4 Reasons We Fear Commitment & How to Overcome Them

“But I don’t know what I want to do with my life…”

We are passive in life. We stumble into our first job because we throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders & think there’s nothing else we could possibly do. When we come up for air, & pause to reflect 30 years later, we are not quite able to remember why we started in the first place.

We look enviously at a friend or colleague who got out the rat race. We may even spend time looking into alternative career paths.

But we don’t commit. We never commit.

 

Which is a problem, as without commitment, we never really pursue those big, ambitious goals we should pursue in life. It leaves us paralysed, never taking action.

We tell ourselves as a society that we can be anything we want to be in life. This is just not true.

We tell ourselves we have all the time in the world, when the reality is that we will be lucky to have an impact in one area of society, maybe two if our work is exceptional.

Celebrity culture means we are always looking for the quick wins. The big breaks. The instant fame. The all-in-one modelling, music & acting careers. It makes us believe that commitment is not really a big deal – or necessary.

So we don’t commit. We remain perpetually scared of commitment. Petrified even. Because commitment means we trigger almost every type of fear we could possibly trigger.

 

5 types of fear:

  •  Extinction: The fear of no longer existing (a.k.a death), which gives birth to the fear of heights or flying.
  • Mutilation: The fear of losing any part of our bodies or being physically invaded or harmed (includes the fear of spiders and sharp objects).
  • Loss of Autonomy: The fear of being helpless because of physical or social restraints that are beyond our control. This includes the fear of closed spaces or even commitments that might make you feel like a prisoner.
  • Separation: The fear of rejection and being unwanted or unvalued by others, which can be especially damaging when you consider that we are social creatures that crave connectedness. This is usually the voice in your head that asks you, “What will people think?”
  • Ego-death: The fear of losing our established sense of self, having our confidence crushed, or questioning our own competence and understanding of who we are. This includes the fear of failure and shame.

Source: Practical Intelligence by Dr. Karl Albrecht

Ego-death

We fear the potential failure that comes with commitment. Whether it be a relationship or new venture, failure – & the inevitable mistakes that come with trying something new – will lead you to question your confidence, competence & self-worth.

 

Separation

Failure is still looked down upon & is, to some extent, seen as shameful. You fail once & you are a failure. As social animals, we fear how others perceive us & base our self-worth far too often on society’s opinion. “What will people think?” Becomes a question we internalise & constantly repeat to ourselves.

We shouldn’t celebrate failure for the sake of it. Somebody that fails at the same business idea 10 times becomes he’s unable to learn from his mistakes should not be praised.

We should, however, recognise that failure is inevitable at some point when you try something new & that society’s response to it is irrational & irrelevant.

 

Loss of autonomy

There is a sense that committing to something, whether a relationship or new company, closes off all your other options. You can feel trapped.

In a society built upon constant change & upgrade, always craving something new, it is no wonder this short-term mentality trickles into other aspects of our lives.

 

Extinction

Perhaps the most powerful & least tangible fear, however, is the fear of death.

This is because commitment to a goal, such as a specific career path or new company, forces us to confront our own mortality.

Commitment denotes “life’s work”, “dedicating your life to some specific cause or problem.

Therefore we shy away from commitment. We prefer to sit in life’s waiting room, thinking we have all the time in the world. We ignore the reality that we have but a brief moment to make an impact on it through dedicating ourselves to one goal.

Most of us can only hope to go after one specific thing in life. Maybe we’ll make an impact on it. Maybe not. Whatever the outcome, we should be proud of the fact that we tried to make an impact.

Polymaths exist, yes, but they very deliberately commit to a limited number of goals they can realistically achieve. Almost all have mastered one specific commitment first as well. Think Arnold Schwarznegger, Elon Musk, Tim Ferriss.

Commitment triggers all of these fears & therefore any commitment constitutes a big, scary decision. What do we do when something big & scary appears in our life? We tend to avoid dealing with it at all costs.

 

My Experience

I know from my own experience that these fears are very hard to identify & quantify.

Some are simple. When we closed the first company I started, BackTracker, there was a definite loss of confidence & self-worth, as well as a strong sense of social anxiety around failure.

However, things I tend to hide, that my father had a drinking problem, for example, are harder to put your finger on. Is not talking about it linked to ego-death, in that it questions my self-value? Or social anxiety? Or even a fear that I develop the same problem & achieve none of my ambitions in life?

 

 

Overcoming Commitment

All these fears are very common, if not ubiquitous. Therefore you shouldn’t become frustrated with yourself when you feel them seeping into your thoughts & actions. They are just a natural, human response.

However, you must also realise that they lead to poor decision-making. When you are fear-driven, you make bad choices & never commit to anything impactful, because everything impactful is risky.

So you end up committing to the default path. The easy path. Without even realising it, you commit yourself to a life of monotony, in a job you dislike, a relationship you are unhappy with & an expectation that life can only ever be just ‘fine’.

“Mostly, making good decisions involves beginning with a commitment to make a decision. That’s the hard part. Choosing the best possible path is only possible after you’ve established that you’ve got the guts and the commitment to make a decision.”
– Seth Godin

 

I could tell you the logical, rational solution to overcome your fear of commitment. But that doesn’t work. Your fears will prevent you from following the advice.

Rationally, you should explore a few different options first. Map the terrain, as it were. Spend time researching & dabbling. Then you should choose one path to follow & commit yourself 100% to that path. Never wavering. Never backing out.

This approach, based on Essentialism by Greg McKeown, is lauded by many top entrepreneurs & thought-leaders.

Yet most of you will still just shy away in fear & mask inaction with excuses. This is OK. It’s just a natural response.

 

Breaking commitment down

So, how to overcome your fear? Just stop talking about goals. Don’t talk about your ambition to start a new company. Don’t talk about how you want to find your dream job.

Instead, put systems in place that will make the achievement of that goal inevitable.

Say you want to start your own business. You don’t need to make grand statements & start your business plan on day 1. You’ll end up paralysed by inaction, terrified of the mountain you are about to start ascending.

Instead, put one small system in place that will get you there. Read for 30 minutes every morning on key aspects of entrepreneurialism & an industry you are interested in.

Test & reinforce that system over a couple of months.

Introduce another. Start journaling every morning for 5 minutes. Test & reinforce it. Develop that system, by writing a short article every morning. Then publishing a short article every morning.

I apply this to my own ambitions:

I want to run a business with 10-20 happy employees that pushes the boundaries of work culture, experimenting with new ideas & questioning social norms. I don’t worry about when or how that will happen. I don’t even worry about what the problem we solve will be. I just worry about process. That process is to set aside at least 1 hour of learning & writing every day. I know that by improving myself dramatically, it will inevitably happen at some point. It gives me a quiet, relentless confidence that I’ll get there.

Systems work because they provide you with the framework to become a radically more knowledgeable, experienced person. Carefully-cultivated knowledge & habit will breed confidence & momentum. That confidence & momentum will mean that the outcome of starting a business will just be an inevitable next step.

This is not to say that you cannot have goals. Just don’t worry about them, because goals tend to reduce your current happiness, reduce long-term success & can be outside of your control.

When you focus on systems, there’s nothing to fear. What are you committing to? Writing a few sentences every day? Reading a couple of articles? How hard is that?

What’s stopping you starting that first system today?

 

 

 

Why You Need Goals & Why They Are Irrelevant

If you want to live an extraordinary life, you must have a big, clear goal in mind.

Something that gets you out of bed every morning. Something that you are accountable to. Something that directs your being & your daily toil.

Without it, you’ll be floundering around like the rest of us, going a bit in one direction, a bit in the other. Never quite sure of what the point of it all is.

I’m an atheist. I don’t believe that there is some higher purpose to our lives. I do believe, however, that that this should not excuse our apathy & lack of ambition.

Doing something that excites you every day, having a positive impact on other people & finding purpose in work is something that is consistently scientifically proven to lead to a fulfilling life.

The pursuit of a goal, a life ambition, is one way of achieving this.

Making the assumption that people want to be happy, in some form, it therefore follows that finding a goal to pursue is a logical step for you to take, regardless of which goal you dedicate your life to.

 

The Goal is not The Goal

The goal itself is actually largely irrelevant.

For the vast majority of us, our work will outlive us by a mere moment, if at all. Most of it won’t last past next week. Some of it may last a generation. Some lucky few may find that their work is still relevant after a couple of centuries.

But recognise the facts:

We are only a moment in time, one of countless billions that have come before us & will come after. Only your ego can convince you that your life will have anything other than an imperceptible impact on the universe. And that’s OK.

This is not nihilism speaking. I don’t say this excuse you to live a life of apathy & lack of ambition.

I do it to stop you making excuses. To stop you (very legitimately) picking holes in the whole “self-help, find-your-purpose” doctrine that is so pervasive.

“Well, what’s the point, when we are so insignificant? What is actually impactful other than preventing global warming or preventing nuclear war? Why can’t I just treat work as a necessary evil & enjoy my moments down the pub or watching Netflix?”

 

My answer to these excuses is the following:

You need to set an ambitious goal for your life for the simple fact that, without one, your life will be a series of monotonous, dull days that slump into each other.

That is because each goal is accompanied by a quest; a journey of struggles, successes & surprises that moves forward in its own unpredictable way. Your days become full of excitement, from novelty & fear, rather than the comfort of routine & the known.

Without a goal, what’s your story? What’s your journey been like so far? What struggles do you expect to face? Which mountains will you climb?

A life with purpose is a richer life. A more exciting life. A happier life.

So are you going to reject the science? To continue living a tolerable, relatively happy existence devoid of purpose? Or are you willing to pick a goal & see where your journey takes you?

Discover that burning need you can’t ignore

“Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.” 
— Napoleon Hill
You start feeling physical symptoms. A tightening around your chest. A deep sense of dread that shakes you to your core. A physical aversion to facing that office door & walking in to face another day. One of nothingness, one that blurs into all the others, one that numbs you.
You start to become ill. Depressed. Angered by it.
You’ve finally reached that point where a burning need to quit your job or start a business emerges. Not doing it is just no longer an option.
Without this burning need, however, you must accept that you are not ready. Without it, it’s too easy to give up. You’ll hit your first bump in the road & hastily retreat.
Entrepreneurship is fraught with fear, uncertainty & no guarantee of success. You can put your heart & soul into something for years & come out of it with your self-confidence shot through, no money in the bank & an endless list of what ifs’.
So you need that burning need as a constant companion. There are too many reasons to give up otherwise. Too many excuses you can rationally make. Too many people saying you are wrong. Too many unknowns for fear to not overwhelm you.
Think of dieting. Of alcoholism. Of drug addiction. People don’t change until they hit rock bottom. Until they hit rock bottom it just hasn’t got bad enough. The temptation to treat yourself just this once’ becomes too great.
You could have the best diet plan ever, the best trainer, & a mountain of evidence to support how & why you need to lose weight. But, until you internalise that why’ to such a deep level that you see no alternative, you’ll give up.
Peer-reviewed studies, for example, suggest that the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous, the most popular addiction recovery programme in the world, is only 5-10%.
Unless that burning thirst to change is unquenchable, then just don’t bother starting.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness” William Hutchison Murray

My Rock Bottom

I reached rock bottom three months ago. I hated my job. I lacked purpose. I was miserable. I felt myself getting sucked into the tired cycle of 9-5, with a brief respite on a Friday night to allow myself to ignore the dread & the ever-present question:
“Is this it?”
So I started waking up early. I gave up going out. I gave up on a lot of my social life. I avoided any extra work in my day job.
I discovered a burning need an obsession even to dedicate all of my limited resources to finding a solution to the problem. To find a clear purpose & focus all of my attention on it. To avoid the trap of busying myself to feel like I was doing something productive. To put in the work to write 30 articles in 30 days, whilst always knowing only 1 or 2 may hold the answer.
For me it was not dramatic. There was no storming out of the office, resignation letter in hand. No snap decision without rationalisation.
My plan would take months, but each day I was dedicated to constantly moving one small step closer to it.
Each day took me towards leaving an unfulfilling job, towards the relative freedom of freelancing & building our business, punchintheface, in order to help others in similar situations take action.

You are not ready

If you do not feel the pull of entrepreneurship as a need, but merely an interest something you want to dabble in, to test out just to see if you can do it then you are not ready.
And I say not ready’ very deliberately.
Deep down we all desire freedom. It is a fundamental concept underpinning our basic human needs. The freedom to not worry about paying off a mortgage. The freedom to buy that new car. The freedom to travel the world. The freedom to take a Tuesday afternoon off to catch up with an old friend. Freedom from oppression. From society. From doing things we just don’t want to do.
A corporation takes that freedom from you. It impinges upon you. It takes from you.
Everyone has that desire to gain their freedom somewhere within them. In a capitalist society, that freedom of or at least control over time & money comes from entrepreneurship.
Therefore the question is not about whether you are the type of person that is an entrepreneur’, but, rather, whether that burning need to act upon your thoughts is strong enough. Or will fear of the unknown, fear of change & fear of failure get in the way?
Ask yourself, are you more scared of waking up one day, old, unsatisfied, having never tried?
Or are you more scared about what people will think when you leave your job? Of needing to cut down your spending when your company is struggling? Of not boasting about your new promotion at the next office party?
If you are scared of the latter, then ask yourself another question:
“Who is living your life? Society? Your friends? Your family? Or yourself?”
You know the answer. Yet you will convince yourself you are happy. That your corporate job has created a beautiful, fulfilling life for yourself. I mean, if everyone else is doing it, then surely it’s the answer?
To that I would say look yourself in the mirror. Can you honestly say to yourself that you are happy? That this is what you want to do with your life? Your only chance to live new experiences, to try new things?
It’s OK to be scared. Everyone is. Starting something new, going against the current. All of it is scary. But what should really terrify you is having never tried.

Make yourself ready

Very few of us ever become ready. The truth is that you will never be ready. It’s all going to be new & unknown. You’ll constantly need to learn new skills. To learn how to face known and unknown fears.
But you can cultivate that burning need.
Who are you hanging out with? What do they talk about? Are they really happy? What are their ambitions? Their goals?
If you haven’t felt the burning need to change now, then part of the problem is them.
The type of people that accept the norm, that shy away from difficult conversations, that are unsupportive of your ideas. They are people to avoid. They will only drag you down.
If the law of averages holds true, then you are the average of the 5 people you spend time with, so think carefully about who you want to become & what average you are willing to be.
If your friends work unfulfilling, corporation jobs, then you are likely to work an unfulfilling, corporate job. If your friends talk about buying a new car, then you will talk about buying a new car.
If, on the other hand, you surround yourself by some of the world’s best entrepreneurs & thinkers, then it’s a fair to assume that you will start pushing yourself a lot more in life.
So surround yourself with 5 interesting people doing interesting things. People who constantly strive to push themselves. To try new things. To be idealistic. To become empowered.
You’ll find yourself in conversations about life. About what the point of it is. About whether there’s a point. About crypto-currencies. About technology. About change.
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
You will start to develop ideas. To question things you never questioned before. To develop ambition & idealism.
You will find that a subtle momentum starts to build. Quietly at first. Then almost tangible.
Your interest will be peaked by something. You will start to develop an idea. Most tend to be crushed in infancy, but your friends will encourage it & develop that idea with you.
It will start as a small flame, but you will feel that burning desire to pursue that idea. You will start talking about it, reading voraciously, obsessively thinking about it.
And one day you will stop & think back to this article. It will have hit you. You never even saw it coming. That burning need to change.

Fear & doing hard things

I look around me & see people just going through the motions. It is action by rote, rather than by creating something new.

In a new startup, employees spend more time worrying about their Twitter profile than hunting down that first customer.

In bigger companies, meetings are organised to discuss things they will never put into action.

In our personal lives, we create problems out of nothing to avoid this self-examination that inevitably creeps in when we have nothing to worry about. We worry about what the traffic or weather will be like, more than why we are even going there in the first place.

But do not think that I look down, detached from this world. I find myself also susceptible to just going through the motions, rather than spending the time – or having the will – to go after one or two high-impact tasks.

We at punchinteface are building our new company out of a need to create world-class culture. We do not except low-impact work & work for the sake of it, yet we are also learning how to best use our time & maximise our impact.

 

Chasing after 80/20

Pareto’s principal states that 80% of the input tends to yield 20% of the outcome, & 20% of the input tends to yield 80% of the outcome. It is a general rule of thumb that tends to exist in life, whether looking at the yield of vegetables, investment or human capital.

In short, one or two of the tasks you do tends to have a disproportionately large impact, with most being largely ineffective or a complete waste of time.

Tim Ferriss, a hugely successful entrepreneur & self-experimentation extraordinaire, therefore performs a weekly analysis to weed out the ineffective from the effective.

Despite having read about Pareto’s principle numerous times, however, I still find myself struggling to follow it’s lessons.

Firstly, it is inherently difficult to separate the important from the urgent. What’s right in front of you tends to get assigned a disproportionate amount of importance purely because it seems so urgent.

Yes, using techniques such as meditation or writing prioritised to-do lists helps, but there will always be some difficulty in objectively analysing the impact of what you are doing when you are in the inevitably messy, day-to-day of a new business.

Secondly, fear as a driver of action is really underestimated. We usually know exactly what we should do & which tasks will be highly impactful, but we become paralysed by fear.

We find excuses. We organise meetings to discuss it. We try to convince ourselves that actually setting up Twitter or organising our files is essential to the success of the company & nothing should get in the way of it.

We do anything to avoid the foregone conclusion, that one, hard thing that sits waiting for us to tackle.

It hit me yesterday that all of this has been true of myself this week.

I am building the audience for this very blog, but have avoided the hard truth of what I must do.

I have busied myself with SEO changes, organising articles & creating artwork, rather than just building an audience.

Because building an audience is scary. It’s hard. It’s unknown. Building an audience requires hundreds of hours of commenting on other authors, of analysing my own work, of filtering through endless feedback to keep pushing myself to improve.

So last night I forced change upon myself.

 

I wrote down the following questions:

What are the hard tasks I am avoiding? What would I do if I only had two hours to work each day?

 

Just this simple, rough approach to 80/20 analysis worked effectively. It also took under 1 minute.

When you ask yourself tough questions, you force tough answers on yourself.

Immediately the answer I had known all along came to mind: that I must only focus on creating value for an audience.

Writing articles relevant to that audience & commenting with insightful thoughts on other articles relevant to my audience. As simple as that. Write articles. Write comments.

Yes, there are important things to consider outside of that, such as monetisation, long-term content strategy, etc., but none of them matter if there is no audience.

Without the audience there is no business, no value, no motivation.

 

Taking Action

So I urge you to ask yourself difficult questions. To stop hiding behind the guise of busyness. To just go through the motions like everyone else. If you do that, you’ll never create something new, something impactful.

Right now, just write down the 5-10 tasks that are taking up most of your time. Which are creating impact? Which would you complete if you only had 2 hours per day? What will happen if you don’t complete the low-impact tasks?

Add a calendar event at the same time every week to spend 5 minutes doing this. Just 5 minutes. If you don’t add it to your calendar, you will forget. You’ll get caught up, busy like the rest of us, just performing things by rote rather than by deliberate action.

Remember that just going through the motions won’t get you anywhere. Facing your fear & going after that hard thing will.

 

 

 

Being busy: stop taking the easy way out

Differentiating Urgency & Importance

The frustrating reality of work is that most of what you do is a complete waste of time. Even entrepreneurs, who slog away putting in 14-hour days to their company, will inevitably waste the majority of their time.

This is because we tend to be terrible at prioritisation.

Something seemingly urgent will come up & we divert all of our resources to solve the problem, without stopping to think whether it is important in the first place. Or whether it’s even a problem at all.

The problem of conflating the urgent with the important is the greatest drain on productivity in the workplace.

In a corporate environment, the greater complexity of larger teams working together causes further damage to productivity.

There tends to be a lot of people all doing different things, with no clear idea of which direction they are meant to be going, all protecting their own little corner of the company, all trying to get ahead of each other.

A pervasive, manic busyness tends to seep into the culture, with everyone rushing around trying to push through some urgent, but unimportant, change to a product or frenetically working to get an irrelevant report completed.

It’s not inaccurate to say that most companies just about survive despite having a load of headless chickens charging about the place, revved up on caffeine & adrenaline.

As you can imagine, this is not conducive to the long-term interests of the business or the employees themselves.

 

Human Limitations

There is also a huge amount of evidence supporting the idea that our window for highly productive work is very much limited.

Companies tend to push their employees into working 8- to 12-hour days, but are you really productive during that time? How much productive, important work do you really think you get done?

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that humans have a limit of 3-4 hours a day of intensive, focused work before we burn out.

This is capped even lower if you aren’t sleeping 7-8 hours, eating well, exercising or resting properly outside of work hours.

How productive are you after only sleeping 3-4 hours? What about when you’re a bit hungover? Or you’re hungry?

For me personally, these factors are hugely impactful on my productivity. If I haven’t slept properly, the next day is going to be almost entirely a waste of time. Maybe I’ll get 1-2 good hours of work in if I have a strong coffee before starting. But usually, I may as well just take the day off & catch up on sleep.

One of the issues, however, is that some people are so used to living in a constantly, tired, semi-burnt out state that what they think is a good, highly productive day is usually nowhere near it.

They are so used to a constant feeling of tiredness & of a state of low-impact work that whenever they manage to squeeze in 20+ minutes of focused, immersive work, they see that as the maximum limit of human capability.

 

## Stop being busy
Start approaching your days differently.

If colleagues put demands on your time, push back. Question the importance of what they are asking you to do? Is it important? Or is it just urgent? Are they doing it just because their boss wants them to do? Or because they believe it has merit?

If you work for yourself, then focus on maximising the 3-4 hours you are productive. Break them up throughout the day, block it out as focus time in the mornings, cut out the faffing around that tends to clutter your day. Take the rest of the day off for learning, coffee with friends or others in your industry, or finally starting the language lessons you always wanted to do.

The hard part comes next, however.

Where before you had problems to solve & urgent issues to attend to, you will be left with a void.

You can no longer comfort yourself with the sense of purpose & progress that comes from always doing, from always working away at some problem.

When you limit your working hours, you suddenly find yourself with 12 hours a day that seems like a void.

The insulation of busyness is stripped away & you will find yourself asking hard questions. You will find yourself putting yourself through rigorous self-examination. You will start examining the direction & purpose of your business on a much deeper level. You will be able to entertain the creative, outlandish ideas you never had time or energy to think about.

You will strip away all the urgent, clutter of a busy life & finally be able to differentiate the urgent from the important, the low-impact from the high impact work.

Anxiety will come, inevitably. You will worry about whether you’re getting enough done. Whether you’re working on the right thing. Whether all the psychology is just bullshit.

But you must push through.

The gravity of this change will hit you. When you only have limited time to work, you approach things differently. You finally start asking the important questions.

Is this important? How can I estimate the impact of this task?
What will happen if it doesn’t get done?
How can I get it done as efficiently as possible?
Has someone done it before? Is there an easier way?

The work you do end up doing will be great work. Work with the fat stripped away, without the comfort of busyness & urgency clouding your judgement & allowing you to hide from the hard truths you must face.

 

 

 

Reading changes lives.

“Work hard at your job and you can make a living. Work hard on yourself and you can make a fortune.”

— Jim Rohn

 

Formal education wears most people into the ground. When they think education, reading, learning, they remember the monotonous grind of sitting in a classroom with 30 other kids forced to learn the historical implications of the Treaty of Versailles.

Their memories of education tend not to be good ones.

Even in university, choice of subject was really just an after-thought to choice of city, which depended on how good the nightlife was and/or which of their friends were also going there.

This means that, inevitably, this sense of apathy continues throughout higher education. Even those who find a genuine interest in their subject tend to get ground down by archaic teaching methods & the apathy of other students around them.

So when we get into the real world, we wash our hands of it.

Reading becomes synonymous with the back page of the paper you find on the Metro or a trashy ’50 Shades of Whatever’ that was on sale at the airport.

Anything more than this is considered above the call of duty. A burden only borne in a state of dire boredom or necessity, such as when the internet is out for a few days.

Yet one book can change your life.

“It completely changed my perspective on …”

“Oh my god, I never thought of it like that!”

“You’ve got to read this book. I’m super motivated to do … now”

 

Whether you can identify an example from your own life or you’ve heard a friend raving about a book, you know the power a book can have on you. Particularly one that comes at the right time.

Yet do we find ourselves avoiding reading precisely because of this? Is our apathy not so much a dislike of education, but rather a fear of the world that books may open up?

 

Dreaming is easy

Let’s say you’ve always had this dream to start your own business & travel the world. It’s easy when it’s just a dream. It’s a comforting thought that sits there somewhere in your mind. You call upon it now and again, when you’re having a particularly shit day. It’s a comforting thought, the idea of a hypothetical, idealised future sitting on a beach with control over your time & resources.

But you prefer to keep it as a dream, rather than a goal.

Yet what happens when you read something like The Four-Hour Work Week, which provides you with concrete steps towards a life like that?

Suddenly those dreams start to become goals. You start to see a path forming towards them. The first few steps become clear. After that they become hazy. Yet you hesitate. You don’t take that first step because you are afraid of the unknown, of where the path might take you.

You find any excuse to not plant your foot on that first step.

“The book is bullshit. It’s a marketing scam. It’s only for young, single high-achievers. It’s only for people working in tech. I don’t even like the author, so why would I listen to him?”

 

If only your creativity with making excuses could be transposed elsewhere in your life.

You will find a million excuses to not take that first step. Some of them will be valid, to some extent, but most of them won’t.

So you never pick the book up in the first place. You can see where it might lead, so you retreat into your shell.

 

Are you ready to take action?

Yet for those that pick up that book & turn over the first page, a world of infinite possibility opens up to them.

Those ideas you’ve always had floating around in your mind, still without form? There’s a book for that. Someone has thought about it a lot more than you have, researched it & written it out in an easily-digestible format.

Your thoughts become more developed, you discover new subjects you never even knew about, you turn dreams into concrete reality. All through reading.

Some books come at the perfect time.

When I closed my first business, I didn’t know what to do next, so I read Essentialism, which helped me focus on one clear goal & wade through the infinite possibilities available to me.

When I got fired this week, I started reading The Four Hour-Work Week, a blueprint for starting a business on your own terms.

When I started taking life – & myself – too seriously, I read The Ego is The Enemy.

A lot of the time these books just appear at the right time, or you are drawn to them without realising the nature of their content. It is, in a sense, as if some books know what the next step in your education on life should be.

 

Yet I know that there will still be voices of scepticism & excuses at the forefront of your mind as you read this. If you think that you are already smart or educated enough, then you are entirely wrong. If you think that it is only an intellectual hobby to read, then you are wrong. If you think that people who do not continuously educate themselves will be successful in the long-term, you are wrong.

Warren Buffett, the most successful investor of all time, spends most of his time voraciously reading.

Bill Gates takes a week every year for a private “Think Week”, designated for reading without distractions of his day-to-day role at Microsoft. He has done this for a number of years.

Many top leaders, such as Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, etc., also spend at least 5 hours a week designated for reading.

 

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none. Zero.”

— Charlie Munger, Self-made billionaire & Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner

 

Where to start

If you are feeling motivated to take action, then start now. Whatever problems you want to overcome in your life, there is a book for it.

Here is a brief list to start you off. Start with whichever draws your attention & read each book with a purpose, a clear desired outcome:

 

Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau

How to start a side business whilst in full-time work. I’m using some of the practices from here to launch a freelance business in the next two months.

 

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

How to create a framework to govern your life & your business by one of the most successful investors & leaders ever.

 

The Dip” A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin

How to persevere through the inevitable dip, when you feel like progress is stalling. This has helped me persevere through language learning, programming & starting a business.

 

If This Is a Man and The Truce by Primo Levi

A look at the horrific reality of life in Nazi concentration camps & a look at the brutal nature of man by Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived the ordeal.

 

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

A look at how habits form, persist & control over half of your actions. I’ve bitten my nails all my life. I finally stopped after reading this book & understanding the psychology surrounding habits.

 

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

A refreshing response to a lot of self-help books out there. By not giving a fuck about what people think, you tend to do more of what you want to do & only worry about the important things in life, like being happy & helping others.

 

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

A great framework for dramatically increasing your productivity by looking at the psychology surrounding how we can optimise productivity. Be warned though, you’ll find it hard to accept your company’s work culture after the learnings from this.

 

Ego is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

How to tame your ego & live a more care-free, happy life. Also, by seeing how your ego will inevitably lead you to disaster through real-life examples, you will avoid a lot of pain in future.

 

Sapiens by Yuval Noal Yahari

This book radically changed my entire framework of belief, just by re-examining human history with the most plausible approach I have read to date.

 

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss

How to finally do the things you’ve always wanted to do, whether it’s having the freedom to work remotely, start a new business, or earn enough to live a more free life. It opens up a whole world of opportunity & has radically changed the lives of many readers, whose stories are shared in the book.

 

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

Does what it says in the tin. The best book for quickly finding lessons from the world’s best. A book I constantly refer back to for quotes, learnings & guidance in all aspects of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When actions don’t follow thought.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” — Gandhi

It’s presumptuous to think that everyone knows what they want; that they are able to clearly envision living – or attaining – a successful life.

However, the majority of people do at least all have a sense of what they want to do or achieve in life.

One of the greatest failings of Western society, however, is that very few people end up doing what they want to do in life. People know they can & should do something, but never do.

Is inconsistency in thought & action caused by fear? Is it a lack of self-reflection? Does it stem from a difficulty in measuring your progress? Or just something some people don’t really think about that much?

It is a travesty that many of us do not even know where to start when it comes to aligning our thoughts with our actions.

You end up in the same miserable relationship because you are too scared to admit to yourself – or your other half – that it’s not working.

You remain in the same dead-end job until retirement because you never end up making a start on that new business idea you had.

You crumble in the face of opposition when your principles come into conflict with someone else’s.

In essence, you waste vast swathes of your life umm-ing and ah-ing, left with a pile of ‘what ifs’ rather than of great memories & experiences.

 

But is this just a modern societal issue? Are we the first who seem to stand for nothing? Or whichever trend seems to grab our attention for a few fleeting moments?

When I think of holding firm to your thoughts & beliefs, I think of peoples like the Celts, exterminated by Caeser 2,000 years ago, who refused to bow to this external cultural threat.

I think of resistance to Nazi Occupation, Rosa Parks, the suffragettes. I think of the countless small, unnoticed acts of bravery that we will never even know about. In essence, I think of people that had beliefs, stated those beliefs as openly as they could & acted according to those beliefs.

Yet here we are, in the 21st Century, with most people unable to even stand up to one of our colleagues in case the boss finds out.

We seem to be afraid of everything, despite living in the safest period of human history.

We are afraid of ruining our career, of what our friends will think, of disappointing our parents, of not being able to afford that new car, of having a weak CV.

We are so afraid of trying something new & of the unknown that many people never even start. They remained trapped, in a protective cocoon of their own creation, happy to pursue mediocrity rather than ever challenging themselves.

 

Aligning thoughts with actions

I know first-hand the effect of confronting your fears. ::I hated my job::. I was unhappy because of my job. So I made changes. I started blogging, building a new business. ::Ended up getting fired before I handed in my resignation::.

And you know what? All those fears? All those scary unknown entities? They all fell away.

For the first time in four months, I was happy.

So I urge you: start breaking society’s rules. Build your defiance as you would build a habit.

What small thing can you take action upon today? What nagging thought keeps coming back, left unresolved, never going away?

Write it down. Confront your thoughts on paper. Tell someone, so that the thought exists & has form. Then act, so your actions may reflect that belief.

Repeat this &, over time, what you think, what you say, and what you are will always be in harmony.

 

 

How to turn being fired into opportunity.

Getting Fired

A few days ago, I found out I had been fired. I found out by email on a Saturday morning.

I had, ironically, been planning my own exit for a few months. My conclusion had been that this was not the place for me. I refused to be dictated to; I had become very apathetic of our start-up’s dubious – & somewhat deceptive – ‘mission’; I also realised that my nature is entrepreneurial & I needed to start my own endeavour again.

So being fired was not the end of the world, but it meant I had no control over the circumstances of my departure. It was involuntary. It was sudden.

I had planned for my departure quite meticulously, so had plans for freelancing in place & my long-term plan for building this blog outlined in detail.

However, there still comes the inevitable void. The fear of the unknown. The sense that things are out of your control. That maybe things won’t work out.

Your self-confidence evaporates for a few days, you feel betrayed, you panic. However well you plan, you will still feel ‘the fear’.

 

Finding opportunity in adversity

After a few tense days that I thought might lead to a legal dispute, my final ‘Contract Termination’ was signed.

I had two months paid leave, with a contractual obligation to complete some work for the company still.

This was the best outcome I could ever have asked for. My plan was to resign the same week & continue for two months further. I now get the desired outcome, my salary, without having to put in the dreaded work for these guys.

The only downside was that I couldn’t childishly boast that I had been ballsy enough to resign, as they beat me to it.

 

In this situation I find myself with two options: immediately jump into freelancing or learn German.

The only reason I would immediately start freelancing would be out of fear of the unknown. That, in January, my contract would be up, so I would need to look for work. However, it’s only November.

Whenever I feel that fear is my motive to do something, it’s usually the wrong thing to do.

What would be the hard thing? What would be unique? What would be a good story to look back on in this period of my life? What do I actually want to do more?

I want to speak German fluently. It’s hard. It’s unknown. It has no tangible ‘career’ benefits relevant for me, but it’s what I want to do.

Getting to C1 (advanced) in the next 7 weeks would be pretty impressive. That’s my goal.

Rather than plodding along in uninspiring, inefficient classes, with the emphasis on the teacher to impart knowledge, I want to test my own hypotheses.

I have self-taught Portuguese to fluency & know what works.

Hard work, focus & motivation are key.

So is immersion. Conversation, podcasts, films, books, articles. Anything German-related.

I will do what others would call impossible precisely because I need to prove them wrong.

Because, as soon as you set limits on yourself & start having ‘realistic’ expectations, that is the day you set your standards to mediocrity.

You call things impossible because they are hard. They are unknown. They are scary.

But you achieve one impossible thing & you start to question that definition.

 

 

 

 

 

“Hey guys, why is the app not working at all?! :) ;)”

You can feel it boiling under the surface, hidden in the forced smiley at the end of that Slack message. It’s been included to take the edge off, but it still cuts through you like a knife.

It’s not a winky face. No, no, no. Definitely not a winky face. It’s more an angry, nervous & uncontrollable tick. The passive aggression inevitably emerges, like steam forcing its way through an air-vent. You can feel the anger, the veiled threat. All hidden in those cute, seemingly innocuous little emojis.

Maybe it’s a coping mechanism? Maybe they believe the smiley reflects how they think the world perceives them? Maybe they genuinely believe we will be deceived into thinking they are a chilled-out, nice, friendly person too. That they are ‘down with the little people’.

 

In our company, every crash or bug identified from our CEO holds a veiled threat. It may seem like nothing. An outsider would most probably assume he’s a nice guy, even. It doesn’t seem that offensive right? A simple smiley? What damage could that ever do?

But this requires knowing the person. It requires a certain skill of translation – or intepretation, if you will.

What he says:

Hey team, just thought you should know that I can’t sign up with my email address 🙂

 

What he actually means:

Hey people-I-have-to-pay-to-do-my-bidding-that-I-would-really-prefer-not-to-deal-with, I can’t believe you didn’t pick up on this really fucking basic problem. It is yet another sign of your incompetence &, as usual, I am the one that has to step in to resolve it.

P.S. I’ve included a nice, friendly little smiley so you can’t openly say I’m not nice to everyone! It’s there to sow a seed of doubt, but you know deep down that I’m pissed off. You know that underneath that smiley lies my anger, my threat.

 

And don’t think this is over-thinking it. Interpretation is required because we are not honest with each other. And that comes from the top. People don’t say what they think, out of fear, so they default to veiling their intent behind cute little rounded smileys.

That doesn’t mean we are dishonest people. It means that the culture is dishonest.

If you build a culture where everyone feels comfortable giving honest feedback to anyone else, regardless of position, then people say what they think.

Rather than veiling what they think, they say it as it is – undisguised.

A good company praises, encourages & nurtures honest feedback. A good company realises that people need to grow so that they company may grow. It realises that only through radical honesty can you discover truth & therefore make the best decisions possible.

 

It doesn’t matter through what medium it manifests itself, passive aggression is a sign of a culture of dishonesty & lack of respect. By identifying the symptom, you’ll identify the disease.

It may seem small, but it is the tip of the iceberg.

Therefore, you must ask yourself: are you willing to put up with that?

 

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Stop lying to yourself

There’s a lot of talk around productivity hacks & advice on starting a business. Most tend to reference reliable psychological studies or renowned thinkers & the advice given tends to be objectively good advice.

Yet 99% of us will read whatever advice is given & immediately ignore it or forget about it.

Why is that?

 

Your situation isn’t bad enough

Most people lack the motivation to follow through by taking action because they just don’t care /enough/ about changing themselves. You may really want to start a business, but you also have an active social life & value your down time watching Netflix or similar.

I relish each day in my current job with a slightly masochistic anticipation as I know it’s going to be one of the most depressing days of my life. However, without this period of hating life, would I have the relentless motivation to build a side business?

Probably not.

I work really hard on my business plan & freelancing plan so that I can get out as soon as possible.

So, either find a job that you really fucking hate (hard to do deliberately) or confront the root of the problem.

 

Be honest with yourself

The root of the problem is that we’ve got too good at lying to ourselves.

I didn’t really, truly realise I was unhappy in my current job until I just wrote it down:

‘I am miserable.’

Our thoughts are so disparate & fleeting that when we feel a sense of dissatisfaction or start asking ourselves tough questions in our head (‘Is this job making me happy?’), we tend to jump to the next thing that’s distracted us.

We never stop, confront the reoccurring thought & find a solution.

You brush the dissatisfaction off as temporary – as just a one-off. Is it really just temporary if the thought comes back on a daily basis? If most of your working day it’s sitting there somewhere at the back of your mind, rearing it’s head in moments of quiet reflection?

 

Is it just me or…

The hardest thing about this is that most people around you are also in a permanent state of self-denial. Say you work in a big corporation where you know the work is bullshit, but everyone walks around as if a member of a cult – singing the virtues of the company & of it’s ‘mission’ with a fixed grin on their face & talk of promotion to the hallowed halls of the top floor.

Yet you find yourself thinking, ‘Do they really believe all this bullshit? Is it just me?’

You then start questioning yourself, thinking that you’re the odd one out. That you probably aren’t that unhappy & that it’s just a passing phase. ‘If everyone else seems to love the job, then surely I will too at some point’, you say to yourself.

But they are probably all lying to themselves as well. Too scared to admit the truth & take the hard path of working out what they do want to do in life. Easier to await your pay check & climb up the corporate ladder.

 

Don’t follow the crowd

So don’t follow what those around you do – do what you want to do. If other people find it easier – or are even happy – lying to themselves their entire lives, then that’s fine. If it works for them, it works for them. But does it work for you?

If not, just admit it to yourself. Take a pen & write down a clear statement. It could be ‘I hate my boss’, ‘I hate my job’, ’This relationship is making me deeply unhappy’.

Write down whatever is making you unhappy & confront it.

When you see it on the page, it’s unavoidable. You will no longer be able to hide from the truth. And when you’re honest with yourself this one time, you will find yourself unable to lie to yourself. You know the truth & there’s no escaping the truth.

‘Enough’.

You’ll find this one small act gives you far more direction & motivation than all the productivity hacks in the world.

 

 

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