My favourite kind of advice are ones without qualifiers – strong statements that aren’t diluted by ifs and buts.
Funnily the advice I write about or give out is usually on the softer side. I guess it is my way of avoiding criticism because the harsher the advice, the easier it is to turn our nose up and find flaws in it.
Breaking that trend, here are 4 pieces of advice that would make it onto my personal one-page guide to living a good life.
1. Michael Singer – Be Unconditionally Happy
From my observation, putting conditions on happiness does not work. If my way of living is, ‘I will be happy if’, it is easy to continually put off happiness until another condition is fulfilled. And given, happiness is the ultimate goal behind all other goals (health, fame, money, survival – you name it), it absolutely makes sense to me to cut the chase and go directly to being happy.
The following excerpt from Chapter 15 of Michael Singer’s book ‘Untethered Soul’ really resonated with me and is one I go back to time and time again.
”You have to realize that you really only have one choice in this life, and it’s not about your career, whom you want to marry, or whether you want to seek God. People tend to burden themselves with so many choices. But, in the end, you can throw it all away and just make one basic, underlying decision: Do you want to be happy, or do you not want to be happy? It’s really that simple. Once you make that choice, your path through life becomes totally clear.
Most people don’t dare give themselves that choice because they think it’s not under their control. Someone might say, “Well, of course I want to be happy, but my wife left me.” In other words, they want to be happy, but not if their wife leaves them. But that wasn’t the question. The question was, very simply, “Do you want to be happy or not?” If you keep it that simple, you will see that it really is under your control. It’s just that you have a deep-seated set of preferences that gets in the way.
Let’s say you’ve been lost and without food for days, and you finally find your way to a house. You can hardly make it to the doorstep, but you manage to pull yourself up and knock on the door. Somebody opens the door, looks at you and says, “Oh my God! You poor thing! Do you want something to eat? What would you like?” Now the truth is, you really don’t care what they give you. You don’t even want to think about it. You just utter the word “food.” And because you really mean it when you say you need food, it no longer has anything to do with your mental preferences. The same goes for the question about happiness. The question is simply “Do you want to be happy?” If the answer is really yes, then say it without qualifying it. After all, what the question really means is “Do you want to be happy from this point forward for the rest of your life, regardless of what happens?”
Now, if you say yes, it might happen that your wife leaves you, or your husband dies, or the stock market crashes, or your car breaks down on an open highway at night. Those things might happen between now and the end of your life. But if you want to walk the highest spiritual path, then when you answer yes to that simple question, you must really mean it. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It’s not a question of whether your happiness is under your control. Of course it’s under your control. It’s just that you don’t really mean it when you say you’re willing to stay happy. You want to qualify it. You want to say that as long as this doesn’t happen, or as long as that does happen, then you’re willing to be happy. That’s why it seems like it is out of your control. Any condition you create will limit your happiness. You simply aren’t going to be able to control things and keep them the way you want them. ”
2. David Goggins – Apply the 40% rule
David Goggins, if you don’t know him, is a retired navy seal and ultra marathon runner, proclaimed by some as the toughest man alive! He’s done some crazy shit like once holding the world record for most pull-ups in 24 hours with over 4000 pull-ups and completing a 100 mile race with stress fractures and all the small bones in his feet broken!
David Goggin’s whole philosophy is that most of us are capable of far more than we realise and the reason why we can’t access our full capabilities is mental weakness. The truth in this isn’t difficult to realise when I observe myself and people around me – we complain about the stupidest things and give up at the first signs of things getting difficult. But when we push ourselves or someone else pushes us, it’s easy to realise that what we had perceived as the limit of our ability is really just the edge of our comfort zone.
He believes that by testing limits during exercise, we prepare ourselves for unexpected challenges and difficulty in every other aspect of life.
The following excerpt from his’ book ‘Can’t Hurt Me’ illustrates the 40% rule.
” The human body is like a stock car. We may look different on the outside, but under the hood we all have huge reservoirs of potential and a governor impeding us from reaching our maximum velocity. In a car, the governor limits the flow of fuel and air so it doesn’t burn too hot, which places a ceiling on performance. It’s a hardware issue; the governor can easily be removed, and if you disable yours, watch your car rocket beyond 130 mph.
It’s a subtler process in the human animal.
Our governor is buried deep in our minds, intertwined with our very identity. It knows what and who we love and hate; it’s read our whole life story and forms the way we see ourselves and how we’d like to be seen. It’s the software that delivers personalized feedback—in the form of pain and exhaustion, but also fear and insecurity, and it uses all of that to encourage us to stop before we risk it all. But, here’s the thing, it doesn’t have absolute control. Unlike the governor in an engine, ours can’t stop us unless we buy into its bullsh*t and agree to quit.
Sadly, most of us give up when we’ve only given around 40 percent of our maximum effort. Even when we feel like we’ve reached our absolute limit, we still have 60 percent more to give! That’s the governor in action! Once you know that to be true, it’s simply a matter of stretching your pain tolerance, letting go of your identity and all your self-limiting stories, so you can get to 60 percent, then 80 percent and beyond without giving up. I call this The 40 Percent Rule, and the reason it’s so powerful is that if you follow it, you will unlock your mind to new levels of performance and excellence in sports and in life, and your rewards will run far deeper than mere material success.
The 40 Percent Rule can be applied to everything we do. Because in life almost nothing will turn out exactly as we hope. There are always challenges, and whether we are at work or school, or feeling tested within our most intimate or important relationships, we will all be tempted to walk away from commitments, give up on our goals and dreams, and sell our own happiness short at some point. Because we will feel empty, like we have no more to give, when we haven’t tapped even half of the treasure buried deep in our minds, hearts, and souls.
I know how it feels to be approaching an energetic dead end. I’ve been there too many times to count. I understand the temptation to sell short, but I also know that impulse is driven by your mind’s desire for comfort, and it’s not telling you the truth. It’s your identity trying to find sanctuary, not helping you grow. It’s looking for status quo, not reaching for greatness or seeking wholeness. But the software update that you need to shut your governor down is no supersonic download. It takes twenty years to gain twenty years of experience, and the only way to move beyond your 40 percent is to callous your mind, day after day. Which means you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your damn job! ”
3. Eckhart Tolle – Focus on the one thing you can do now, rather than the hundred things you may have to do later
Eckhart Tolle doesn’t need much of an introduction! His book ‘The Power of Now’ has been read and loved by millions. There are some parts of this book that could have been better written and can border on sounding like pseudo science but the overall message I believe is invaluable if followed. I also love his book ‘Stillness Speaks’.
This quote from ‘The Power of Now” has a special place in my brain from where I dig it out every time I find myself needlessly focusing on problems.
” Narrow your life down to this moment. Your life situation may be full of problems—most life situations are—but find out if you have any problem at this moment. Not tomorrow or in ten minutes, but now. Do you have a problem now? When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution. So whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.”
A few paras later Tolle says ” If you found yourself in paradise, it wouldn’t be long before your mind would say ”yes, but…” Ultimately this is not about solving your problems. Its about realizing that there are no problems – only situations to be dealt with now or to be left alone and accepted as part of the ‘isness’ of the present moment until they change or can be dealt with. ”
Again this is really easy to verify from first-hand experience. For example, a few weeks back, I found myself incessantly worrying about an important work meeting over the weekend, even though I did not plan on doing anything about it till Monday. The whole thing was even more silly because my work is filled with meetings or tasks that can be anxiety inducing if I let them be. The only reasonable thing, which I eventually did, was to forget about the whole thing until the time came to take action and prepare for it.
4. Mooji – Be a witness to life unfolding by itself
Mooji’s philosophy is centred around experiencing life as a witness to it rather than through the screen of personal concerns.
I’ve always found it rather strange and contrary to logic how I can be fixated on the minute issues in my life, even with the knowledge that there are 7 billion other people in the world. So I have deeply enjoyed coming across thinkers such as Mooji who call us out on our bullshit.
Having said that, Mooji’s approach to writing is an emotional and unscientific one. For a more scientific argument on recognizing yourself to be a witness to life, rather than a separate control centre, I would highly recommend reading ‘Free Will’ by Sam Harris who is a writer and neuroscientist! I’ve included an excerpt from both of them for balance.
Excerpt from ‘White Fire’ by Mooji
” Don’t be a storehouse of memories.
Leave past, future and even present thoughts behind.
Be a witness to life unfolding by itself.
Be free of all attachments, fears and concerns
by keeping your mind inside your own heart.
Rest in being.
Like this, your life is always fresh and imbued
with pure joy and timeless presence.
Be happy, wise and free. ”
Excerpt from ‘Free Will’ by Sam Harris
”Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn’t choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime – by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?”