Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life http://www.walkingoncustard.com A Guide for Anxious Humans Sat, 18 Mar 2017 09:10:50 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.3 Sort of Fake It till you Sort of Make It http://www.walkingoncustard.com/sort-fake-till-sort-make/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/sort-fake-till-sort-make/#respond Sat, 18 Mar 2017 09:10:50 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2557 [post status: a quick & messy throwaway thought]

It’s a two-way street between our feelings and our actions. Sometimes we perform well because we’re confident, but acting confident also helps our performance.

Hence the popular advice: “Fake it till you make it!”

This advice is popular because it works. Smiling genuinely makes us feel a …

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[post status: a quick & messy throwaway thought]

It’s a two-way street between our feelings and our actions. Sometimes we perform well because we’re confident, but acting confident also helps our performance.

Hence the popular advice: “Fake it till you make it!”

This advice is popular because it works. Smiling genuinely makes us feel a little happier, even if we’re smiling for no reason. Standing up straight makes us feel stronger, and hence more confident. And other people react to the subconscious cues we give off: if we look confident, they’ll treat us as if we are, which makes us more confident. It’s a virtuous circle.

BUT

From a place of unconfidence, “fake it till you make it” can be really intimidating advice.

“You’re saying I have to DO this scary thing AND pretend to enjoy it?!”

This pressure to pretend can add a whole range of complications, from impostor syndrome (“What happens if they find out I’m a fraud?!”) to concentrating so hard on ‘faking it’ we get distracted from whatever it is we’re trying “make it” in in the first place.

Perhaps the answer is to dial it down a bit:

Sort of Fake It Till You Sort of Make It

There’s no reason everything has to be perfect right from the off. We don’t have to give an Oscar-winning performance of Captain Confidence, all shiny-white smiles and effortless success.

It’s perfectly okay to just fake it a bit.

This way, a little sheen of pretend confidence is just another tool in our arsenal, and not an additional layer of pressure to perform.

What does this look like? I guess it depends, but a little extra smile, or remembering to straighten our posture, or saying yes to something we’re not quite sure about – all these small acts of fake confidence without pressuring ourselves if we forget, or let the mask slip for a moment.

(In fact, it’s probably better if the mask slips a bit, as then we’ll see that the perfect performance doesn’t matter as much as we think it does, which can start creating some REAL confidence in ourselves.)

This may seem like the most obvious advice in the world, but to a fellow recovering perfectionist “Fake It Till You Make It” sounds like it requires a flawless performance.

It doesn’t.

Take the pressure off. Maybe sort-of making it is enough for today.

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Do You Feel the Need to Be Impressive? http://www.walkingoncustard.com/need-to-be-impressive/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/need-to-be-impressive/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 08:38:36 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2541 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

Hi, my name’s Neil Hughes and, because I’m human, I want you to be impressed by me.

This is a normal urge. We are social animals, so it’s natural to be concerned about our status within the tribe.

Our brains: Am I important? What do …

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[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

Hi, my name’s Neil Hughes and, because I’m human, I want you to be impressed by me.

This is a normal urge. We are social animals, so it’s natural to be concerned about our status within the tribe.

Our brains: Am I important? What do people think when they meet me?

As ever, there’s both a healthy mindset and an unhealthy mindset about our own impressiveness. Here’s an example of each:

Unhealthy: If I don’t have a massive list of incredible achievements, I am next-to-nothing.

Healthy: Simply following my passions and having fun as I explore my potential is impressive enough.

When we’re in the unhealthy mindset, it can feel as if enjoying our own potential could never be enough, but as soon as you make the switch it seems obvious that we don’t need incredible achievements to be impressive.

Think about the times when you’ve been impressed by people that you’ve met. Were they all world leaders? Famous inventors? The best in their field?

No, of course not. We are naturally impressed when people are comfortable in their own skin and live up to their potential, whatever that means for them.

But it’s not easy to remain in this healthy mindset. Plenty of things can get in the way…

Random person: Hi, I speak eleventy languages, have published whompteen books, and only stop working on my multiple businesses when it’s time to master metalwork. Or whatever else I feel like mastering that day. Before breakfast.

Other people’s achievements can lead to thoughts of inferiority which take the shine away from our own achievements.

Inner monologue: I was really happy when I wrote that blog post people liked, but then I saw someone get a thousand retweets and now I’m convinced that I suck.

But it’s important to remember that our achievements are not lessened by the achievements of others. Winning an amateur football trophy isn’t meaningless just because it’s not the World Cup.

Remember: We Don’t Need to Impress Anyone

When we’re at our strongest, we explore our passions because we want to. Others may not understand why we want to learn to read Old English, or to paint using watercolours, or to grow tropical plants. We know why, and that’s all that matters. It’s not about other people.

Sure, part of our motivation may be to help or entertain others, but it’s still our motivation. When we’re in a healthy mindset, we don’t operate out of a hollow desire to impress, but from a solid core of desire to create something for another.

When we start doing things purely to impress others, we undermine that strength. If we switch our motivation from “this seems cool” to “others might think I am cool if I do it,” we lose sight of our personal growth and enjoyment, which can lead to demotivation and lack of joy.

The solution is to remind ourselves of what we truly want, and to go for it. If anyone else is impressed (and they will be!) then that’s a bonus.

But, hold on… My status-obsessed-primate-brain is objecting again. What about when we encounter somebody who is undeniably doing better than we are? Someone who is simply a better writer, or businessperson, or linguist? In practice, it’s hard to avoid feeling inferior when this happens. So how do we deal with this?

We Decide What Success is

For each of our interests, we get to choose what it means to “win.” Perhaps we won’t be satisfied until we’ve mastered it. That’s fine. Or perhaps we’ll be happy after grasping the basics. That’s also fine.

I taught myself guitar a few years ago. I suck at it.

Really. I’m not just saying that. With a guitar, I am offensive to both music and the physics of soundwaves. I can nearly play a few chords. Badly.

But I’m happy with that. I got as far as I wanted to, and learned about chord structure, which massively improved my ability to play other instruments (on which I am not quite as offensive to all that is good in the world).

Success is what we choose it to be. The only way to fail is to forget that we set the victory conditions, and to falsely believe that we need to impress others to win.

This liberates us, allowing us to both be contented with our achievements and to enjoy the experience of improving. (If you enjoy clichés, you can insert your own thoughts about “journey not destination” here.)

Although… there is one final objection. What if our victory condition truly is “I must be impressively good at this?” Are we cursed with unhappiness in that case?

Our Mental Models of Talent are Skewed

The most visible people in every niche are usually the most successful/skilful. This means that our mental model of others in our niche is waaaaay skewed in favour of people who are more successful than average.

According to Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking, Fast and Slow), our brains use something called the availability heuristic to make judgements. Our minds take shortcuts by creating a mental model based on the first few examples that come to mind when we think of a specific thing.

For example, if we think of “a tennis player,” we think of people such as Andy Murray, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, but we forget the many (many!) more tennis players who are less talented and who play in their local park instead of at Wimbledon.

If we met every tennis player in the world, we would have a much more accurate picture of where we stand. But we can’t do that, so our brain takes shortcuts and compares us to the most obvious examples – usually the very best!

This makes us feel disproportionately bad about our own abilities.

And this applies in every niche we’re involved in. In reality, we’re probably more impressive than we realise

but that doesn’t matter. If we make impressing ourselves our goal, we will find it much easier to be happier and successful. And, ironically, others will be more impressed by us too.*

* But that’s not the point.

Neil Hughes hopes you liked this blogpost, and thereby validate his existence. Let him know in the comments!

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Jiggling an Imaginary Rope Helps You Re-Evaluate Your Life http://www.walkingoncustard.com/resonance/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/resonance/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 08:11:21 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2491 [Warning: contains mild physics.]

Imagine a short piece of rope. We’ll call him Ropert.

Let’s imagine that Ropert represents our lives.

(Ideally without overthinking why a rope represents anything. It just does.)

There are a number of things you could do with Ropert. Let’s start with the simplest: absolutely nothing. If you simply let …

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[Warning: contains mild physics.]

Imagine a short piece of rope. We’ll call him Ropert.

Let’s imagine that Ropert represents our lives.

(Ideally without overthinking why a rope represents anything. It just does.)

There are a number of things you could do with Ropert. Let’s start with the simplest: absolutely nothing. If you simply let Ropert dangle, then absolutely nothing happens.

If you do nothing, nothing happens.

This is a fairly obvious life truth. What’s next?

Well, what if I started doing the littlest amount possible?

Well, imagine I hold Ropert and move him back and forth VERY SLOWLY. What happens?

The rope just moves along with my hand.

Inner critic: What’s with the unreasonably long arms?! And… is that meant to be a rope moving slowly back and forth? Have you not heard of ANIMATION?

Can you imagine how bad my animation would be, if this is my doodle?

Inner critic: Fair point.

Anyway. Moving Ropert back and forth slowly just… moves him back and forth slowly.

Tiny amounts of effort lead to tiny results

So maybe if I use more effort, I’ll get more results? Let me turn the dial up to MAXIMUM EFFORT and see what happens to Ropert. Imagine holding a rope, and moving your hands back and forth as fast as possible.

In this case, a strange thing happens. Shaking AS FAST AS POSSIBLE makes the tip of the rope remain stationary.

(Don’t believe me? Get a piece of string or similar and try it yourself.)

Inner critic: …

Inner critic: I expected nothing, and I am still disappointed.

The art doesn’t matter. The point is that: MAXIMUM ATTEMPTED EFFORT leads to thrashing around and zero results

The sweet spot, then, is somewhere in the middle.

Imagine holding Ropert and starting out slowly moving him back and forth, and then gradually speeding up.

At some point something strange happens. The rope starts swinging MUCH further than I am moving it. Eventually I find a pace where I barely have to move my hand at all, and the whole rope is swinging back-and-forth at maximum length.

This is the resonant frequency.

When we swing Ropert at the resonant frequency, we hardly have to move our hands at all, but he swings around like a madman. Or mad rope. Or whatever.

The exact right amount of effort creates results much larger than the amount of effort we put in.

Physically speaking, pretty much everything has a resonant frequency. (It’s not always a good thing. This is why sometimes bridges have to be redesigned, because they accidentally vibrate at their resonant frequency in the wind and shake themselves to bits.)

And it can feel as if our lives have a resonant frequency too. Putting in the right amount of effort into everything we do so that it resonates is the real sweet spot.

As we’ve seen, not trying at all leads to nothing, trying too hard leads to nothing and trying just a bit leads to small results.

But finding the exact right amount of effort, applied in the right way, leads to the best results.

What do I do about it?

What we need to change depends on what we’re currently doing.

Are you currently flailing around desperately trying everything you can think of? Maybe you’re in the MAXIMUM EFFORT failure zone, and slowing it down a bit will help you out.

Or are you hardly putting in any effort at all? (This one’s easier to understand – generally we know when we could be trying harder and a gentle nudge would be helpful.)

The key point is that it’s not always true that more effort equals more results. We have to figure out for ourselves how to find our resonance in our own lives.

Does this post resonate with you? (Sorry.) Let me know in the comments!


No cartoon ropes were harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

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Why You’re So Confused About What You Want http://www.walkingoncustard.com/youre-confused-want/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/youre-confused-want/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 08:04:43 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2518 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

There’s lots of advice out there on how to achieve your dreams.

But what if I don’t know what my dream even is?! How on earth do I move on when I have difficulty realising what I even want?

Being enticed by every option is almost …

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[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

There’s lots of advice out there on how to achieve your dreams.

But what if I don’t know what my dream even is?! How on earth do I move on when I have difficulty realising what I even want?

Being enticed by every option is almost as bad as having no attractive options whatsoever.

(When it comes to making a choice, anyway. From a happiness perspective it’s definitely preferable to have multiple attractive possibilities.)

The Answer Lies Within

I sometimes feel like a broken record. It frustrates me that the answer to so many life questions seems to be “get better at self-knowledge”.

It’s doubly annoying, because I hate being told to get to know myself better! It’s fundamentally irritating advice to receive.

But when it comes to figuring out what we want, of course the answer is lies in greater self-knowledge.

Then again, it is surprising to learn that we don’t know our own desires. Surely our wants should just be obvious?

Because of this, it’s tempting to pile additional frustration on top of the confusion.

Inner critic: Why don’t you know yourself?! Why don’t you know what you want? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!

It’s important not to be too hard on ourselves. Being confused about our desires is very normal. There are many reasons why we might not automatically know what we want…

We Are Made of Layers

A big part of our confusion is that the story we tell ourselves is wrong. We’re not a single, coherent self with obvious and clear goals. We’re a mess of contradictory wants and desires.

For example, we want to spend time lazing around, but we also want to achieve great things with our time. We want to eat as much junk food as we can, but we want to live healthily too. And so on…

For most of our desires, there exists a part of us that wants to do the opposite. This doesn’t make us hypocrites or idiots. It just makes us human.

To clarify these confusions we need to put in some actual work to separate out these different layers, using a combination of gut feeling, intuition, and our rational minds.

Let’s look at what some of these layers might be.

Layer One: Aspirational Wants

When I can’t figure out the answer to a personal question, a useful trick is to take the question one level higher. So “what do I want” becomes “what do I want to want?”

In other words, what would Imaginary Ideal Me want to do with his life?

Sometimes this helps to reveal values I didn’t realize I had. If my answer is “I wish I was the kind of person who wanted to climb mountains”… well, then I AM the kind of person who wants to climb mountains. I just hadn’t realized it.

Discovering our aspirational wants may help bring some clarity to the other layers.

Layer Two: Conflicting Timeframe Wants

Our wants exist on different timescales, and sometimes they conflict with one another.

Maybe there’s a confused contradiction because our medium-term goals conflict with our long-term goals. Perhaps we want to do well in our current job, but that job isn’t taking us closer to our eventual dream. These goals are in conflict.

It’s worth a little examination of how our various wants fit together on different timeframes. If goals conflict, do we want to prioritize short-term, medium-term or long-term gain?

Layer Three: Absorbed Wants

Sometimes we absorb wants from other people. Maybe our parents impressed on us their deep desire for us to become lawyers, and we’ve spent our whole lives being affected by that imprint, consciously or unconsciously.

This isn’t to blame anyone, of course. Parents are free to suggest or even push their kids towards certain careers, but adult children are just as free to examine those suggestions and accept or reject them.

It’s when we’re being unconsciously steered by wants we’ve absorbed from others – teachers, parents, society at large – that we can become confused.

Layer Four: Directly Competing Wants

Once we’ve eliminated some of the above layers, what we’re left with are the things we actually want to do… right?

Sadly, the question still isn’t answered, because the reality is that we can’t have everything we want, and we often have to choose between multiple good options.

Choice paralysis is definitely a thing. Sometimes we resist choosing anything at all because we don’t want to limit our options later. But assuming we’ve worked through this and have accepted that choosing something is better than choosing nothing, we may still have desires that conflict.

I can’t study agriculture AND medicine AND astrophysics (at least, not at the same time!). So I have to choose between them. It’s not my place to tell you which of your wants is best for you. But luckily we’re quite good at choosing between options once we get them on the table.

Once we’ve examined what’s going on inside, we may have a better chance at handling this layer and choosing our favorite option (and don’t forget that we can choose another option later, and then another option after that).

Summing Up

These layers aren’t exhaustive, but once we understand that different factions may be fighting inside us, it makes much more sense that we’re confused about what we want.

Keep in mind that getting to know ourselves and creating coherent goals we care about is the work of a lifetime. You aren’t alone here; we’re all uncovering hidden parts of ourselves all the time.

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Is it Too Late for Me? http://www.walkingoncustard.com/is-it-too-late-for-me/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/is-it-too-late-for-me/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 15:04:37 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2514 [This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

At some point, everyone worries if it’s too late. Time comes for us all. Our lives drip away at a constant rate of one second per second. This is – to put it mildly – slightly worrying.

Worse, we can’t escape the realization that every choice …

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[This post was originally written for puttylike.com]

At some point, everyone worries if it’s too late. Time comes for us all. Our lives drip away at a constant rate of one second per second. This is – to put it mildly – slightly worrying.

Worse, we can’t escape the realization that every choice we make forces us to leave all other paths untaken. Decisions made in childhood can prevent us from entering whole professions decades later.

Then there’s the media, “helpfully” presenting constant images of youth, subtly reinforcing the idea that if we haven’t achieved enough by the time we’re twenty thirty forty whatever age, we have failed.

And so our brains put a ticking clock on every dream, and we wonder… “Is this it for me now? Am I stuck? Is it too late?!”

It’s amazing how young we are when these thoughts begin. I remember worrying in my early twenties that my life was over, that I was stuck with my decisions and condemned to the track I was on forever. This seems ridiculous to me now.

It’s not just me. Since I started to write about anxiety, I’ve regularly heard from college students who are anxious about having “missed their chance,” terrified that their decisions have trapped them irrevocably. From outside, it’s obvious that they still have the whole world to choose from, but it doesn’t seem that way to them.

I’ve also met people in their fifties and sixties who are making huge, inspiring life changes. No doubt they see me – merely in my early thirties – as having the potential for even huger changes, just as I see those younger than me as having practically infinite freedom compared to me.

As usual, we humans are terrible judges of our own situations.

It’s Never Too Late, Right?

Luckily, there’s plenty of pushback against this depressing narrative. We’re told “it’s never too late,” at least in theory.

And it’s true: there’s certainly no rule preventing us from changing career or developing a new skill at whatever age we like.

The universe does not impose such rules; we create them in our heads and act accordingly. As such, I firmly intend to be doing new, interesting, and surprising things until I physically no longer can.

Still, there’s that nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “suuuuure… it’s never too late, but…”

It’s a Little More Complex than That

While in one sense we’re limited only by our dreams, we shouldn’t ignore that we’re also limited by – you know – actual limitations.

It’s not too late for me in general, but it’s definitely too late for me to be a professional footballer, dancer, or astronaut. (This is a mercy for anyone who likes football or dancing. Or space, for that matter.) In fact, I freely admit that these dreams are impossible at this stage of my life.

But many other dreams are certainly not impossible, though they may be harder than they used to be to achieve. If I wanted, I could retrain as a lawyer, or a doctor, or get a degree, or take up pottery…

At every stage of life, there remains a tremendous number of possibilities open to us.

The Death of One Dream is Not the Death of All Dreams

But if it’s true that we always have many options, why is it so common to believe “it’s too late,” even when we’re young?

Apart from the (huge factors) of media pressure and the nature of time itself, I think it’s because we are naturally short-sighted when we desire something.

When a dream is unrealized – via failure, rejection, circumstance, or even our own choice – it can feel as if the whole world has ended. We have zoomed in so much on only one possibility that we forgot all others existed. But these other options didn’t stop existing just because we failed to notice them for a while.

Now I like to think of it like this:

It’s never “too late.” Until our lives are actually over, it can only ever be “too late for these things in particular.”

This is a useless idea unless we know how to apply it.

If we’ve truly missed the window for a dream, there’s no sense in battling the universe. We have to accept that this particular idea will remain a dream.

This doesn’t necessitate letting go entirely. Even if we missed being an astronaut, we could channel that passion somehow. Maybe we’d be happy simply reading books about space. Or working at a space centre supporting astronauts, or whatever.

Letting go of impossible dreams, or finding a healthy outlet for them, frees up our energy for the many goals that remain achievable.

Our cognitive biases come into play here. It’s easy to convince ourselves that difficulty is the same as impossibility.

“I’m too old to get into law… to start my own business… to become a writer… to open a cafe…”

We must figure out if that’s actually true, or if we’re just making excuses for any of the normal reasons. Perhaps these thoughts will help:

It might not actually be too late for this dream. Have you really thought about it, or have you just assumed you’re too old?

What would you say to someone younger than you thinking about doing this?

If you heard that someone ten years older than you did this thing, would you find the story utterly unbelievable? If not, maybe you can do it too.

Would someone older than you believe you could do it at your age?

Others have had success at every age. And we get to choose what success means for us!

You have to put your time into something. If you don’t put it into what you want, you’re putting it into something you don’t want.

Very often, it’s not too late. We’re just scared. Of success. Of failure. Of our own lack of motivation.

If you’re worried it’s too late for you to follow a particular dream, you still have this choice: accept it and let go, or keep chasing the dream.

Anything else is not worth your time.

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The Past is The Past is The Past http://www.walkingoncustard.com/the-past-is-the-past-is-the-past/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/the-past-is-the-past-is-the-past/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 11:51:38 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2455 [Status: Only a quick undeveloped realisation.]

Isn’t it weird that something that happened years ago “feels like yesterday”, while something that happened last week “feels like forever ago”?

Well actually, I’ve just realised it might not be weird at all.

All memories are stored in our brains. They’re simply clusters of neurons*.

* or whatever. …

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Time by dkalo, on Flickr

Original Photo © Dimitris Kalogeropoylos, dkalo on Flickr.
CC BY-SA 2.0

[Status: Only a quick undeveloped realisation.]

Isn’t it weird that something that happened years ago “feels like yesterday”, while something that happened last week “feels like forever ago”?

Well actually, I’ve just realised it might not be weird at all.

All memories are stored in our brains. They’re simply clusters of neurons*.

* or whatever. I’m not a neuroscientist.

And that’s true whether something happened yesterday, last week, or decades ago.

So perhaps what’s wrong is my expectation that it SHOULD feel different if a memory is recent – compared to if it’s something which happened long ago.

So What?

I guess there’s not much practical use for this idea. But it still helps me to reframe my relationship with the past a little more.

I mean, there’s a very real sense in which the past doesn’t exist.

(You could search the entire universe and not find “your past” anywhere except inside your own brain. Even evidence of the past – like a love letter from an ex – is simply a reminder of something that no longer exists.)

And this realisation helps to remind me that this is true for the very recent past just as much as for ancient history.

Once something is done, it’s gone. It exists only in our minds.**

** this isn’t to say it doesn’t matter! Our minds exist, and are very important.

The past is the past, whenever it happened.

And that makes it our choice what – if anything – we decide to do about that.


No no-longer-existent memories were harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

The post The Past is The Past is The Past appeared first on Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life.

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Some Reminders About Your Value http://www.walkingoncustard.com/some-reminders-about-your-value/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/some-reminders-about-your-value/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 11:37:06 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2470  .

It’s surprisingly easy to forget these things about ourselves:

You have value.

It is inherent. It is part of you.

This value is not bestowed on you by others. Other’s opinions about you are relevant… but they are not relevant to what you are worth.

Your value is intrinsic. It cannot be taken away.

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Value by MootreeLife, on Flickr

Original Photo © Jackie, mootreelife on Flickr.
CC BY-ND 2.0

 .


It’s surprisingly easy to forget these things about ourselves:

You have value.

It is inherent. It is part of you.

This value is not bestowed on you by others. Other’s opinions about you are relevant… but they are not relevant to what you are worth.

Your value is intrinsic. It cannot be taken away.

What you do does not change what you are worth. You may do great things; you may do bad things. Either way, you are of value.

(Doing great things adds value to the world, but not to you.)

You are neither more nor less valuable than anybody else.

Your worth is not based on material possessions. Whatever you have does not affect whatever you are.

You do not have to be observed to have value. Even when you are alone, you are worth just the same as whenever you have company… whether they’re praising you, laughing with you or arguing with you.

Nothing others do, say or believe changes your value.

People choosing to spend time with you – or not – does not affect your value.

Your beliefs about your worth do not affect your worth.

(It’s more helpful to have positive beliefs, but whatever you believe doesn’t change the value itself.)

Nothing you do, or have done, can change your value.

Your flaws – real or imagined – do not affect your value.

In fact, your past does not affect your value.

Your abilities do not affect your value.

Your circumstances do not affect your value.

Your role(s) in life do not affect your value.

Your opinions – good, or terrible – do not affect your value.*

Your romantic success does not affect your value.

Your sexual attractiveness does not affect your value.

Your physical fitness does not affect your value.

[x thing you are worrying about] does not affect your value.

Your value is yours, and nothing can change that.

* (It’s probably better to have good beliefs – true, loving, charitable, and so on. Believing this way can help to lead a happier life, and to create opportunities for happiness for the world. But even people who believe in false, hateful things have intrinsic value… even as they destroy the value they could be adding to the world.)

Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments!


No incorrect beliefs were harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

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Doing Things is Overrated… So Stop (A Bit) http://www.walkingoncustard.com/doing-things-overrated-stop/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/doing-things-overrated-stop/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 15:52:48 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2453 You know that bit in the Simpsons intro where Maggie is steering on a pretend wheel to mimic the driving that Marge is doing?

Our brains would genuinely be happier if we could attach a fake steering wheel to “life” and pretend we were controlling everything that happens to us.

The brain fears a lack …

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resting by Michael Cory, on Flickr

Original Photo © Michael Cory, khouri on Flickr.
CC BY 2.0

You know that bit in the Simpsons intro where Maggie is steering on a pretend wheel to mimic the driving that Marge is doing?

Maggie (copyright Fox, or whoever owns the Simpsons these days)

Maggie Simpson (copyright Fox, or whoever owns the Simpsons these days)

Our brains would genuinely be happier if we could attach a fake steering wheel to “life” and pretend we were controlling everything that happens to us.

The brain fears a lack of control. It only understands one thing: either WE are in control, or the whole rest of the universe gets to decide our fate!

So the brain constructs a narrative where it controls everything – even if it’s only an illusion, a fake steering wheel the brain has made for itself.

At root, this desire for control is positive. It drives us to make changes and improve our lives. But – like pretty much all positive drives – it comes with a flip side: the brain can refuse to let go of the illusion of control, even when we legitimately don’t have any.


It’s impossible to be in control of everything.

Even if we were to put ourselves in a purpose-built bunker with all of our needs taken care of, we would STILL be reliant on the outside world not busting in with bunker bombs.

(And if we invited anyone else to live in our bunker… there goes our perfectly controlled universe. This person would no doubt DARE to have opinions on what tv shows to watch, what time they get to use the shower, and generally irritating us by being independent entities with their own thoughts and feelings and desires. The scoundrels.)

Learning to accept that we can’t fashion the entire universe to our liking is an important step on the Road To Happiness TM.


But why does this matter? Can’t we just control as much as possible?

Controlling as much as possible is a good thing… IF we stick carefully to the true limits of what is possible.

(Another way of looking at this is that we should take as much responsibility over our own lives as possible… and no more.)

There are two flaws with over-controlling our lives. The obvious one is “trying to control something we can’t”. The less-obvious flaw is trying to control something we shouldn’t.

And an over-controlling brain causes more problems when the right answer to a situation is to do nothing.

Our minds don’t like to admit it, but there are many times that “do nothing” is the correct response:

  • Resting/recovering from a depressive episode
  • Waiting for someone else to process something before we can have a productive conversation with them about it
  • Awaiting the result of a decision
  • Baking

In each of these situations (and in many more), taking action will only make our situation worse.

Our brains need to rest (particularly those with mental health issues exacerbated by chemical imbalances – rest is key!). People making decisions are often irritated by being nagged for an answer (sometimes a gentle nudge is the right way, sometimes patience). Opening the oven while baking can screw up the process.

But that desire from our brains to CONTROL ALL THE THINGS means that they wrongly believe that doing nothing means giving up control.

And so we fidget impatiently… and oftentimes end up taking action that we shouldn’t.

When we feel the urge to ACT, perhaps it would help to remember:

Resting is a legitimate positive choice. Doing nothing is a legitimate positive choice.

Not taking action is an action. (There’s a bit of logic in there somewhere.)

Allowing ourselves to believe this frees us up to enjoy resting, to allow space for the rest of the universe to do what it does, and to stop ourselves from making things worse by pushing ourselves or others too hard.

Are you trying to force things? Are you allowing yourself enough space to rest? If not… perhaps try to relax your thinking about action and control.

Taking this action might help you take less action in future.


NOTE: Remember that the opposite of all advice is also true! This post shouldn’t be an excuse for passivity when action is genuinely required. Sadly, we always have to do the work to see if we ought to take action or not. But once we’ve figured out that we should be passive – or should act – we need to allow ourselves to act appropriately… even if the current action is to wait.


No cartoon cars were harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

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The Three Causes of Anxiety http://www.walkingoncustard.com/three-causes-anxiety/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/three-causes-anxiety/#comments Mon, 14 Nov 2016 09:11:34 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2440 You can divide up the causes of anxiety into three.

I

In the past, my default response to anxiety was to try to change the universe.

My anxiety is caused by THIS circumstance, and if I can FIX THAT then the anxiety will go away.

For example: “I don’t live in the right place” …

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Solitude at the horizon by aπ, on Flickr

Original Photo © aπ, on Flickr.
CC BY 2.0

You can divide up the causes of anxiety into three.


I

In the past, my default response to anxiety was to try to change the universe.

My anxiety is caused by THIS circumstance, and if I can FIX THAT then the anxiety will go away.

For example: “I don’t live in the right place” or “I’m not dating the right person” or “my desk chair at work is giving me backache”.

Sometimes the examples were on a grander scale: “if the government weren’t awful, I would be less anxious”. Or “if the team I support won the league, I’d be happy.”

There’s probably some truth in all of those thoughts.

Having the dream job/relationship/home/social life/government would certainly help.

(As would having a comfier chair at work.)

But none of those things are within my direct control.

To varying extents, I can influence each of them. But I can’t bring any of them into reality myself.

For a while, my anxiety was always something that existed out there, and only changing the universe to suit me could possibly fix it.

Anxiety was external. It was something that was DONE to me by the universe.


II

Then I realised that my anxiety was more than just irritation with how my life was going.

Perhaps it was something deeper. If I “had anxiety”, didn’t that mean there was something WRONG with me?

It must be a chemical thing.

Again, there’s truth in this. Sometimes anxiety is (a bit) chemical. If improve my diet, exercise more, get enough sleep, and perhaps take medication, then the chemicals I experience as anxiety will balance out a little more.

But again… I can’t control this. I can’t directly alter my body chemistry.

I can take actions which may indirectly affect it. But I can’t alter it at will.

Anxiety was internal. It was an unconscious chemical flaw which was DONE to me by my own body.


III

But… just as with the external sources of anxiety, this isn’t the whole story.

There’s also everything which happens inside my head.

It feels as if internal-head-stuff is derided by modern society.

“It’s all in your head” is said in the same way as “it’s not real”; as if our heads and what happens inside them aren’t real.

Spoiler: you have never experienced anything that didn’t happen inside your own head.

What happens inside my head is the realest stuff there is. And the same holds true for each and every human on this planet.

(As far as I can tell, anyway. I haven’t been in anyone’s head but my own. But it seems like we all operate pretty much the same way. UNLESS THE REST OF YOU ARE ROBOTS.)

It took me a long time to come to this realisation.

Not that you’re all robots. I mean that I can change my thinking patterns and reactions and feel differently about things, and it’s NOT a cop-out, and it doesn’t mean accepting negative circumstances, and it is just as real as anything else.

It’s hard work. But luckily, unlike the entire universe and our body chemistry, our heads are also the only thing we can truly control.

Not perfectly, and not immediately. But with practice we can alter our reactions to everything. Those thinking patterns were learned through habit, and that means they can be unlearned through habit too.

Anxiety is internal, and it’s a process I participate in.


IV

I think a complete response to anxiety requires making changes on all three of these levels.

Making an effort to fix whatever we can in our external circumstances, without being afraid of change, and without being too attached to any given outcome.

Making an effort to improve our bodily health: diet, exercise, sleep, medication (if our doctors think it’s appropriate).

And, most of all, making an effort to change our attitudes and patterns of thinking, by recognising the hidden custard traps which undermine our inner peace, and replacing them over time with positive thoughts.

That’s a long process, but for today, try to recognise where any anxiety you’re feeling is coming from. Is it REALLY from out there? Or is there some level of control you can take back over it – even if it’s only a tiny, tiny bit?


No sources of anxiety were harmed during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

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Links III: A Nod and a Cheeky Link http://www.walkingoncustard.com/links-iii-nod-cheeky-link/ http://www.walkingoncustard.com/links-iii-nod-cheeky-link/#comments Sat, 05 Nov 2016 15:15:50 +0000 http://www.walkingoncustard.com/?p=2350 It’s time for the semi-irregular roundup of interesting things from the internet.

Get The Stick – An excellent short comic about determination to achieve our goals.

Is our culture too attuned to loneliness? Interesting story about how European colonials often defected to join Native Americans, but nobody ever went the …

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It’s time for the semi-irregular roundup of interesting things from the internet.


Get The Stick – An excellent short comic about determination to achieve our goals.

Is our culture too attuned to loneliness? Interesting story about how European colonials often defected to join Native Americans, but nobody ever went the other way: is something sick in “Western” culture?

What makes tacky houses tacky? Super fascinating exploration of “McMansions” with illustrations and sarcastic comments.

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds – title is a bit clickbaity but it’s an interesting reminder that we need to think outside of the options we’re offered by our technology.

Narcissists and Emotional Intelligence. Are narcissists primed for success? Well, it appears that while narcissism gives you a short-term boost in popularity, long-term you’re better off learning to be emotionally intelligent and investing in real relationships. Who’d have thought it?!

Practice doesn’t quite make perfect

On a similar note, self-discipline is overrated

How making things harder for drivers paradoxically makes roads safer. (I love this, because it shows how the intuitive ideas we have about the world are so often wrong.)

Pareto efficiency is an interesting way to think about decision making. Warning: contains maths.

A Bad Carver – thinking about how society began by having everything integrated, and how technology has gradually split things apart and is now reuniting them again

The Lost Civilization of Dial Up: a pleasantly nostalgic trip through the 1990s alternative internet


And there we have it. Some things I have recently enjoyed.

I’d love to hear if you read/enjoyed/agreed/disagreed with any of these.

(But if not, that’s fine too.)

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