upgrade your operating system.

Bethany: So you’re saying that having beliefs is a bad thing?

Rufus: I just think it’s better to have an idea. You can change an idea; changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it.

An excerpt from the movie “Dogma”

It was 2006 when I went away to college, specifically one of the oldest Catholic universities in the country. I grew up fairly secular without much of a religious education (except for the yearly Easter church service) and had never read the Bible, so it was a bit of a culture shock to be surrounded by statues of saints, priests, nuns and students who had a religious practice woven into their everyday lives. I went to Catholic mass twice while I was there: once because my roommates invited me one Sunday evening, the other time out of sheer curiosity.

Both times, I was struck by the same odd sight. In each service there was a woman (a different person each time), crying as she received the Eucharist. I found out later that Catholic doctrine states that the communion wafer (Eucharist), during consecration, transforms into the actual flesh of Jesus Christ. So while I sat in those services, with a mixture of curiosity, confusion and boredom, another person was emotionally overwhelmed with the belief that she was coming in actual physical contact with her lord and savior.

Belief is a very powerful force.

Beliefs, religious or otherwise, shape our reality. They shape how we view ourselves, how we think the world works, what we think is right or wrong, what we think is true.

But where do these beliefs come from? How are they formed?

Sometimes they are taught to us explicitly by our parents. (“Listen buddy, if you get good grades, work hard and get a college degree, you will get a good job and make lots of money.”)

We can also learn beliefs in more subtle ways. While no one may have told you directly that the world is a dangerous, violent place, growing up in a high-crime neighborhood or war zone may teach you that “fact”. You may not have heard the words “People are untrustworthy”, but experiencing a significant betrayal or trauma may anchor that belief in your psyche.

The cultures we grow up in and around may both explicitly and implicitly program us with certain beliefs. Many Asian cultures have the implicit belief that the well-being of the family, group or community is more important than the individual, while many Western cultures, particularly America, have the opposite view. Even on a more granular level, I’m sure we’ve all heard statements like “We Italians know how to eat”, or “We’re Irish, we don’t talk about our feelings”.

***

If you live in the United States or keep up with our news, you’ve probably noticed some very contentious debates on heavy issues, including gun control, mass shooters, the rising suicide rate, the opioid crisis, mental illness, healthcare, stagnant wages, unemployment and underemployment… the list goes on.

These are all important issues, greatly impacting the lives of millions of people. And yet, as the debates wage on, it’s clear that many of us can’t move beyond our programming. Most people don’t budge much on the opinions they started with. Why?

A little thing called confirmation bias. Essentially, confirmation bias is the human phenomenon of only seeing and accepting evidence that supports our existing beliefs, while ignoring or rejecting evidence that conflicts with them. It’s a subconscious cherry-picking of information.

***

While I wish more people would question their beliefs and their bias (Lifehack has a great guide to overcoming confirmation bias here), I do understand why we cling to them so strongly, even when there’s conflicting evidence or when those beliefs cause us angst.

Questioning your entire worldview is nothing short of daunting. Those beliefs are the background for every decision we make and for how we interact with others. When our beliefs are questioned, we start to feel naked, unsettled and ungrounded.

These beliefs are essentially the operating system that’s been installed in your brain. When you come across an unfamiliar idea and it feels uncomfortable, that’s probably because your operating system simply doesn’t know how to run that file.

So what would happen if we were able to upgrade that operating system? What if we could explore new ideas without a knee jerk reaction? What if we could analyze new ideas, not based on how easily they fit into our preconceived notions but instead on their merit?

***

Here’s an exercise to start the process:

The next time you’re on social media or watching television and you hear someone spout a belief that upsets or offends you, take a few moments to imagine how that personal developed that belief. Visualize the experiences or life lessons that person may have gone through. You don’t have to change your own viewpoint. Simply imagine the scenarios in their life that may have led up to that belief.

After enough practice with this exercise, you can start to use this same technique on yourself. You will start to connect the dots on how your own beliefs formed, understand their origins, and if need be, start updating them.

Eventually, new ideas, no matter how foreign, can be viewed just a little bit more objectively than before. This, I believe, can pave the way to positive change, not only in ourselves but also in the way we treat each other. With more understanding, more compassion and more empathy.

Most of us are running an outdated operating system. Are you?

-C

what to do when you suddenly run out of fucks to give.

A.k.a. The Tao of Adulting

A.k.a. Adventures in living my best life

A.k.a. Accidentally finding Stoicism

A few years ago, I stumbled upon this hilarious article by Mark Manson called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. I chuckled at his flagrant use of profanity and was charmed by his apparent confidence and ability to take charge of his life, decisively focusing his energy on what mattered most to him. I was so struck by it that I actually bookmarked it, coming back to it every 6 months or so. I suppose my subconscious mind knew I needed this wisdom.

As I’ve mentioned before many times on this blog, I’ve always felt that true personal change is incremental, gradual and slow, at best. It takes dedication over long periods of time to make even slight personal improvements.

While I still believe this is true, I also think that sometimes, that hard work, that investment in bettering oneself culminates in a big personal shift.

For me, one of those big, personal shifts happened around the New Year, when one day, I got up, grabbed my bag of fucks, looked in, and suddenly realized that I had none left…

You see, I had simply spent far too many fucks on things that did not matter. I used up way too much energy on stuff that just did not suit me. And, in a panic, I realized my inability to direct my fucks properly meant I was barreling at high speed into a future in which I would be miserable. But, of course, I woke up in time to right the ship.

Manson actually describes this process in his article (emphasis mine):

When we’re young, we have tons of energy. Everything is new and exciting. And everything seems to matter so much. Therefore, we give tons of fucks. We give a fuck about everything and everyone — about what people are saying about us, about whether that cute boy/girl called us back or not, about whether our socks match or not or what color our birthday balloon is.

As we get older, we gain experience and begin to notice that most of these things have little lasting impact on our lives. Those people’s opinions we cared about so much before have long been removed from our lives. We’ve found the love we need and so those embarrassing romantic rejections cease to mean much anymore. We realize how little people pay attention to the superficial details about us and we focus on doing things more for ourselves rather than for others.

Since the day I stopped giving a fuck, I’ve been very selective about how I spend my time, who I spend it with and where I direct my energy. I’ve also been careful about listening to my body and my intuition, resting when I need to rest, exercising when I need to move and vegging when I need to veg. Yes, this is actually a pretty new thing for me.

Taking more control over my life and what I want out of it has been nothing short of empowering, actually. Realizing things like “Who the fuck cares if it’s Saturday night, I’m staying in, crocheting and watching one-star rated rom-coms on Netflix”. Or “I know it’s 6:30 in the morning, but I feel like going to the park and getting some sprints in”, Or “This person is toxic and uncomfortable, time to remove them from my life”. Or “Fuck it, I’m eating kale for lunch everyday because I want to wear my leopard print bikini again this summer”.

Looking back, I realize that my sudden lack of fucks was no accident. Just as I had accidentally found that Mark Manson article and slowly uploaded it to my brain, I have also run into many real life examples of what happens when you don’t make that no-fucks-given transition that Manson talks about. A few of those depressing examples have come in the form of:

-The coworker who sacrificed friendship, healthy family relationships and fulfilling hobbies for a job she hated because it’s the only thing that gave her validation. (She was constantly miserable, bitter and anxious as a result).

-The ex who complained constantly about life but refused to make any attempts at self-improvement because he was afraid of uncertainty (and wanted someone, me, to do the hard work for him)

-The manager who got fired because he couldn’t push his ego aside long enough to follow company rules (and state laws)

All kinds of fucks haphazardly given to the wrong things.

Even though I don’t know what the future will look like now that I have so few fucks to give, I’m still excited to find out.

In the words of Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher:

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

Stop giving a fuck, and start living.

-C

P.S. Many thanks to Mark Manson for inspiring positive change in myself and others. Check out all of his awesome content here.

the perfectionism lie.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Back in college, as a prerequisite to graduating, we were required to spend several hours in the Career Center.  There were a variety of sessions we had to sit through, most of which revolved around how to write a cover letter and resume as well as job search strategies and networking.  In one session on interview skills, our Career Counselor told us that a good way to answer the popular “greatest weakness” question is to say that you are a perfectionist.*

“Weakness?”, I thought. “That’s my greatest strength!”.  Or so I thought.

I certainly did pride myself on being a perfectionist.  It was simply how I was raised.  In my household growing up, anything less than perfection in terms of schoolwork, job performance or behavior simply was not tolerated.  Mistakes were not just frowned upon, but unacceptable.  As I got older and moved away to college, I certainly internalized this, striving for 100% excellence in everything.

I was able to balance multiple internships, side work, and DJing/news-casting at the local radio station all while maintaining a very high GPA.  Perfectly executing every task in front of me, I thought, was the path to success and happiness.  However, I quickly found out that aiming for perfectionism is not only destructive but also counter-intuitive in the long run.  Why?

Perfection doesn’t exist.

Sure, you can put on the facade of perfection and you can certainly obsess over the most minute of details in every single project you ever work on.  But you won’t ever be perfect.  Your work won’t ever be perfect.

Eventually, you will start to realize this, but, like an addict, you will continue to reach for that thing that is just beyond your grasp.  And then procrastination, burn-out, stress and a crippling fear of failure or rejection (all common side-effects of perfectionism), will start to take over.

As I started dealing with those perfection related problems, I realized that chasing after such an unattainable goal was not only making me miserable, it was killing me.

The truth is, deep-down, I knew that perfectionism was a lie.  I never, ever held any other person to the standard I held for myself.  I loved seeing my friends and colleagues reach their goals and gain new skills and when they stumbled, I told them how these mistakes were simply life-lessons that would help them do better in the future.  Physician, heal thyself.

I’m still learning that being less than perfect is just fine.  In my more stressfed moments, many times on nights when my insomnia relentlessly keeps my awake, I have to remind myself  that life will continue to have ups-and-downs, failures, successes and setbacks. And that’s OK.

To being super human, not superhuman,
-C

*By the way, this was and still is horrible interview advise.  Telling an entire group of students to give the same, canned, played-out answer to a common interview question is ridiculous.  Seriously, don’t use this in your next job interview.