The Hard Truths of Life

It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle of day-to-day life. With so much going on in our professional and personal lives, we are so consumed by what is right in front of us. We’re so immersed in what we are doing, and it is as if we are on autopilot. We’re going down a dangerous path when we operate like this. It’s easy for weeks, months, or years to go by where you’re on autopilot, and the moment you stop, you look back and wonder where all that precious time went that you are never going to get back. It’s important to pause from time to time to remind ourselves of the hard truths of life so that we can stop living on autopilot and control where we want to go:

Truth #1:

We will all die, and it might be much sooner than you expect and much less pleasant than you wish. Don’t think anything in your future is guaranteed, not even the next hour.

Truth #2:

Everyone around you, everyone you love or hate, is also going to die, and it also might be sooner than you expect.

Truth #3:

Everything is temporary, whether it be people or possessions. Death will take everything you have accumulated, but things can be taken from you much sooner than that, no matter how hard you worked or how much you love it. It’s yours, but it is also not. It is borrowed, and you must eventually return it, potentially without any advance notice.

Truth #4: 

You can enjoy what you’ve been given (family, friends, success, fame, fortune, possessions), but again, remember it can and will be taken away from you (or you from it). Attaching yourself to it or refusing to let go will only cause you to suffer.

Truth #5: We operate under a logic (e.g., we do good, good will happen to us. We work hard, we will be rewarded), but this logic is false. There may be a logic that exists, but it’s not something we can necessarily comprehend or understand.

Accepting these truths and moving forward:

Acknowledging these truths can be extremely crippling (because you realize how little you control) or extremely liberating (because you realize how little you control). If you find it crippling, you’re riding against (or trying to control) the waves of life. If you find it liberating, you realize that you can’t control the ocean, so instead, you go with the ups and downs of life, accept both the calm and turbulent moments, and learn how to surf and go with the flow.

It can be easy to reject these truths for those who are externally thriving and have fame, fortune, or status because our ego gets in the way. Furthermore, we’re afraid and don’t want to accept that we may lose everything we have. For those struggling, this can provide solace as we remember that our suffering is temporary and that no one is above these laws. Furthermore, we can provide our egos some comfort knowing that the universe operates under a different logic than we are used to, which means that our inability to thrive externally may not be our fault.

Final words… 

As you go about your day, think about these truths. How do they fit into your life? If you’re thriving, don’t attach yourself to this feeling — it will pass. If you’re struggling, don’t lose hope — this too shall pass. We only have a finite amount of time in this world, so be careful what you do with it.

Declaring war on your anxiety

For those of us that struggle with anxiety, we know far too well that it can have devastating effects on your day-to-day life. At its worst, it can consume you all day and induce a state of mild paralysis where you feel that you can’t take action. What I’m referring to is not necessarily the type of anxiety you feel before giving a presentation (although it could be), but it’s when you wake up in the morning and feel tense and afraid. You’re subconsciously wondering, how am I going to survive the day? What’s going to trigger my anxiety? And oddly enough, sometimes just the fear of getting anxiety starts to cause anxiety.

A simple trick that I uncovered a few days ago to help me navigate my anxiety is to declare war on it. I woke up one morning, was waiting for my coffee to finish brewing, and despite feeling groggy, my mind started to run a million miles an hour, hoping that I wouldn’t feel anxious today. That very thought started to make me anxious. I don’t know what triggered this thought in my head, but I just got a bit fed up. I’m tired of this. Enough is enough. Today, I’m not going to let my anxiety control me. I took a deep breath, grabbed my coffee, went to my room, and proceeded on with my day as if my anxiety did not exist.

Did the anxiety disappear for the rest of the day? No. But for some reason, it wasn’t crippling or paralyzing. It was just something my body was doing on autopilot (e.g., getting tense, heart rate elevating). Sure my mind would still go down rabbit holes of anxious thinking, but there was a detachment from those thoughts. Luckily enough, things weren’t too bad from midday onward, and towards the end of the day, those thoughts significantly reduced.

Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort each morning to declare war on my anxiety. There’s no wow factor to this. It’s nothing magical. But making this affirmation, especially when I can emotionally get behind it, seems to make a difference.You have to bring this intention to not let your anxiety rule over you to your conscious awareness by saying it out loud (or in your head) in the morning. The anxious thoughts come and go, but it doesn’t define me, and therefore, it shouldn’t dictate my day or get in the way of me pursuing other things.

Not sure what to do? Do nothing

Worrying is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.

When something is not working, when we feel lost, or when we don’t know what to be doing in the present moment, our mind nudges us into action. It could be seeking a solution, talking to someone about our stressors, or just distracting ourselves with a TV show or food. Through some mechanism over time, our mind has developed this strong belief that doing is always the solution. However, as we have experienced over and over again, action does not fix everything. Watching TV doesn’t always cure boredom, and venting doesn’t heal anger. If we’re lucky, we may achieve temporary relief, but the root of the problem remains – we always feel the need to control things, and as a result, we feel the need to always do something.

The Art of Non-Doing

Yesterday, when feeling a bit restless and in a rut, I wrote a journal entry/note on my phone:

I gave in today and tried to logically get myself out of the rut that I’m feeling regarding my monotonous day-to-day routine. I googled for ideas, I went on Reddit, I listened to talks, I tried reading, and quite honestly, none of it worked. Had I not stressed over this, I could have least enjoyed the past two hours. It wouldn’t change anything, but it may have been relaxing, and that might have helped.

I experienced a challenging emotion (restlessness), but no amount of doing was able to fix this. As a matter of fact, it may have made things worse because I felt tired and like I had lost valuable time on my day off, and I had nothing to show for it. When we feel unpleasant emotions, we feel the need to get rid of them. What we fail to recognize and admit to ourselves is that it is okay, and it is human, to experience negative emotions. Not every negative moment or feeling has to be a crisis.

We do not know how to sit with our feelings. The art of non-doing is recognizing that it is okay to not try to fix everything. It is okay to feel bad and let ourselves feel that way. Oddly enough, this acknowledgment in and of itself is empowering and a mood lifter. Does this mean give up or stop trying? Absolutely not! It means learning to distinguish between what you can control and what you cannot control and being okay with what you cannot control.

Non-doing simply means letting go, letting things be the way that they are, and letting them unfold the way they are intended.

Practicing Non-Doing

“When we spend some time each day in non-doing, resting in awareness, observing the flow of the breath and the activity of our mind and body without getting caught up in that activity, we are cultivating calmness and mindfulness hand in hand”

~Jon Kabat-Zinn

Meditation, at its core, is an exercise of non-doing. However, it is not the only way to practice non-doing. I have found that non-doing is about absorbing what is happening in the present moment as it shifts into the next moment. It is also about making a conscious decision not to be pulled in several directions by our feelings, desires, or external pressure. Non-doing can also manifest through effortless action (i.e., things that induce a state of flow). This could be listening to music, going for a walk, or swimming. The key here is intentionality. Is movement enabling your ability to be aware and present, or is it just another thing you are doing?

More than anything, non-doing is something that results through the decisions we make in our day-to-day. When you’re bored, do you automatically grab your smartphone and scroll through social media, or do you sit with it and be okay being bored? When someone messages you from work in the evening, do you immediately respond or put it aside and respond during regular working hours?

Final words…

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”

~ Guillaume Apollinaire

If there’s a takeaway I can give from this post, it is this – the next time you’re in a rut, or you feel stuck, rather than jumping into action, take a moment to pause. Take just two minutes. Take a handful of deep breathes, analyze what is happening around you, recite a mantra to ground you, and/or ask yourself this question – do I need to be doing something right now and will it fix how I am feeling?

Is our measure of success backwards?

When thinking about life on a broader scale, we know that no amount of fame, fortune, or material possessions will give us lasting joy. Furthermore, we know we will not take any of our accumulated wealth with us when we cease to exist. However, despite this knowledge, when we talk about success and successful individuals, our default is to talk about success in terms of fame, fortune, or career. We’ll glorify actors, musicians, entrepreneurs, and the wealthy. Even when having a conversation among family or friends, we default to praising those in our circle with well-paying jobs, big homes, a post-graduate degree, or a Director+ level job title. We know of the horrors and challenges of the rat race, yet we continue to gush over it and fantasize about it.

Backward success begins in childhood and bleeds into adulthood

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat”

~Lily Tomlin

A concern with this way of thinking is that it develops in childhood when children are pressured to be achievement-oriented. Kids are encouraged to be maximally involved in school – get good grades, be involved in sports, band, and other extracurricular activities. When a child achieves all they can achieve in school, the next achievement is getting into a good college, followed by a good graduate school, followed by a good-paying job, followed by an even better paying job, and so on. By the time we reach adolescence or adulthood, most of us have finally learned that these achievements and goals will not give us lasting joy. However, because we’ve been trained to think a certain way for so long, we cannot turn off this way of thinking. We do not know how to, and guidance is minimal. At some point, we go so deep into this lifestyle that we become stuck and just give-in. We cling to our wealth and our children’s achievements to preserve our joy, as minimal as it may be.

Success the right way

“You aren’t wealthy until you have something money can’t buy”

~ Garth Brooks

It is imperative that we begin to shift the focus of success to the right things in life, the things that matter. Have a well-paying career is a form of success but is it the right kind of success? What about the person who is simply a good parent, or the individual who can live life mindfully because they have control over their emotions, or the person who has achieved a high level of spiritual awareness?

Many people have attempted to move the needle on work by encouraging others to find a purposeful and meaningful career so that work no longer feels like work. This is sound advice for some, but it still promotes the rat race, just in a way that is more tolerable. Another option exists – live your life so that work is not at the center of it. The purpose of work is to enable you to create a life where you can focus on things that matter. However, many of us are disabled by work and neglect the things that matter to be successful. Unfortunately, along the way, we often find that while we get closer to success in our career, we become more and more separated from the success that matters.

Let’s shift the focus. Let’s recognize those who have achieved true success. Move away from the rat race.

5 Quotes for Happiness

Tal Ben-Shahar states that there are five domains in our lives that contribute to happiness and well-being — spiritual, physical, relational, emotional, intellectual. Here are some quotes for some morning or evening inspiration:


“Part of spiritual and emotional maturity is recognizing that it’s not like you’re going to try to fix yourself and become a different person. You remain the same person, but you become awakened”

~ Jack Kornfield


“Doctors won’t make you healthy. Nutritionists won’t make you slim. Teachers won’t make you smart. Gurus won’t make you calm. Mentors won’t make you rich. Trainers won’t make you fit. Ultimately, you have to take responsibility. Save yourself”

~Naval Ravikant


“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words”

~ Roy T. Bennett


“Anyone can become angry, that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy”



“To know that you do not know is the best. To think you know when you do not is a disease. Recognizing this disease as a disease is to be free of it”

~ Lao Tzu

The Problem With Gratitude

Over the past few years, gratitude has become a popular topic in the positive psychology and self-help space. Many researchers and coaches talk about the benefits of gratitude and why we should set aside time each day to be grateful for the things in our lives. We’re told to be optimistic, say thank you to the important people in our lives, and keep gratitude journals.

These are all great ideas and great things, but the problem is that many people treat gratitude as an activity or something you do once in a while. You write three things you’re grateful for every night, or you send a thank you letter to an old friend. You participate in the activity, and that’s it. If we wish to unlock the benefits and power of gratitude, we need to think of it as a lifestyle, not as an exercise.

Temporary things will only give you temporary joy.

Have you noticed how most of the things that give us joy in life are all temporary? Whether it is a meal, a movie, or a vacation – it is temporary, and therefore, the pleasure it provides is momentary. Similar to how a good meal gives only temporary joy, gratitude as an activity will only have short-term benefits.

Gratitude as a lifestyle is about appreciating what you have at every moment.

As people, we have this odd tendency to always be looking to the future or looking back in the past. Think about vacations. When you’re planning a vacation, you’re getting joy out of what is to come. As you get closer and closer to that vacation, work, and even life become more and more agonizing, and it’s as if you cannot enjoy anything until you reach that vacation. You want time to pass so that you can be hiking in California or sitting on a beach in Hawaii. When the vacation is over, you struggle to enjoy the present moment. Instead, you reflect and get sad that you are not there anymore, so you now shift your attention to your next vacation or time off. Unfortunately, even when we’re on vacation or experiencing that thing that is supposed to give us joy, we’re still longing for more. You’re dreading that there are only two days left before you go back home, or you’re upset that the lousy weather derailed some of your plans.

In moments like this, when we are stuck in the rat race of life or in this rut of continually wanting more, it’s in these precise moments where you need to remind yourself to be grateful. Each moment is a gift. Acknowledge and accept that what you have now is enough. Getting more of something is only going to give you temporary joy, if that.

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Our false sense of control inhibits our ability to be grateful.

Too often, we feel that we have more control over our lives than we do. To be clear, we do have some control over our lives, and I am a strong advocate of taking charge of the things we can control. However, the universe is just so complex, and there are an infinite number of things that we cannot control (COVID-19 is a perfect example). Despite this, we often still try to control things. We can’t seem to let go. This constant need to control is what results in always being hungry for more and being unable to enjoy the present moment. This is why we still feel like something is missing in even the happiest moments of our lives. We always think that things can be better, and we try to think of how we can control the situation and reach this ideal that doesn’t even exist. As a result, we completely take away the focus from just appreciating what we already have. If you let go of this false sense of control, you will more easily be able to enjoy what you do have.

Happiness doesn’t come from getting more, but from letting go.

Final words…

We need to shift from the mentality of gratitude being an activity to the mindset that gratitude is a way of living. When you find yourself struggling to be happy in the moment, it’s important to ask yourself, why am I feeling this way? What is this doing for me? Why am I looking for more? When you take a closer look at each moment in your life, you realize that you don’t need more. You have everything that you need and more. What a great feeling.

Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety

When faced with a situation that gives us anxiety, one of the most common responses is to do what we can to avoid or get out of that situation. For example, a socially anxious person might try to think of ways to get out of having to go to a party. A person who gets nervous around doctors may try to postpone their annual checkup. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. We see the source of anxiety as a threat, so we try to run away from it. Unfortunately, while we may gain short-term relief, the anxiety only remains dormant for a short period and becomes worse in the long-run.

The Cycle of Anxiety

The diagram below illustrates how avoidance leads to an endless cycle of anxiety.

The challenge with avoidance as a coping mechanism is that it often results in short-term anxiety relief, reinforcing the feeling that avoidance is a good way to reduce anxiety. However, as with just about any anxiety-inducing situation, it’s never a once in a lifetime situation. There will always be another social interaction waiting for us or another health issue that forces us to the doctor’s office. To make things worse, each time we engage in avoidance, the anxiety becomes a bigger hurdle to overcome.

The challenge then is that we are too anxious to engage in behaviors that will alleviate our anxiety, but our only other option, avoidance, increases anxiety. It is a vicious cycle.

With that, the question arises – what can we do?

Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety

The solution is simple, but unsurprisingly, it’s not easy. At the end of the day, the advice that any expert can give you boils down to one thing – you have to deal with the anxiety. You can’t avoid it. You have to approach it head-on. Often when we are anxious about something, we catastrophize and assume that the worst will happen. We might consciously even be aware that we are thinking irrationally, but it doesn’t reduce the anxiety or lessen the symptoms. What works is to face it. Challenge your negative assumptions and anxious thoughts.

That being said, you can approach this strategically to reduce the short-term stress (it won’t entirely go away, though):

  1. Challenge your irrational thoughts. Negative and irrational thoughts feed the cycle of anxiety. Try to identify the cognitive distortions that you are guilty of and challenge each assumption. For example, you might say to yourself, “I have never given a good presentation before. I have always been terrible with public speaking.” In this instance, I would write this negative thought on a piece of paper, identify the cognitive distortion associated with it (i.e., overgeneralization), and then write a statement that challenges this claim. In this case, I would try to identify a few instances where I did have success with public speaking or did give a good presentation.
  2. Start slow. If your social anxiety doesn’t allow you to speak with a cashier, the odds are that going to a large party full of strangers is not a good starting point. Instead, start with small things. When you order pizza, speak with someone on the phone rather than ordering online. Speak with a cashier rather than using self-checkout.
  3. Break down the anxiety-inducing situation into smaller and more manageable tasks. If you are avoiding going to the doctor, step one is just to book your appointment. You can always cancel, so there’s no harm in scheduling it and adding it to your calendar. Start with that.
  4. Rip it off like a band-aid. While some benefit from starting small and slow, others may benefit from the opposite – tackle the anxiety-inducing situation head-on. Get it over with. Don’t let your mind talk you out of it. Just do it. Now.
  5. Control what you can control to increase the likelihood of success. In my childhood, I had some negative experiences going to the dentist. As a result, it’s always been a challenge to get myself to go. As an adult, though, I now have more control over my dental health and dentist. So the thing I did to help increase the likelihood of success was to thoroughly research a dentist with positive reviews. The odds are that they have good reviews for a reason. Nothing is a certainty, but I have increased the probability of having a positive experience.
  6. Use the energy from short-term successes to address other areas of your anxiety. If you tackle an anxiety-inducing situation, and it results in a positive outcome, use the temporary positive feelings to keep tackling your anxiety. For example, if you struggle with public speaking but just gave a presentation that you feel great about, try to book and immediately have your next speaking engagement. If you are afraid of doctors and dentists and just managed to overcome your fear by going to the doctor, book your dentist visit and go as soon as possible. Ride the high and positive feelings from one encounter to address another.

Final Words…

The reality is that if you struggle with anxiety, it will always be there to some degree. However, with the proper techniques, it can become dormant indefinitely, and that’s the goal. Healthy behaviors that reduce anxiety operate in the same way that muscles do. The more you exercise and the more you practice, the stronger the muscles become. Stop exercising, however, and they become weaker. Similarly, with anxiety, you need to keep engaging in non-avoidance based behaviors to keep the anxiety away. Stop practicing, and it can return.

The Happiness Model

In his book, Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar came up with what he called the happiness model. The model consists of four archetypes that illustrate how we think about happiness:

  1. The first archetype is HedonismThis is when we act in accordance with the idea of ‘seek pleasure and avoid pain.’ This is when you opt for the pizza instead of the grilled chicken, or you don’t study for your upcoming exam and play video games instead. This is a situation when we seek pleasure in the present moment, but we end up sacrificing the future to some extent. On a more extreme level, this is when you embrace the ‘you only live once’ or the ‘seize the day’ mentality and focus solely in the present even when it can negatively impact the future.
  2. The second archetype is the Rat RaceThis is the opposite of hedonism as it focuses on future gain and sacrificing the present moment. This is when you opt for the grilled chicken and vegetables instead of the pizza and focus on studying for your upcoming exam instead of hanging out with your friends. On an extreme level, this is when you live under the idea that happiness is a destination. It’s when you say “When I get that promotion, or get into my college of choice, I will be happy.” However, of course, even if you get that promotion or into college, your goal changes and you want the next thing on your list.
  3. The third archetype is Nihilism. This is the worst outcome as you act in such a way where there is present detriment AND future detriment. This is when you have the pizza, but you don’t enjoy it or when you are playing video games and finding it very unfulfilling. This state manifests usually when you are feeling hopeless, unexcited, and/or apathetic.
  4. The fourth archetype is HappinessThis is when you opt for the grilled chicken and vegetables, but you turn the chicken into a parmesan that you love. This is when you study all day so that you can hang out with your friends at night. There is present gain, but also, there is future gain.

Below is an illustration that describes these archetypes. As you can see, there are four quadrants and each archetype’s placement is based on how it affects the present and future:Happiness-Model.jpg

You might think that we should strive to live in the happiness quadrant and avoid the trap of other quadrants, but that is only partly true. The reality is that whether we like it or not, we will spend time in each quadrant. It is absolutely unavoidable, so we shouldn’t fall into the trap of trying to achieve something that is unrealistic.

The key is balance, moderation and timing.

Every now and then, you’re going to opt for pleasure now without considering the future. That’s okay. Nothing wrong with having the pizza even though you might feel a bit stuffed after or feel bloated. But should you have it five days in a row? Of course not. Sometimes you’re going to skip class to play games, and that’s fine too. The key is moderation. Similarly, there are going to be times where you need to sacrifice present happiness for future gain. You will need to not go out with your friends after work to pick up your daughter from school. You will need to stay late at work to finish an assignment. But is it an everyday occurrence? Do you keep telling yourself that you’ll be happy as soon as you get that next big break? On occasion though, perfectly okay to sacrifice now for later. Just don’t make it a habit.

Being in the happiness quadrant, of course, is the ideal. You want to maximize the time here. What are the activities that are good now and the future? Find those things. Make them a part of your daily life. For example, if you find a job you love that compensates you fairly, that’s something for the present and future. That’s the ideal. If you like a sport, and you know that it’s good for your health, do that instead of playing video games.

Nihilism, you might think this quadrant is something to avoid at all costs. Well, you can’t avoid it. You’re going to have down moments. The best thing you can do is acknowledge that it is perfectly okay to have those moments. Accept that it is okay to be in that quadrant from time to time. If you do that, you adopt a healthier mindset which makes it easier to get out of that quadrant.

Final words…

Simply put, (a) maximize your time in the happiness quadrant, (b) focus on moderation and balance with the other quadrants.