Rules to live by #

The “dual philosophy” (February 2019) #

For me, one of the most refreshing trends I am starting to notice in the last few years (or at least in the bubble that I exist in) is the rejection of the falseness of social media, that great poison, and a return to and embrace of truth, openness and vulnerability. A great and now notorious example is the CV of failures, posted originally by Johannes Haushofer of Princeton, which puts a very refreshing spin on the usual academic CV full of what appear to be effortless nuggets of success. Life can indeed be full of success but is also invariably also full of failure, full of circuitous routes which are hard to describe or justify or own up to having taken, especially in public. Exposing both sides shows everybody the challenges of being human which face all of us, the truth that we display only the outliers of our success and our truer accomplishments are far more susceptible to the law of averages.

Developing a similar personal philosophy is a huge challenge because live emotions do not obey the law of averages. As an example, it is very difficult to pull yourself out of depression after bombing a job interview just because last week you had a good one. It is hard when you find yourself in a moment of despair to remember all the times you felt differently and use them to regain balance.

The philosophy I try, with varying success, to apply is quite simple: the dual pillars of self-discipline and self-kindness. Self-discipline, without which there is no achievement, no success, no self-control, no ability to change. And kindness towards yourself, in the event that unforeseen circumstances, life, makes what your self-discipline has imposed momentarily impossible or undoable. This means being OK with the moments of despair, or sadness, or failure, of accepting them as unavoidable by-products of the messy process of being alive, and avoiding engaging in the vicious cycle of self-flagellation.

There are similarities to the philosophy of the stoics, which I have been reading a little of lately, who also advocated acceptance as a virtue without which accomplishment and inner peace is impossible. I personally have struggled with this second part: as someone who always has many things happening simultaneously, personal projects, work projects, books to read, exercise, friends and family, it’s very difficult to maintain the sort of structured adherence to plans that I try to maintain. In the past, I would set up a plan for achieving a few items on my list say next week, and then as soon as a spanner was thrown into the works, I gave up because clearly I do not have the self-control or self-discipline to stick to my goals. Of course, a healthier and more constructive way to look at it is to imagine the goals as flexible, to trust my ability to accomplish things in the long run, and to understand that very often there will be unforeseen things which are far more important or unmissable than my todo list, and that life is all about this delicate balance.

  • The hedonic treadmill, an interesting concept which was new to me until my cousin mentioned it one day, which neatly encapsulates that modern tendency to eschew balance and calm for a never-ending chase after the next thing and the next.