Staying Sane in an Insane World

Staying Sane in an Insane World

The world is going to hell in a hand basket.

At least that is what it seems like.

Everyday there is something else going wrong. In the last week, war broke out in Ukraine, and South African artist and icon Riky Rick committed suicide. It is not like war isn’t going on everyday somewhere in the world. And it’s not like people don’t commit suicide every day. But at this time, as a result of media obsession and celebrity, these events stand out and weigh heavy on our collective consciousness.

It was a dark week. In the past few weeks, I’ve had people close to me admit suicidal ideation or attempt. I know what that feels like, I’ve been there before. And as I write all of this now, I’m realising just how heavy the dark cloud has been the past few days.

And I don’t know what to say or how to help.

I generally try not to feel…too much.

I’m not a robot I know, and I think I am actually a sensitive and emotional person at the core. But I’ve never felt comfortable with it, with feeling. Emotions are powerful, the true definition of compelling. But they are often inaccurate, or counter productive. They are an inescapable part of the human experience. Between the ego, our history, our trauma, our fears and desires, they are always there, pushing and pulling us.

We live through the entire gamut of emotion – joy, pain, sadness, elation, desire, fear, jealousy, love, anger, impatience, anxiety. And if we do not learn to live with and master them, they can rule us. They are strong drives and urges. And with a world and society that seems to exist to prey on and manipulate those drives, we are stuck in a web, a matrix of impulses and results.

Which is why I’ve always like stoicism as a philosophy, as a practice. To help train ourselves and our minds. To be able to embrace emotion and yet see it clearly. To see the world as much as possible, as it truly is, and to remain even keel through it all. Never giving in completely, unconsciously to extreme happiness or extreme pain.

The master does not block himself from feeling, nor does he allow himself to be swept up in the passion incessantly. He lets it in, delves in it fully, and teases out the useful information from the noise, and then takes the right action. Emotions are not his master, but another tool in the work belt of life.

Too often we are the opposite, unable to truly judge our emotions, understand what the root issues are and deal with them. More often that not, we just feel and react. And so we stay stuck in loops. We are triggered and we react. Over and over again, to the same stuff without change.

And it remains a wild world out there. The pandemic rages on, climate anxiety is at peak levels, late capitalism is groaning and straining against its limits, and people are realising that they can’t keep on sacrificing themselves to the system. Our problems are real, but not insurmountable.

To deal with things appropriately, we would need to be our own eyes of the storm in the chaos that is the world. Which means to cultivate an inner citadel. To build an oasis of peace. To come to terms with ourselves and still the storms within. Only then do we have a hope of acting correctly.

We have to do the work.

We have to learn heal our traumas.

We have to learn to escape from the spaces that hurt us, and cultivate the ones that nurture us.

We have to stay focused.

We have to get clear and get to know and accept who we are, and what we want.

We have to take care of ourselves.

And if we need help, we have to speak up and ask for it.

And if we can help, then we have to reach out and give it.

We have to build what we want and create anew.

We have to remember that it can’t always be night. Even though it may be dark today, the sun will shine again.

That is how we stay sane. That is how we prevail.

Keep the Goal in Front of You

Keep the Goal in Front of You

At the time of writing this, it is February, we already just over a month into the new year. And if you are reading this, you are probably the type of person to have made goals and set targets for this year.

How are you doing on those by the way? Are you still excited and eagerly chasing after them or have you fallen off yet?

Most probably the cracks have started to show. Most people approach goals with the intention of making these vast sweeping changes at once, like they suddenly developed a new personality once the calendar flipped over a new year. Unless you have a ridiculous amount of will power, this is typically an exercise in failure.

To stay consistent and actually stand a chance of reaching your goals, you need to focus on tactics that make the changes a bit more subtle, consistent and lasting. Things like focusing on building the right habits, starting small, building new routines and feeding your motivation.

But there is one simple reason we tend to fall off our pursuit.

As stupid as it sounds, many times we lose track of a goal because we literally forget about it.

Every day is a struggle, with multitude of stimuli, questions, requests, demands, and distractions. It is very easy to start off the year with good intentions and then have things just trail off. I know, it happened to me many times.

We get busy, we get distracted, sometimes we even distract ourselves with ‘good’ things. It is often easier for me to just bury myself in work than face something I don’t want to yet. But we must fight to be aware of this tendency, and to take steps to mitigate it.

We do this by keeping the goal in front of us. Having a totem, a reminder, something physical, tangible or otherwise always in front of us that reminds us of what is important, of what we are moving towards.

In this way, when the demands come at us, when the distractions come, we are able to glance over quickly, and have our goals firmly at the front of our minds and thus we can respond appropriately.

My personal experience

2018 was the year I started blogging consistently, and by the end I was able to point to a full year of almost weekly updates. It was the year I really pushed my personal brand forward and made many strides in my life and work. I even released two books in that time. It was a year of incredible focus and consistency.

Up on to this point, I had struggled with pursuing some of my goals. I would start the year eager to get certain things done, and look up months later to see that although I was very busy doing many things, I had completely lost track of what was most important to me.

So what changed in the pivotal year of 2018? Many things, but one of the most powerful things I stumbled upon was changing my diary for the year into a totem. In the front and back inside covers, I had printed out and stuck sheets that highlighted my new personal brand, life philosophy and the multiple projects I wanted to get done.

Every time I opened that book, to take notes in a meeting, to plan, to keep track of tasks, I was reminded of the person I wanted to be, and the goals I was pursuing. It was inescapable. Having that constant reminder changed my life.

Here are 3 ways keeping your goals visible can change yours.

They serve as a constant reminder

Like I mentioned earlier, we often lose track of our goals because we just forget about them. Keeping your goals visible and close by serves as a near constant reminder of where we are going and what we are trying to get done. If we then choose not to pursue them, it is a more conscious decision as opposed to it just getting buried under the pile of other things vying for our attention.

They stimulate our minds

When our goals are perpetually in front of us, reminding us, our brains are constantly thinking about them, churning up ideas in the background, working on ways to achieve them, or build our lives around their pursuit. And if we enhance this by designing your environment in such a way that orients us towards our goals, it all combines us to move us steadily and automatically towards those ends.

Having your goals always in front of you also keeps you primed and sensitive. So that when opportunities come up, or chances for synchrony happen, you are ready to recognise and take advantage of them.

They build motivation

Seeing the vision constantly helps to cultivate burning desire. Something that is essential to helping you stick it out over the long run. Sometimes we set the goal we want, but we don’t want it enough to do whatever it takes. Keeping your goals in front of you stimulate the visions of it in your mind. They help you visualise having it and becoming the sort of person that achieves it. They also help fan the flames of desire until you are going after it with all you got.

Keeping your goals front and centre in your daily life is a small thing, but can have outsized effects. You can do this in many ways. You could keep a vision board close by, in your office, in your room. You could do as I did and dedicate pages of your daily planner to it. You could make it your phone or computer wallpaper, or place post-its all over your apartment. Whatever works for you.

Keep your goals in front of you, and they becomes that much easier to follow through.

Thank you for your attention and reading this to the end. If you enjoyed this post, please share with someone who you think might benefit greatly from it.

Learning to Suffer II

Learning to Suffer II

A lot of the times when I sit down to write, I have no idea what I am going to say. But I trust that as I sit and begin, that the idea will reveal itself. That’s what has happened as I have sat down this Sunday evening to write the first blog post for the year.

It’s been a while away from the page and I wonder…do I still have what it takes? What if I have finally run out of ideas. Yet I must face the uncertainty and create. The blank page is before me, the blank canvas of an entire year lies ahead. We must begin.

And to be honest, there is something that has been on my mind lately and in turn something to write about. (And weirdly enough dovetails very nicely into the podcast topic for this week)

The past week was chaotic, and it seems like I wasn’t the only one. Apparently 3 planets are in retrograde…if that actually does apply to anything. But it was a rough one. I personally dealt with turmoil in my relationships and friendships. I am just glad that I had the presence of mind to be proactive in dealing with and resolving the issues. But that didn’t change the fact that it felt like shit, like the week at some points felt like such a slog. That it was painful to go through.

It’s also the beginning of the year. Things are still slow. Things are gradually picking up. In a month or two, the year will be in full swing and things should be moving all around. But for now, we remain in the dip, especially if you are in the freelance or contract space. That comes with its own anxieties.

And as we move through this inevitable slog, I find myself thinking about a concept I’ve written about a few times on this blog here, here and here – learning how to suffer.

I like to look at life as the weather. So even with weeks like the last one, I am reluctant to call it a bad week. I’d just say that the weather was bad. Life is fine, there was just a bit of turbulence.

And that is okay. Because there must be variety. Things aren’t always easy. Things won’t always be chilled. Sometimes it will be rough. Sometimes there will be trouble. But in all these things, you can remain even keeled. You can practice virtue. You can do your best. You can be patient and consistent.

I think it is a good thing to remind the self from time to time. About the need to be able endure suffering, to embrace the pain. How to get back to the grind, how to hustle, how to push the body past its limits. How to focus and get things done when all you want to do is relax and Netflix. How to let the past die. How to stick to your guns and do what’s right even when your heart is pining to do different.

It is a crucial skill to remember. Because the year is long, and we have only just begun. We have another 12…well 11 now, months to go before this cycle is done. That is 11 months to move forward, to improve, to put to practice and to practice. To act on everything we have learned in the year(s) before.

It will take a lot from us. It will demand our energy, our concentration, our focus, our discipline. And there will be rough spots. Times we feel defeated before we begin, times we feel like we have wasted years, decades with nothing to show for it. Times we can’t see the results.

We must remain calm, and focused on following the plan, on doing the things we know to do. To weather the storm with an eye still firmly fixed on the goal. To not suffer needlessly with things that can be easily avoided but to suffer well in service of the path we take.

Because it will get easier. We will get into the groove of things and the wheel will begin to turn. And as we embrace the pain, we will get stronger. Our muscles will grow, and we become more capable. Our minds sharpen and our hearts get more resilient and we are able to carry more, to be the strong pillar in life’s inevitable storms.

Soon we will be back in still waters, in crystal clear oasis and sunny skies. And we will enjoy the harvest and live the good life. And when the next storm rolls in, we will be ready to do it all again.

5 life lessons playing video games taught me

5 life lessons playing video games taught me

For the past decade I took great pride in my status as a non-gamer. Untouched by the digital fever, I would sneer at my friends as they spend hours lost in a game like Skyrim while real life happened around them.I didn’t understand why you would spend so much time doing something that had little bearing on day-to-day reality.

I wasn’t always like this though. I grew up into games like any kid, playing whichever ones I could get my hands on (often a generation or two behind). I played enough then to satisfy the surface curiosity I had, but not enough to blossom into a full-on passion.

Then there was the game that turned me off from gaming completely…Devil May Cry 3. It was my kind of game, acrobatic slasher with bright colours. But one afternoon after battling some monster over and over again without success, I rage quit. Well it wasn’t in an explosive rage, screaming and throwing my controller at the screen. No, it was calm and collected. I just switched off the console and never played again. It was near the end of the holidays and I was going back to school anyway. I had more pressing matters to deal with than the monsters on the other side of the screen.

After that fateful day, I played games now and again, but never enough to really get into it.

For some reason though, over the past year the inexplicable urge to start playing again was born and kept growing until I succumbed and bought a PS4. And over the past 2 months, I have lost multiple hours at a time barreling down the digital rabbit hole. Playing deep into the night, going on quests with my son to scatter my dead wife’s ashes at the highest peak in the realms, fighting off baddies and mowing down innocent doctors to save my teenage ward from an operation that will kill her, a procedure designed to save humanity. I have discovered rich worlds, morally ambiguous layered narratives and engrossing gameplay.

I have also picked up a few lessons. And just like my last piece on Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse, I am going to stretch some of these lessons we learn from video games onto real life.

First, we start with one you have probably heard before

When you encounter enemies, you are going the right way

Ah, the one that validates the existence of haters. You know them, the people who don’t want you to succeed. The ones that carried your picture to their village witch doctor to make sure you will never progress. The back biters at work, the frenemy, that rude security guard, or the police officer hating on your ability to drive inebriated.

We encounter haters and enemies all the way. No more so than in video games. Completely unprovoked, they will come at you, with weapons, energy blasts, sharp teeth, anything they can use to take you the hero down. They are a staple of the medium.

They are the antagonist to your protagonist.

Want to know if you are going the right way and progressing in the game? You probably are if you keep coming across new enemies to defeat.

Perhaps so in life too. When we take on a new quest or endeavour, we will invariably come up against challenges. Things will go wrong, we will make mistakes, people might even attack and work against us.

Maybe that wave of resistance from the world is a sign that you are on the right track and that you should press on, regardless what the naysayers say.

Or maybe it is a sign that you are just an asshole and no one likes you.

When you find a boon, you are about to enter some shit (also the universe provides)

Another staple of gameplay are the pick ups. Things like health packs, weapons, ammo, equipment, orbs, random junk you can craft tools with. They are usually littered across the environment, allowing you to stand a chance against the perpetual onslaught of haters and enemies.

Most times they are scattered in sparse quantities. A health pack here, a box of ammo there. It gives you just enough to deal with the enemies you encounter providing the right amount of tension as you play.

But every now again, you come into a clearing or a room just chuck full of stuff. Enough health to heal yourself and stock up for later. Copious amounts of ammo to take on your journey. Or if it’s that kind of game, the merchants/blacksmiths magically pop up ready to ply you their wares. (looking at you Brok)

It is tempting to get excited and self satisfied at this point. Don’t. It’s a trap. In the video game world, a boon like this doesn’t come without a cost. There is a boss around the corner. And you are in for the fight of your life.

So…when things are going your way in life and humming along, beware of the possible boss fight headed your way. Stay ready.

Or perhaps look at it this way, whatever challenge you face in life, the universe will provide you the tools to deal with it.

You will fail repeatedly, but you will eventually figure it out

Ah failure. The gamer’s ever present friend. If you playing a game, especially for the first time, you can be sure you will fail a couple of times. It might not be right at the beginning, but it is coming. There’s that first hard wave of enemies coming, or the timed puzzle or challenge that is just gonna have your undies up in a bunch.

The first few times you fail, it will still be a fun. After all, it is you are new to this and you are still learning, figuring out the enemy’s patterns and the environment. You might catch a break and grab a win after a few tries and move on, your heart thumping from the adrenaline. Or you might still find yourself struggling with this level for a while, your frustration bar filling up and clouding all the fun you were having before you got here.

This is the point where you have a crucial decision to make. Will you tough it out or will you quit, or worse…will you decrease the difficulty setting like a witless noob?

The temptation is strong. You have tried everything and been massacred, sent to the ‘Game Over’ screen again and again. You learned the patterns, you kind figured out the moves but it is still not enough. Maybe you even got that bosses’ life bar down to the very end…and they still keep killing you.

But if you keep on long enough and it happens. Finally you hit a break-through and win.

And in the words of Mark Cuban talking about entrepreneurship and getting rich – it doesn’t matter how many times you fail, you only have to be right once.

Now sometimes, this breakthrough never comes. If trying again and again doesn’t work, then take a break. Sleep on it, take a walk, do something else and when you return, you might just be fresh enough to eke out a win.

There are cases though, where repeated tries and breaks won’t work. This is where you have to bring out the big guns. Literally. You have to…

Always be levelling up.

Sometimes what you need isn’t to keep trying, sometimes what you really need is to get better.

I remember the first time I encountered a valkyrie in the new God of War. Oh my, she beat my ass five ways to Sunday for like 3 days straight. And like a masochist, I kept going in for more. It was so frustrating because every time, I was so close. Oh so close. I would get her life bar down to just a smidgen. But invariably, she would parry my frantic final attacks and kill me every single time.

I persevered, I tried again and again and again. No luck.

I slept on it. Took my protein shakes, chugged a flask of coffee, stretched my fingers and got back to it. She still owned me.

So I did the only thing I could do. I consulted the internet.

Turns out it was almost suicide attacking this valkyrie at the power level I was at.

So I left her alone and went to level up.

I played other quests, collected more items, improved my weapons and attacks and returned for battle. it was still a struggle, but after a couple of tries, I emerged victorious, her severed helmet in my hand.

So is life innit?

There is a saying, don’t wish things were easier, wish you were better.

In life, you have to keep levelling up – getting stronger, learning new skills, building alliances, amassing resources and everything you need to win against the big baddies and progress. Always be levelling up.

Lastly…

Embrace challenges

A game is at its most fun when it is at the right level of challenging. If it is too difficult, it is no fun, and games that are too easy become boring. There is no thrill, if you are able to just mow down enemy after enemy. Eventually you feel like you are just going through the motions.

Good games grow in difficulty as you progress and get better. Sure you have better weapons and health packs stockpiled. but your enemies grow stronger still, keeping you on your toes.

Like they say – new levels, new devils.

Same with life. It is the struggles and challenges we face that make things exciting. They give us things to overcome and that satisfaction after a hard won battle is second to none. All the blood, sweat and blistered thumbs become worth it.

Until the next level, the next skirmish, the next boss.

We might win today, but we will have something to face tomorrow. The game continues.

So in the same way, embrace the struggle of life and relish the challenges. They keep things fun. Face your fears, build your alliances, battle the enemies and celebrate every win as you journey through the great game of life.

See you at the credits…or the DLC.

Nothing exists until it is measured

Nothing exists until it is measured

Having a written set of goals is not enough, you have to take action and then systematically measure your progress – Michael Hyatt

There is the idea (and I am bastardizing it here) that on a quantum level, things do not ‘exist’ until they are measured. Until you actually view light for instance, and depending on how it is measured, it will either exist as a wave or as a particle. Every atom is in a state of uncertainty, it is either there or not until you observe it, sort of like Schrödinger’s cat. Or something like that.

There is something else that does not really ‘exist’ until it is measured or observed. That is your goals and your dreams. The more attention you pay to your goals and dreams, the more you look at them and measure them, the more defined they become, the faster they come true. This is part of the reason why having a vision board works. It pays to keep the target before your eyes at all times.

A big dream killer is being vague. I know all about being vague, it is one of my favorite things. Vagueness is a comfortable nebulous zone where the potentiality is sky high, and you can be anything, you can be the greatest or you can be utterly crap, but you haven’t ‘been’ yet so it’s easy to revel in the idea of what you are going to do, instead of actually doing it. It is nice to wallow in the primordial soup of uncertainty.

But nothing exists, until it is made real. Nothing exists until it is born concretely. And that is where the fear lies. The fear of the irrevocable first step, a first step or an entire journey that could end up being less than perfect. The commitment to a dream, to a path. The forsaking of others. The burning of the ships, the tying yourself to the mast. Going all in, etc. All that can be scary.

But your dreams and goals must move from being vague to being defined and definite. It is easy to have aspirations, to want something to change. But for real progress to be made, the goals have to be defined, the metrics have to be clear. It is not enough to say you want to make more money, say exactly how much money you want to make and by when. Break your goals down to numbers that you can measure and aim for. Now there is accountability. Now there is a target, now there is a deadline. Now you can focus all your energy and make sure you hit them. You need a goal that can focus your faculties and provide you with the necessary direction, motivation and limitations to achieve it.

I have spoken about why you should build systems as opposed to setting goals. The concept that you should systemize the steps and daily actions you need to take to achieve what you want. This is very useful when you are starting out because you are still getting used to forming new habits and embodying a new vibration. You are not too concerned with hitting specific targets, you are just trying to get into the general ballpark of taking regular action towards those goals. While this idea builds our capacity and habits over time; to really squeeze the juice out of this process, you must take it to the next level by having discrete and clear targets to hold yourself accountable to. This is where you turn pro.

You have to know what your numbers are. They could be a once-off hit, like run a total of 20 000 miles in a year, or a streak, like blog once a week, every week for a whole year. They could be numbers to hit in the gym, an income target to reach in 6 months. It could be a new skill, being able to start and finish a project that you could not undertake before. In any case, you need a goal, you need a target to hit, and you need a way to measure your progress.

It is easy to fool ourselves and think we are doing work towards our goals. Once we start to look at the numbers for real though, we often see a different picture.

So how do we put this into practice? There are many ways to do this depending on your temperament and the nature of your goals. But I think it would generally look like this.

 

1. Define what success looks like

For every project, you have to define what success is. How do you know when you have won? For instance, I am working on a book now, and my time limit is 3 months, so by end of June I should be done. What does ‘done’ mean to me? It means I have taken the idea, put together all the material needed, as well as written and reworked and polished the manuscript to my personal satisfaction. At the end of June, I should have a book in Word that reads cohesively from start to finish.

That is a finite project, it has a beginning and an end. But what about projects with a reoccurring component? For my blog for example, success to me is maintaining a certain editorial schedule. And it is based on a scale. The absolute minimum is the once a week posts which I’ve been doing so far, and the higher limit is a schedule that sees me posting about 3 times a week. So, I know I am doing the minimum, but I have plenty room to improve.

 

2. Determine what it would take to achieve success

What gets measured, gets managed – Peter Drucker

Once you know what success looks like for your goals? You have to break it down further, looking at your schedule and how you spend your time and figure out what your daily or weekly actions must be to get you to that goal. For project-based goals like ‘writing a book’, it can mean drafting an execution road map for the project. It could play out like this – come up with book concept/idea, craft the book outline, collect all research and articles needed, write the book, edit the book (3 passes), design the book cover, design the book layout, create pdf file, upload, share.

Now I have a clear path to follow to reach this goal and I can set time frames for each section.

Another thing I would do, is break my goals down to daily or weekly activities I can do. For example, I can decide to work on my book for an hour every day, preferably first thing in the morning. I can round that off with 4 hours of dedicated time every weekend to really push forward on the project. This also gives me something to track and be accountable to in addition to the execution road map.

 

3. Be accountable

Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t – Jay Z (Reminder, The Blueprint 3)

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. To make steady progress towards the goal of having a book done by June, I would need to be constantly taking steady action. Every day I wake up, I know where I am on that roadmap and what I need to do next. At the end of every day I know if I spent an hour working on my book or not. I can track that. The more important the goal is, the more important it is to track and review my efforts.

 

4. Review

Now life is chaotic sometimes. Shit happen, things throw us off course. I could decide in the middle of the project, that this is crap and I actually don’t want to write a book. I could get busy with other projects and need to focus on those instead. But regularly I have the chance to review my work and my numbers and see if I need to adjust my plan to new realities or scrap the project all together. But at least, I have the numbers to back it up. I have a real frame of reference.

Measuring and tracking performance is not easy. It takes discipline and a commitment to the process. It is much easier to be vague and just play at it. But if you really trying to get what you want, embracing this idea will take you further faster than you could imagine.

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m incredibly great at being vague. I’ll put off making a decision to the very last moment, and I’m not great at tracking the time I spend on client projects talk less of the moves I make towards my goals. But I recognize that being more aware of my metrics could have some value, hence this post, which is a stern lecture to myself as much as it is an exhortation to you.

So, do you have any tactics or frameworks you use to chart your progress? It could be health, exercise, finances, learning, projects, anything! Do share, I would love to learn from you.