowledge, but it can also sharpen your memory, imagination and communication skills. What is most relevant, however, is that reading dense content that you can’t completely comprehend can condition your mind to become used to focusing on study topics.

The longer you are able to read through this content without getting distracted, the easier it is going to be to study for long periods of time. You don’t need to constantly be knee deep in abstract philosophical texts, but if you can spend fifteen minutes every day reading something that you have to pay close attention to, this will be a huge help when it’s time to study for exams.

Work in chunks

Both the body and brain work best when they are required to exert high amounts of energy and then given rest periods to recover. We see this in athletes who train in short bursts with intervals in between. Known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) it helps with mental focus and dopamine production. The same approach can be taken when we are trying to train the mind.

If we follow a regime whereby we give 100% of our concentration for a specific period, with rest intervals in between, we avoid burn out and maximise productivity. One of these methods is called the Pomodoro technique which is 25 minutes of deep work followed by 5 minutes of rest.

Strengthen your willpower

By now you’ve probably heard the cliche, willpower is like a muscle. Well, fortunately, this cliche is actually quite useful. While focused-attention will help you become immersed in the study, it is willpower that will help you to not fall into the temptation of distractions when they inevitably come up.

There are any number of ways willpower can be strengthened, but typically, repetitively engaging in any activity where there is a degree of psychological resistance will do the trick.

Some examples include:

  • Setting your alarm earlier than you want to wake up (when there is no external pressure)
  • Taking a freezing cold shower 5 minutes a day.
  • Pushing your comfort zone with physical exercise
  • Doing things that make you feel socially uncomfortable e.g. public speaking

Further Reading: Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength – Roy F. Baumeister

Choosing the best time of day to study

This is potentially the most important factor when it comes to concentrating on your studies. We all run on a circadian rhythm, which means that your energy goes through peaks and valleys throughout the day. This will vary person to person. As a general example, while to a certain extent we can change when we get up and go to sleep, the reality is that some of us are wired to be morning people, and others night owls.

What’s important is that we find the most effective time for us to use our mental energy.

Here’s a simple experiment that I have used to increase my work output. Set an alarm on your watch and phone that goes off on the hour every hour that you are studying. When the alarm goes off, note the time and give yourself a score out of ten in terms of how much energy you have and how productive you’ve been.

Do this for two weeks and you will start to see when you peak concentration times are. For me, my energy is highest from 9am to  2pm, however before 10am and after about 12.30pm my productivity is lower. This means that 10am to 12pm is the best time for me to put the most important tasks of the day.

Further Reading: The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy

 

Eating the right food before studying

Food and nutrition is such a fundamental need that when we are too hungry, or our blood sugar is low, it becomes incredibly difficult to focus.

Eating the right foods before you start to study is as important as choosing the right time of day. Make sure that you eat natural foods that aren’t difficult to digest, such as a lot of fat or protein. You also want to avoid anything that spikes your blood sugar, such as gluten, and potentially dairy (even if you don’t have an intolerance).

Snacks are better than large meals, as the latter can take a lot of your body’s energy and leave you sleepy.

Grains, seeds, nuts, and dried fruits are all good snacks to keep you focused while you’ll study.

Another important point is to stay hydrated, so if you have been drinking caffeine, make sure you are drinking more water than you usually would.

Creating the right environment

Having a clear and distraction-free work environment will aid in creating a clear and distraction-free mind.

The human brain is a pattern making machine, so rituals and symbols can be incredibly powerful in guiding us towards specific psychological states. When you have a study environment that is conducive to deep work, it will become easier and easier to concentrate as time goes on, because your mind will start to associate that space with deep focus.

Try and make sure you have a place that is:

  • Well lit, preferably with natural light
  • Has fresh air (you may want to invest in some plants)
  • Has a comfortable chair or standing desk
  • Is free of noise
  • Is clear and clutter-free

Further Reading: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing – Marie Kondo

Clear brain fog

Brain fog is a state whereby you commonly feel mental confusion, and you rarely feel mental clarity. It is also described as having a cloudy mind, and can occur as a result of overworking, overstimulation, poor diet, and substance abuse such as marijuana or alcohol.

To clear brain fog you should:

  • Get adequate exercise
  • Get adequate and regular sleep
  • Avoid alcohol and cigarettes
  • Go to a sauna
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol intake
  • Stop eating any foods to which you may have allergies
  • Stop consuming processed sugar
  • Take supplements such as a multivitamin

Further Reading: The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory, and Joy in Just 3 Weeks

Studying with the right mindset

The attitude with which you approach your studies is the next important piece of the concentration puzzle. Many people find it hard to get motivated, and while the other topics I’ve touched on in the post will help you be more able to study for longer periods of time, it is your mindset that will inevitably determine your willingness to do so.

To approach your work with the right mindset, you need to get in touch with why you are doing what you are doing.

Keep a motivation list. It can be effective to use both positive and negative motivation. Write down five good things that you’ll get out of doing this work, and five potential repercussions for not doing the work. Make sure the list is close by so you can glance over it whenever you’re getting distracted. This exercise won’t be effective, however, if the negative motivation makes you too anxious to focus on the tasks at hand.

Surround yourself with the right voices. You’ve probably heard the cliche, surround yourself with the right people. The problem with this is that not everyone has access to a social circle that is hard working, driven, and compassionate. Maybe your fellow students are overly competitive, or you’re completing a distance learning degree. You can counteract this by listening to podcasts and watching youtube videos that are motivating you to do the work.

Celebrate small wins. Being mindful of little victories can help give you the momentum to get through long study sessions. This is another reason setting goals is so effective. We need a reward system, no matter how trivial, in order to keep the dopamine flowing and ensure our engagement in the task at hand.

Take it seriously, but try to see the humour. Humour is very effective when it comes to any difficult activity. This is because it keeps us relaxed, and prevents us from being overwhelmed by worries and anxieties. When we’re studying, our brains get tired, which means two things. Firstly, we can take what we’re doing far too seriously, and secondly, we can make mistakes. So if you make a mistake, try not to get frustrated, take a moment to put things in perspective and see that whatever you’re doing is not the be all end all.

Be as curious as a child. Children approach new stimuli with curiosity and focus because their brains are wired to take in new information. We can see this clearly with movies, while adults will often want to wait months or even years between watching the same film again, children will often be happy to immediately rewatch a movie because they can absorb new details every time. Make sure that you’re focused on what you’re going to enjoy about learning this material, as opposed to thinking about where you’d rather be.

Enjoy some of your failures. Failure doesn’t need to be a bad thing. In fact, although we don’t talk about it, it’s a very natural part of being human. It’s only a problem if you’re coming from a place of hyper-competitiveness whereby anything less than absolute success isn’t good enough. Getting something wrong means that there is an opportunity for learning and growth. This is obviously hard to keep in mind when you’re emotionally invested in something that doesn’t seem to be paying off, but try anyway, and see how the perspective shift improves your ability to study.



Creating a plan and setting goals

When doing any study, it’s vital that you have a clear plan in mind if you want to make the most of your time. Sitting down without goals and objectives is the quickest way to spend your study time distracted and confused.

  1. Figure out what you need to study. This means you are completely sure about all the textbooks you’ll need and that you have everything ready and within reach beforehand. You don’t want to be constantly disrupting your concentration by looking for other study materials or trying to decide one what snack you want.
  2. List topics in order of importance. By creating priorities beforehand, you minimise the likelihood that you’ll get stuck trying to figure out what to focus on. If you’d like you can use a matrix and rank tasks in terms of importance (1-4) and urgency (A-D). This gives you a visual perspective on what needs to be done. This will help you make quick decisions and prevent you from ruminating while you study.
  3. Divide your time effectively. You can divide your time however you’d like, but make sure you’re placing the most important material in the space where you believe you’ll be the most productive. Another strategy to consider is doing what you like least, first. This way you’ve got something to look forward to in the second half of the study session, and you’re not wasting any mental energy thinking about how you’ll soon need to do what you don’t like.
  4. Set micro-goals and rewards. Using carrots and sticks is the most simple way to motivate yourself during long study sessions. Make sure your goals are realistically attainable, which is why the smaller the better. The dopamine hit we get from achieving our aims can keep us alert and positive. Likewise, make sure the reward is conducive to studying, such as a coffee, a walk or a healthy snack. Things such as sugary treats or social media may not be the best way to go.

Further Reading: First Things First – Stephen Covey

Avoiding distractions while studying

When we stop what we’re doing to take a look at Facebook, we never think we’re going to waste time. But we always do. In fact, one study out of the University of California Irvine found that following an interruption at work by an irrelevant topic, it took people an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand.

Now imagine you’re being interrupted just once an hour.

That’s 39% of your time going straight down the drain from a single Facebook check!

Here are four quick ways to avoid distractions while studying.

Keep a distraction journal. This is the most effective technique for someone who is prone to getting a thousand ideas. Keep a blank journal next to you, and when an idea or distracting thought comes up, even if it appears to be somewhat related to the topic at hand, simply write it down and come back to it in your break. Surprisingly, you’ll find that as you revisit this list later in the day, the ideas that seemed to so persistently occupy your mind’s eye when you were trying to study, don’t feel that important anymore.

Turn your electronics on airplane mode. Electronics are by far the biggest distraction when it comes to studying. Though you may need them for research, is best that you organise all that is required beforehand, so you’re not tempted to take a quick Facebook break. The best option is to switch off all wifi access until you’ve finished studying unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Choose the right music. Experiment with different types of study music to see which helps you concentrate the best. Usually, lyrics will be distracting, so anything with white noise or ambient sounds can help you to stay calm and alert.

Study with the right people. Studying with other people can be motivating and drastically improve your focus, however only if they’re the right people. If you’re with someone who gets distracted easily themselves, it’s likely that you too will become distracted.

Remembering what you study

Remembering what you study is obviously a huge part of concentration. It not only has the practical application of allowing you to the most benefit from your study time, but it also gives you the confidence and motivation to know that the hours you’re putting in are worth it.

Generally, improving your memory is a matter of using techniques that complement your learning style, and ensuring your brain is healthy. However, while the way we retain information may be different from person to person – some of us are more hands-on, while others visual or auditory – at the end of the day everyone can benefit from an approach that uses more of their senses.

Memory Palaces

Memory Palaces, also known as the Method of loci, are a way by which we store information using visualization and our spatial memory. This technique is relatively easy to learn, though it takes diligence, and it is how some people are able to store seemingly superhuman amounts of information. My buddy Anthony Metiever teaches memory palaces and has found that these techniques can take you as far as remembering a whole textbook.

Mind Maps

Mind Mapping is a technique whereby you use colours and shapes to create a visual representation of the connection between complex themes. Again, this is a way by which you can condense information and cross-train your mind with visual (colour, shapes) and auditory (words) prompts, in order to better remember what you’re studying. Tony Buzan is one of the more well-known mind map teachers, check out this video to see you how you can use them for yourself.

Teach what you’ve learned

This allows you to embody the content, using language and physical gestures to encode it in your long-term memory. If you can find a study partner and practice teaching each other different concepts, this will be beneficial for the memory recall of both of you.

Walk before you study

Doing light exercise before you engage in mental activity is a prime way to warm up the brain. In fact, one study found that students who spent 20 minutes walking on a treadmill at 60% of maximum heart rate, showed a marked improvement on response accuracy and better performance on an academic achievement test.  

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Speak out loud

You can do this by teaching others, or simply by talking out loud to yourself. Take this a step further by recording what you say and listening back to it again, or trying to explain what you’ve said using different words.

Should I use nootropics and supplements for concentration?

It’s fair to say that many of us are attracted to the idea of being able to concentrate like Bradley Cooper in the movie limitless. Unfortunately in the real world there are always trade-offs for taking these kinds of drugs. There are however a number of supplements and nootropics that can boost our concentration, and if we do research and experiment safely, we can see some great benefits from their use.

Multivitamins

A balanced diet will ensure that we stay mentally sharp and are able to concentrate for long periods of time. However, with busy lives and high organic food prices, it can be difficult for most of us to find that equilibrium. If you have the luxury of doing blood tests to see which supplements you may see the most benefit from, which is great. However, for most of us, a multivitamin is the most straightforward way to cover all ground.

Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for mental function, particularly if you’re not getting it in your diet through foods such as salmon, avocados and olive oil. Taking a daily supplement, such as fish oil, promotes mental clarity and focus, and may be able to prevent the onset of age-related neurological disorders.

Caffeine

Most people take caffeine to study, many do so daily. Simply be aware that the effectiveness of caffeine works on a bell curve, so in this case, you can have too much of it and it can impede your ability to concentrate.

L-Theanine

L-theanine (found in green tea) has been shown to counteract the jitters that you can sometimes get from too much caffeine. In doing so it can improve cognitive performance, so it’s recommended that you take both together. It’s recommended that you take it at a ratio of 2:1, so 80 milligrams of caffeine should be combined with 160 milligrams of L-theanine.

Smart Drugs
These are cognitive enhancers also know as smart drugs that vary in legality, price, and side-effects. Below I listed some of the most commonly used cognitive enhancers. Make sure you do your research and consult a doctor before deciding to use any of these.

Conclusion

And there you have it, that’s how to concentrate on your studies like a Zen master!

As you can see there are a huge number of things that go into your attentional control.

Challenges are going to arise depending on your baseline motivation, focus ability, organization skills, mental clarity and physical health. If you take a holistic approach, you’ll see a much more drastic improvement than if you simply attack one area.

If you liked this post, share it with your friends and anyone else you feel may need it!

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Why Do I Feel Sad For No Reason?

In Jonathan Haidt’s book The Happiness Hypothesis, he presents a metaphor for the mind wherein which he uses the image of a rider on the back of an elephant. In this context, Haidt suggests that the conscious mind is like the rider, and the unconscious mind like the elephant.

Modern psychology now firmly believes that as much as he tries, the rider is unable to control the elephant. Which means as human beings, we are largely unable to override our unconscious processes.

Haidt also suggests that “the rider evolved to serve the elephant.” This means that a lot of the explanations we have for our behaviour are largely in order to justify the cognitive processes of the unconscious mind and not the other way around.

So the question we may have is, what happens when the elephant is doing something that the rider doesn’t understand? What happens when it feels like we’re sad for no reason?

To begin, we need to look a bit closer at the question.

Why do I feel sad for no reason?

This is an important question because there is never ‘no reason’ for your sadness. When people believe they are sad for no reason, it means that either:

  1. They have yet to identify the reason they feel sad. It may be unconscious, such as a repressed childhood trauma, or the direct cause may be tricky to determine, such as an imbalance in the microbiome (the bacteria in our gut).
  2. They have identified the cause but aren’t content with the answer. This might be because what they have found to be the potential cause of their sadness i.e. an old relationship, is not what they have expected, or are yet willing to accept, to be the answer.

In order to identify the cause of your sadness, to begin to accept it, and to start to combat it, it’s necessary to take a look at exactly what sadness is, why we become sad, and to identify some of the situations in our life that might lead to these low moods.

What is sadness?

Sadness is one of the most fundamental human emotions and it is found to be expressed universally across all cultures.

It’s one of the six basic emotions, as described by Paul Ekman, and is typically characterised by feelings of helplessness, grief, and loss. There are a number of different ways in which people handle their sadness, some healthy, others unhealthy or maladaptive.

Having occasional sadness is a normal and unavoidable part of a human life. When sadness arises, it is the result of a combination of neurochemical processes, cognitive habits, and environmental triggers.

Why do we get sad?

This is an incredibly complex question to tackle. It’s fair to say that we can never pinpoint one direct cause for our sadness because even in what seems like an obvious and clear circumstance, such as the loss of a loved one, other periphery factors such as tiredness and resilience to stress, will mediate that sadness.

For this reason, it’s important that in order to truly understand why you feel sad, you must look at the different potential reasons from a holistic perspective, and determine which parts of your life you want to try and change, and which you may want to try and accept.

Brain Chemistry

The human brain is an incredibly complex piece of machinery, and our neurochemistry plays a fundamental part in our emotional states. There are dozens of reasons why your brain may be experiencing sadness, though it’s never completely clear-cut. For example, people who experience frequent bouts of sadness have been found to have lower levels of the neurochemicals serotonin and norepinephrine, though this doesn’t mean these chemicals are direct causes of these moods.

Here are some of the common ways in which fluctuations in our brains may cause negative emotional states.

Imbalances in nutrition. Nutrition is a critical part of brain health and once again there are many factors that can cause an imbalance. Ensuring that your blood sugar levels don’t spike and that you have minimal inflammation is an important area to consider. Start by regulating your gluten intake and minimising your consumption of processed foods and refined sugars, as well as eliminating any foods you may have an intolerance to. It’s also vital that you stay well hydrated!

Lack of sleep. Our bodies and brains are very reliant on sleep to function. When we don’t get adequate rest it reeks havoc on our system. This is why those who suffer from insomnia very often develop mood related disorders such as depression. If however, you are sleeping a lot more than usual, this may be a sign that you’re experiencing a depressive episode.

Lack of exercise. A sedentary lifestyle is another reason that we may have feelings of sadness. Neurochemicals that are associated with positive emotional states, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, are produced and maintained in the brain with regular exercise. Exercising is also great because it helps with getting more replenishing sleep.

Hormone fluctuations. Normal change in our hormones that may happen as a result of the natural aging process, or other occurrences such as pregnancy or menstruation, can cause sadness.

Chronic pain and illness. There are a number of chronic pains and illnesses that may contribute to sadness, Alzheimer’s and cancer, for example, are often linked to depression, and chronic back pain is often associated with negative emotional states.

Genetic Susceptibility. Keep in mind also that your genetic makeup is often a cause of your emotional states. Some people are simply more susceptible to sadness than others.

Environmental Triggers

Environmental triggers are intrinsically tied to both brain chemistry and cognitive habits. There are also a potential infinite number of environmental triggers that could cause you to feel sad. If you want to try to figure out what in your environment could be making you sad, keeping a journal that monitors your mood is a good place to start.

Some common environmental triggers in the modern world include;

Stress at work. It’s unfortunate that many people live very stressful work lives. When you work long hours it can be difficult not become fatigued as a result of your job, and it’s even likely that you may still be thinking about work when you get home. This is problematic because this stress may spill into other areas of your life, impacting your relationships and degrading the quality of your leisure time. It also causes fatigue and lower energy at work in the days that follow, perpetuating the cycle.

Stress in relationships. Psychology now recognises relationships as one of the most fundamental aspects of our wellbeing. Healthy relationships help to facilitate a healthy mind and a healthy brain. As humans, we are hardwired to be social creatures, so if your relationships are suffering, be they romantic, platonic or professional, it’s likely that this can cause sadness.

Separation anxiety. Sadness is often a response to loss, and one of the earliest forms of sadness we see is in the separation anxiety when infants are taken from their mothers. We see the same response later in life when people travel long distances from their families and friends. This, however, can be healthy, as some degree of autonomy is necessary for personal growth.

Sadness around you. When other people around you are experiencing sadness, it’s likely that your internal experience will reflect theirs. This happens in the brain as a result of our mirror neurons, and is more likely to occur with people we are close to and if we are someone who tends to experience more empathy in general.

Watching the News. Modern media is littered with stories that are designed to play on our emotions. They’re meant to elicit feelings of fear, anger, and sadness because that’s how news corporations drive engagement and generate revenue. However, this gives us as a narrow view of what’s actually going on in the world and can leave us feeling depressed and sad.

Cognitive Triggers

When we have a chemical imbalance or an environmental trigger, what generally happens is a trickle-down effect which results in maladaptive thinking patterns. These may be things such as negative thoughts, anxiety or unreasonable expectations that result in feelings of sadness.

Here are some common cognitive triggers that may cause sadness.

Negative self-talk. When we routinely engage in negative self-talk, it’s likely to lower our self-esteem, our motivation and our resilience to stress. All of which are factors that contribute to feeling sad or depressed.

Unrealistic expectations. Our brain is constantly making a map of the world for survival, and when the map it creates consistently fails to meet reality, it causes stress and confusion. Having unrealistic expectations can be a dangerous cognitive trigger for sadness, and studies have suggested that it can actually lead to depression.

Unhealthy obsessions. When we focus on something for a long period of time, it can result in great productivity and creativity. However, when we ruminate over certain thoughts, it can also lead to worry, fatigue, and in the long term, depression.

Spiritual loss. When those of us who are spiritual face hard times, it’s normal that we may go through periods where our relationship to our spirituality may weaken and dwindle. During those times it can feel like we’ve lost something and we may experience grief. The same can be said for those who aren’t spiritually inclined if they have another type of loss of meaning, such as when they begin to feel less satisfaction out of their work or family lives.

Nostalgia. People who often reflect on the past can find themselves feeling sad. This is because when we reflect on bad times we relive them to a certain degree, experiencing the suffering again. On the flip side when we look back at good times, though we may enjoy thinking about them, there is often a sense of loss associated with the memory.
[interact id=”5bec819d080ac400130c56a4″ type=”quiz”]

Am I depressed or just sad?

Sadness and depression often go hand in hand, you can feel sad without feeling depressed, and you can be depressed without feeling sad.

Feeling sad is a temporary state that may or may not be caused by an external event. We sometimes describe it as ‘feeling down’ or ‘feeling blue.’ Feeling depressed however, is a persistent feeling that lasts longer than two weeks and is accompanied by a number of other symptomns such as irritability, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt or worthlessness and general fatigue or loss of motivation.

Depression, as opposed to sadness, is a much longer-term illness and is typically defined by a disruption to important areas of your life, such as work or social relationships.

One key issue with depression is that the more time we feel sad, the more that sensory input – such as smells or sounds – is being encoded as associated with sadness, and thus the more things are likely to make us sad in the future. This is why emotional states, such as sadness, tend to reinforce themselves and act like a wave that picks up momentum as it goes.

If you’ve been consistently sad for longer than two weeks, or you’re having persistent thoughts of death, it’s advised that you see a therapist.

What is your experience with sadness? Do you sometimes wonder why you feel sad for no reason? Let me know in the comments!

21 Benefits of Deep Breathing (Based on Groundbreaking Research!)

“Just take a deep breath.”

We all know the mantra. It’s been adopted by everyone from parents to friends to high school sports coaches, all the way to medical doctors and new age gurus. And for good reason, the health benefits of deep breathing are overwhelming, and science has proven it.

In the 1970’s, Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute considered the impact of relaxation techniques, particularly breathing techniques, on the natural release of neurochemicals for physiological health.

He coined the term the “Relaxation Response,” to describe his findings, which echoed the wisdom of thousands of years of meditative practices.

Deep breathing and the training of the Relaxation Response, is now used to treat a number of stress-related disorders.

So without further ado here are:

21 Benefits of Deep Breathing 

Well here I’ve composed 21 benefits, all backed by Scientific Studies. I hope I can convince you to incorporate some form of deep breathing practices into your own life!

  1. Relieves Emotional Stress and Anxiety

There are dozens of studies that support the use of deep breathing for stress and anxiety management. One notable piece of research in particular took 60 pregnant women in preterm labour and taught them a modified abdominal breathing technique. This was practiced 3 times a day for 3 days in order to reduce stress and state anxiety. The research found that those in the experimental group had significantly lower emotional stress and anxiety, indicating that deep breathing could be an effective nursing intervention for pregnant women in preterm labour. The study also found that the doses of labour represent drugs, ritodrine and atosiban, were also reduced as a result.

Source:

Effects of abdominal breathing on state anxiety, stress, and tocolytic dosage for pregnant women in preterm labor.

  1. Relieves Pain

One study found that implementing deep breathing exercises as a relaxation technique was effective in managing pain for patients who had recently undergone coronary artery bypass graft surgery. 73.3% of the subjects found that deep-breathing was helpful in their pain management.

Another study found that deep and slow breathing (DSB) techniques were effective in managing chronic pain, as measured by pain thresholds for hot and cold stimuli and their impact on mood states.

Sources:

Relaxation technique and postoperative pain in patients undergoing cardiac surgery.

The effect of deep and slow breathing on pain perception, autonomic activity, and mood processing—an experimental study.

  1. Improves mood

A deep breathing technique was taught to students between the ages of 18 and 28 years in an attempt to improve mood and reduce stress. The study used both subjective (self-reported) and objective parameters such as heart rate and salivary cortisol levels, and found that deep breathing was an effective way to improve mood.

Source:

The role of deep breathing on stress

  1. Improves symptoms of depression

Those who have suffered from depression know that sleep quality can often be significantly reduced as a side effect. A study which looked at the impact of deep breathing relaxation exercises, when combined with cognitive breathing therapy, over a four-week period, found that the quality of sleep in depressives significantly improved. Heart rate variability, another biomarker often correlated with depression and anxiety, also saw positive changes.

Source:

Breathing exercise combined with cognitive behavioural intervention improves sleep quality and heart rate variability in major depression.

  1. Improves focus, attention and general psychomotor function

The Purdue pegboard task is used as an indicator of fine motor speed and focused attention because it requires a degree of visuo-motor co-ordination. In one study the task was given after 10 minutes of nostril yoga breathing, a deep breathing technique, and there was an immediate improvement in task scores. This was also accompanied by a decrease in blood pressure.

Another study found that ten minutes of deep breathing techniques, six days a week for six weeks, resulted in an improvement in scores on a rapid fire arithmetic deviation test and a playing card test.

Sources:

Blood pressure and purdue pegboard scores in individuals with hypertension after alternate nostril breathing, breath awareness, and no intervention.

Effect of controlled deep breathing on psychomotor and higher mental functions in moral individuals.

  1. Improves symptoms of Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

As OCD is an anxiety spectrum disorder, it may not come as that much of a surprise that deep breathing can be of benefit. A yogic deep breathing technique was taught to a group of adults with OCD, followed by a one year course of therapy. Assessments of the group at three, six, nine, and 12 month periods found that means of OCD and stress were both significantly reduced. There was also a significant reduction of OCD medication use, following the treatment.

Source:

Efficacy of yogic techniques in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorders.

  1. Improves symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS effects millions of people worldwide, and there are a number of believed causes. It’s significantly correlated with stress related illnesses, but can often occur as a standalone issue. In one study, a deep breathing technique, as well as a set of 12 asanas (yoga poses) was taught to a group who had diarrhea predominant IBS. The control group were not taught the yoga techniques and were instead given loperamide, a standard IBS drug. Results found the yogic group to have both less IBS symptoms and less anxiety than the control group.

Source:

Yogic versus conventional treatment in diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized control study.

  1. Increases energy

There are a few of reasons that deep breathing can increase vitality. One is because it relieves stress, which obviously frees up a lot of energy that otherwise would have been lost in that way. Another is because it has been shown to produce increases in Growth Hormone (GH) and Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) two key hormones that are important for the body and associated with aging. Research found that 12 weeks of daily yogic training practices successfully increased GH and DHEAS in both males and females.

Source:

Effect of Regular Yogic Training on Growth Hormone and Dehydroepiandrostereone Suflate as an Endocrine Marker of Aging.




  1. Can help curb hung pangs from fasting and low-caloric diets

Obesity is a significantly problem worldwide, so many people turn to diets for weight loss. However, an issue that is often difficult to overcome is that of hunger pangs, whereby contractions occur in the stomach. Typically, these happen 12-24 hours after the last meal, which is tricky for those who are fasting or undergoing low-caloric diets which they need to stick to rigorously. A recent study found that when given a deep breathing exercise, participants were able to significantly reduce, or even suppress the feelings of hunger on an empty stomach.

Source:

Modified Qigong Breathing Exercise for Reducing the Sense of Hunger on an Empty Stomach.

  1. Reduces physiological tension

It is known that deep breathing relaxes the mind, but there have been little studies into the physiological effects of deep breaths. A 2016 study found that deep breathing techniques were effective at relieving both psychological and physiological tension in anxiety sensitive individuals.

Source:

A sigh of relief or a sigh to relieve: The psychological and physiological relief effect of deep breaths.

  1. Improves heart function

It has long since been known that deep breathing exercises can be used to influence respiratory rate in healthy individuals. What we haven’t known is to what extent this can improve heart rate variability and other biomarkers of heart function. A study of 36 participants found that one month of deep breathing caused positive changes in heart rate variability, an indicator of cardiac autonomic control.

Source:

Influence of deep breathing exercise on spontaneous respiratory rate and heart rate variability.

  1. Improves Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can be incredibly damaging to the lives of those who are unfortunate enough to be effected by it. Deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques such as yoga and mindfulness meditation, were all found to be effective in alleviating associated symptoms such as sleep disturbance, irritability, anger, sleep disturbance and problems with focus.

Source:

Relaxation Techniques for Trauma.

  1. Can benefit diabetics

Since 1980 the global prevalence of diabetes has risen from 4.7% to 8.5% (2014), and it continues to do so. Therapeutic intervention can be complicated and may require a number of treatments. Fortunately, a 2012 study looked at the impact of diaphragmatic breathing as a complimentary care method and found some positive results. It was shown that these breathing techniques were effective in reducing the oxidative stress in diabetics, and the anthropometry and glycemic parameters in type 2 diabetes.

Source:

Diaphragmatic breathing exercise as a therapy.

  1. Can assist in prevention and treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

There are a number of causes of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). One of these is when the surrounding structures around the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) such as the diaphragmatic muscle, become incompetent. One study found that a 4-week breathing training program significantly improved quality of life measures in GERD sufferers and decreased their usage of proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), the drugs used to reduce gastric acid production.

Source:

Positive effect of abdominal breathing exercise on gastroesophageal reflux disease.

  1. Improves resilience and recovery in athletes following exercise

Deep breathing and meditation is known to correlate with lower levels of cortisol and higher levels of melatonin. For this reason, it’s interesting to consider to what degree these types of techniques can influence oxidative stress, particularly in athletes who require adequate relaxation for recovery. A 2011 study found that one hour of diaphragmatic breathing in a quiet, relaxing place, was successful in improving antioxidant defence following exhaustive exercise. It was also directly correlated with a decrease in cortisol and an increase in melatonin. This study may suggest that these types of breathing exercises can protect athletes against the long-term adverse effects of exercise-related stress.

Source:

Diaphragmatic breathing reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress.

  1. Improves quality of life in cancer patients

Cancer treatment can have a number of long-term negative effects on the quality of life for those who are in the middle of treatment. A six-week intervention with elderly patients undergoing either breast or prostate cancer treatment, found that deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and guided imagery, significantly improved the quality of life of the sufferers.

Source:

Effectives of progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery and deep diaphragmatic breathing on quality of life in elderly with breast or prostate cancer.

  1. Can help manage addictions

Deep breathing exercises have also been proposed as a low-cost method for managing cravings. A study that looked into using yogic breathing exercises as a way to assist smokers in abstaining from cigarettes found that the techniques could successfully help curb cravings. The participants were either shown a video of breathing exercises or instructed to do so for 10 minutes. Both groups had notably reduced cravings.

Source:

The acute effects of yogic breathing exercises on craving and withdrawal symptoms in abstaining smokers.

  1. Controls glycemic response

Glycemic response is incredibly important in the management of weight and energy. Modern diets often have excessive sugar content and this can be very damaging to our health. One particular study looked at the impact of deep breathing exercises on glycemic response and found that there was a positive change, which suggests that breathing could play a role in weight management.

Source:

Relaxation breathing improves human glycemic response.

 

  1. Improves memory

Memory is typically a very useful gauge of overall brain health. A 2016 study, in which participants were taught deep, alternate-nostril breathing, found that after a 30-minute session, and at a 24 hour follow up, memory recall was significantly improved.

Source:

Deep Breathing Practice Facilitates Retention of Newly Learned Motor Skills.

  1. Improves lung function

Breathing is a fundamental component of physical health, so it’s unsurprising that lung function is so important to our own vitality and fitness. A study in 2011 found that deep breathing exercises, when performed for 2, 5 and 10 minutes, were able to notably enhance lung function in healthy young individuals.

Source:

Acute effect of deep breathing for a short duration (2-10 minutes) on pulmonary functions in healthy young volunteers.

  1. Reduces inflammation

We know that deep breathing can relax our minds, but it’s interesting to consider in what way it can have a direct impact on our physiology. A 2016 study found that after performing 20 minutes of breathing exercises and having their saliva tested at 5-minute intervals, participants had significant changes in the salivary cytokines, which serve as biomarkers for inflammation. This means that deep breathing influences our physiology on a molecular level, almost immediately.

Source:

Yogic breathing when compared to attention control reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory biomarkers in saliva: a pilot randomized control trial.

 

You don’t have to be spiritual to reap the benefits of meditation or deep breathing. All you need is an open mind and an acceptance of the scientific validity of the techniques.

If you’d like to learn more about deep breathing, check out these books:

 

Beginner: The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work – Donna Farhi

 

Advanced: Light on Pranayama – B.K.S. Iyengar

 

How to Achieve Laser-Sharp Focus (Interview with Best-selling author Joanna Jast)

Joanna Jast knows a little bit about Focus.

So much so that her first book Laser-Sharp Focus: A No-Fluff Guide to Improved Concentration, Maximised Productivity and Fast-Track to Success, quickly became an Amazon bestseller.

But as with a lot of success stories, the effort behind them is often born out of a frustration. Joanna wasn’t satisfied with the way she was working, and she was becoming increasingly tired of the same old productivity advice.

This led her on a journey that took her down the path of books, courses, and scientific journals, and really revolutionized the way she understood focus.

I thought for a change of pace I’d reach out to her and try to delve into the psychology of attention, and get some actionable tips and advice on eliminating distractions and improving productivity.

 

Side Note: Joanna has created a Free Laser-Sharp Focus Quick Action Guide for Project Monkey Mind readers that you can get here.

 

What prompted you to write this book?

I was going through a period in my life when I needed to really ‘up the game’ with my focus and productivity. I realised that ‘what got me here wasn’t going to get me there’ – I needed a new system to shape up. I started searching for strategies but all I could find was a lot of superficial, generic advice, a lot of what I call ‘inspirational-motivational fluff , praise for meditation (which has never worked for me), and other advice I doubted would be useful in my case.

I knew I didn’t have a problem with my motivation- I was motivated to improve my focus. I was also quite aware what had worked for me and what hadn’t. Little point in telling me ‘you need to motivate yourself to fight your procrastination’ or ‘try meditation and your productivity will soar’. I didn’t want to waste my time, effort or money on something I knew had little chance of making a difference.

So I started going deeper in my research. I started reading academic papers and science-based books on focus, concentration, attention and brain functioning in general. At the same time, I started running my own little experiments, putting the scientifically-verified strategies in practice.

And while searching for answers, I quickly realised I wasn’t the only one struggling with poor focus and poor quality focus advice. The problems people reported on Quora or in response to my questions were quite similar to mine, so I decided to create a free email course. The course was quite successful, so I decided to expand it into a book. And that’s how Laser-Sharp Focus book was born.

Do you have any advice for conquering social media? Do you think it’s useful to use as a reward, or do you have a never during work hours policy?

I’ve been through stages with social media. In general, I agree that social media can damage our productivity on multiple levels – notifications can be really disruptive to our focus, but the emotional effect of some posts can linger on for hours, making it difficult to fully refocus on your task.

On the other hand, in times of struggle, when you’re working on a really long and monotonous task, and you’re craving some positive (or any) emotions to fight off the boredom, social media can provide oh-so-needed distraction and a bit of a booster to your motivation or creativity. So yes, I can see social media/email checks can be useful in keeping us going – particularly as an extrinsic reward, but only as long as the payoff is bigger than the cost.

I generally don’t allow myself to check social media or other distractions while I’m working. I do it during breaks and also sometimes when I’m really stuck and particularly struggling with boredom or a mental block. I do have a strict policy to only engage with a post, email, message etc, if it takes less than 2 minutes and is unlikely to negatively affect my emotional state. If I suspect otherwise, I don’t touch it or just tag it for a follow-up later. I also allow myself to access only certain sites while I’m working.

In your book, you talk about how “getting motivated” is unreliable and overrated. How do you feel your attitude towards motivation differs from most of the advice out there on the subject?

There are two main aspects in which my approach to motivation differs:

1. First of all, I assume that since you are reading this post, you understand you have a problem with focus/procrastination etc., you want to fix it, and you are looking for answers – to me it means that you are motivated. You don’t need to ‘motivate yourself’, you just need to find the right way of using your motivation to help you solve your problem, for example – your focus. And it is NOT through using the motivation to focus on your work, but using your motivation to build a system that will get you to focus every time you need. This way you eliminate all those endless and exhausting cycles of having to motivate yourself every time you need to work. Set it and forget it!

2. The second thing I do differently when it comes to motivation, is the insistence on understanding what truly drives you in life and embrace it. And by that, I mean not what you think, or what you would like to be driven by, but what really lights your fire.

The more I work with people, the more I talk to my readers and clients, the more I can see that many of us (I was there as well, until quite recently), live believing that we are motivated by something we really don’t care about. Because we have been told to be motivated by it, or because we want to aspire to something bigger, or because we want to please other people… for all sorts of reasons. But sadly, even if you are working towards your own dreams, but for the wrong reasons (the reasons that don’t light your fire), your motivation is bound to run out. And when your motivation runs out, what’s the first thing you think you need to do? ‘I need to get motivated again’. And you start the never-ending, exhausting cycle of getting motivated and burning out. And that’s how you end up being unmotivated, disillusioned, with a starved soul and even a burnout.

But if you can discover what really lights your fire, however unworthy this may sound to other people, and plug right into it, you can say bye-bye to motivation problems forever and skyrocket towards your goals.

You emphasize how important it is to have a distraction-free workspace. What are some things that are often overlooked when it comes to creating an environment that promotes focus?

Noise. I can’t stress enough how distracting and destructing noise can be.

Noise not only acts as a distraction but also it causes tiredness, headaches, irritability and other health problems.

Many people swear by focus or productivity boosting music. The research into that matter I have done tends to say that music, particularly music with lyrics has negative impact on focus and productivity. It’s definitely my case. I know there are people who disagree with it. So I’d say test what works for you better.

I’m a huge fan of the web app Pocket for stopping us from getting distracted during the day with articles. Do you have any apps that you recommend for getting stuff done or stopping us from getting distracted?

I don’t really use productivity apps. I use Evernote for documents and books I want to read on the go. I have a system (it’s a pen and paper system) to capture any thoughts and ideas that pop into my mind while I’m working. I just jot it down and put it on my calendar to look at when I review my to-do things (morning and evening). The 2-minute rule I mentioned before is part of it. This is something I adopted from David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) system. It’s very effective. I know my thought is safe and I stop thinking about it.

As for other things that can potentially distract me during work, as I said before I have developed a system where I only allow myself access some sites. I don’t even use site-blocking software – I just rely on my laziness and poor memory. A while ago, I purged my favourites and history and my FB feed of any sites with stuff that took longer than 2 minutes to read. I can still go there and read if I want, but I’d have to type the name into the browser. And because more often than not I don’t remember the address, I have to do a search and that takes time, and I’m too lazy to do that, so I don’t do it unless I really want to and have more than 2 minutes.

I’ve found that with procrastination there isn’t a one size fits all approach. For example, I’ve noticed I’m very driven by things I believe are taking from my time and my life – I don’t like excess fat. I realised that when I highlighted exactly what procrastination was taking from me, it greatly reduced the amount of time I was wasting. In your book, you underline the importance of finding out why you procrastinate – what are some of the most common reasons people procrastinate that our readers might see in themselves?

I agree with you – it’s very important to understand why you procrastinate in the first place. Otherwise, you’ll be just shooting in the dark, wasting your time and energy on strategies or tactics that are unlikely to work for you.

The most common reasons why people procrastinate, in my experience, are:
– boredom, lack of interest or lack of motivation to do the task – it’s usually when the person feels she/he can’t be bothered to do the job
– feeling overwhelmed by the size of the task – this is quite common among people with difficulty in delaying gratification and short attention span (and this is the main reason why I procrastinate)
– skill or knowledge gap – it’s similar to the previous one, but the reason why the person is struggling to get going is because the task is too difficult for them
– not knowing where to start, what to do first, lack of direction – this is similar to feeling overwhelmed by the size of the task, and similar strategies can help
– the fear of success of failure – this is deeper and often paired up with perfectionism – those people may start a task, but they never finish it because it’s never good enough for them, they keep improving and improving, and some even give up completely – ‘If I can’t produce an absolute masterpiece, what’s the point?’

Each of those root causes would require a different approach to really address the problem. So if any of you, dear readers, are struggling with procrastination, I encourage you to explore what it really is that’s driving it and address it with bull’s eye precision.

You touched briefly on attending to your spiritual needs when it comes to managing your energy. For those that don’t have an organised practice or religion, this may come in the form of some higher goal. How have you found this to be helpful to the cultivation of energy and focus in your own life and work?

To be honest, I am still in the process of figuring it out for myself. This is one of my goals for this year. The thing that I really want to stress is that spiritual energy comes from the soul and it is about feeding your soul. What is really, really important is to understand what feeds your soul. Because if you try to feed your soul with something your soul doesn’t care about, you’ll starve it to death.

We all are different and different things ‘light our fire’. For some people, this will be about having a higher goal, for other – pursuing freedom, autonomy. And for some – it’ll be about mastery or achievement, or some other thing. And while it’s true that having a higher goal will fulfil spiritual needs of some people, it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Please don’t assume that pursuing a higher goal will solve your spiritual problems. Misalignment of motivational drivers, just as misalignment of values leads to burnout. So what I have found helpful is in keeping my spiritual energy up is to discover what really drives me in life, what’s really important to me, what feeds my soul, admit it to myself and then make sure that I do it.

What was your own biggest issue with focus, and how have you overcome it?

Actually, I’ve had quite a few struggles and I have been addressing them one by one over the years. The biggest issue, I think, is my low threshold for boredom, which coupled with difficulty in delaying gratification causes me to constantly fight off distractions, need for instant gratification, wandering mind and short attention span.

I have created a number of systems that are built on solid foundations of knowing myself and relying on my environment for execution. There are certain principles I rely on, for example I never trust my future self and I assume that faced with temptation I will be likely to give in. So I create heavy-duty systems that can get me to do what I need to do in worst-case scenarios.

If someone only had 15 minutes a day to improve their Focus, what would you recommend they do?

15 minutes? That’s a lot of time to waste… But let’s see…
Since I have just criticised giving blanket advice, let me start with my favourite focus advice: Before you jump to any solutions, find out what’s wrong with your focus. So here is my suggestion:

Track your distractions for a couple of days. How? Every time you get distracted – write down: time of day, place, reason and cause of distraction – it takes about 10-20 minutes per day depending on how distracted you are and how good you are with logging, but this simple exercise can provide you with a better understanding of your focus problems. And once you know what affects your focus – apply a targeted solution. Additionally, just by paying attention to your focus problems, you become more focused!

But if you really want a quick fix, here is something super quick you can try to see if it works for you:
#1 Turn off all notifications. Enjoy the freedom!
#2 Minimise noise. Put a noise cancelling headphones or close the door/window etc.

 

Where can readers learn more about you?

My website is: www.theshapeshiftersclub.com

You can also find me on Quora: https://www.quora.com/profile/Joanna-Jast-1

and on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShapeShift_Club

For all of you who are serious about improving your focus, I have a free Laser-Sharp Focus Quick Action Guide, full of useful tools to help you identify your focus problem, Laser-Sharp Focus Roadmap with tips on what strategies may work for you, and a lot of other useful things.