How to Self-Sabotage

It’s fascinating to me that the better my life is going, the harder it is to analyze the thoughts and notions within my mind.

Yet when I’m sad or anxious, self-analysis and philosophical inquiry is a breeze!

Maybe it’s simple laziness.

Perhaps I can’t be bothered to dig into difficult questions unless I really have to; unless my very existence seems contingent upon approaching answers to those questions.

When you are getting what you want, there is no survival pressure to question or examine whats going on. Why examine pleasure, and risk tarnishing it?

One does not consider the mechanics of walking until confronted with unstable, hazardous ground.

There is one comforting conclusion I can take from my thoughtless, lazy condition; that self-examination and philosophical analysis are the results, and not the causes of my negative states.

Self-sabotage hides in waiting for those who feel uncomfortable with their own success and resultant satisfaction. If you are identified with the chase of positive emotions and high social status, you will knock yourself down again and again in order to maintain the identity of the chaser.

Unable to stand naked without the lack you think of as the essential driving force behind your personality, you will destroy all gifts you are given, and fill in all the ditches you’ve dug.

You will pursue the zero state as fiercely as you did the dreams you thought you wanted.

The zero state is not difficult to attain. It is life’s default. If you are not careful, you’ll be back there in the blink of an eye.

 

 

 

Understanding Failure

Failure shows us what to avoid.

Success tells us what we must repeat.

The success-starved are lost because they do not trust their own judgments. They have no verification that their own judgments are credible. Like a disoriented man in the water, they have lost their sense of up, and are immobile because they fear swimming only deeper down towards the abyss.

A gulp of air, a flash of light, however brief would tell them “Yes, this is the way!” and lead them towards the surface.

So many of us have lost sight of the surface, and are either slowly suffocating or else swimming away from the air we so desperately need.

Today, I caught a glimpse of light and realized I’ve been swimming in the right direction for some time. It came just as I was beginning to doubt myself. Right at the point where I was going to change my aim, reality rewarded me.

Thanks, reality.

It is hard to overstate the importance of monitoring the world’s reactions to your desires and actions. Often we confuse intuition and passion with our rational faculty for calibrating to the external world.

Passion can guide you but rarely does it course correct.

Passion is the engine and rational analysis of the world is what steers the vehicle. You must have both if you are to reach your desired end. Otherwise, you will stall out, or crash head-on into one of the many obstacles arranged on the track.

 

 

Society’s Progress

Succesful systems are not necessarily characterized by efficiency.

The best systems are those that are immune to catastrophic failure and allow for incremental improvements that compound across time.

Literate societies that pass down all accumulated scientific and ethical knowledge to future generations tend to be very successful.

We are the beneficiaries of such a system, and we are complicit in its decline insofar as we do not contribute to the process of improvement that makes our very existence possible.

Some people are simply apathetic, or outright malicious against the system that provides them with safety, food, water, and economic potential.

However, most people do hope for improvement. The issue is that they ignore history and believe improvements can be achieved via means and principles that are antithetical to what got the society to its current state of prosperity.

Or, because of bitterness and a pathological attachment to perverse ideology, they envision progress in terms of systems that have consistently failed in the past. Such people read history and ignore the thread of progress that runs from ancient Greece to the modern day.

What is this thread?

The belief in and the pursuit of objective truth, a limited representative government, and property rights.

The degree to which these are valued by the individuals in a society is the degree to which long-term scientific, economic, and moral progress can be achieved.

There is no surer sign of a civilization’s decline than the relegation of these values to the status of “radical”, “extreme”, or perhaps even worse, “boring”.

You do not make progress down a road by tossing out the engine of your car, or by dismantling it piece by piece. Perhaps some of those modifications will increase your speed in the short term, and give you an illusory pleasure. But by way of these changes, you will have created a system without incremental improvement, prone to sporadic catastrophe.

Failure is Not Fun

Self-help junkies hate to admit that unfiltered self-expression inevitably results in embarrassing mistakes and mishaps. The romanticization of failure, struggle, and authenticity is a good thing, but it is rarely contextualized with concrete examples of failure.

When failure and the integrity it necessitates are kept in the abstract, they sound attractive indeed.

However, once we actually see someone acting with integrity around disapproving peers, or failing at something they are passionate about, the prospect of doing the same ourselves becomes repulsive.

From our privileged perspective as an outsider, we can say: “What a fool! Doesn’t he realize what he’s doing?”

The closer the failure is to us, the more likely it is to affect us and spread like an infectious disease, the more conservative we become with our own ambitions and creative instincts.

We fear the mess, the chaos, the rejection above all else. The fear and disgust for these things are programmed into us at the biological level. An intellectual understanding of the positive power of failure or the wondrous freedom of honest expression is not sufficient for overriding our instinctual aversions.

We must measure failure beside the ultimate goal towards which we aim. It is in regards to this goal that failure is necessary, and authenticity rewarded.

Failure is not good, but it can be useful.

Failure can hurt us, but aren’t there some things for which it is worth it to get hurt?

Authentic self-expression can lead to severed relationships, but what use is a relationship that honesty can break?

We must measure failure by the quality of our long-term outcomes. The approval of others is weak evidence for any given action’s utility in achieving our goals.

Other people don’t know what we are aiming at, or why.

We ourselves may aim at the wrong thing, and find that our vision of success was due to a failure in self-knowledge. Such pitfalls are numerous and necessary, but no amount of affirmations or mind-expanding quotes will change the simple fact that failure is a very painful thing.

The successful person does not love failure and rejection.

They choose a goal so large that pain and frustration are rendered insignificant.

 

Getting Lost

Being lost has its benefits.

You’re forced to pay close attention to whats around you.

You’re made to engage with unknown objects and gaze through the fog of fear.

Nature looks you in the eye and screams, “Do something! Quick!”

You can only survive by answering that call.

The fear will make you desperate, and you may take directions from others more lost than you are. The longer you follow such directions, the more distant your goal will become. You will forget where you started, and where you were headed.

Getting found requires remembering how you got to where you are–recalling the point at which you entered the unknown.

Was it negligence or arrogance that brought you there, or bravery?

For what reason are you lost?

These are the questions that make the lost want to clutch their heads and collapse to the ground, or else accept a sort of formless existence, without aim or intention, and therefore no standard by which they can be judged as lost.

Of course, being lost is not a general condition: almost always, parts of our lives are in decent working condition, whilst others have been severely neglected and thus we have drifted off course.

When we have the horrible feeling of being pulled apart by internal contradictions, we know at least part of us is not in proper orientation with the rest. Proper orientation is at once determined by the demands of the Universe, the body we exist in, and our conscious mind’s desires. A lack of awareness of these determinants destroys our ability to navigate the world.

And who are the great philosophers but cartographers of that which is common to all maps?

Who are the specters of history but fellow travelers of the unknown, their missteps and triumphs kept alive through words?

If you are lost, consider consulting the maps of those who came before.

 

 

 

Moral Radar

Though it is not knowable, every one of us has a hypothetical ideal self: an entity that acts out the best possible set of behaviors in any given circumstance.

We cannot know for sure what this ideal would do, but we can, by examining our past, determine what is fundamentally opposed to the morals and sensibilities of this higher version of ourselves. In the realms of science and moral development, failures are among our most useful data points.

head-3001166_640“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” 

-Oscar Wilde

But as useful as such reflections can be, they are not sufficient for the attainment of what is greatest within us. We must not only identify what is contemptible and worst within us, but also what is most noble and excellent not through speculation, but experience.

Philosophies and belief systems, like any scientific hypothesis, must be falsifiable. There are none so lost and undeveloped as those great intellects who do not throw their ideas against the walls of the world and watch for the reaction.

An untested idea, belief, or behavior is a blind spot, and the more we cling to such an idea, the blind we become. By focusing on a blind spot, we see nothing at all.

By acting out our beliefs, and facing success or failure, we move towards perfection. However distant and impossible perfection may be, it can be moved toward. 

Until we have attained a life congruent to our highest ideals, until we have embodied those traits that would allow us to move through the world with grace and courage, it is best not to lapse into comfortable patterns of action.

We must continue to test ideas, not just without our minds, but out in the world, where they can be confirmed or destroyed. Only then can we receive course correction data, and direct ourselves towards the highest good, in accordance with our own limitations and the demands of objective reality.

 

 

 

Tiny Habits

We often think of habits as things to be perceived at the macro level, across long stretches of time. Rarely do we perceive the minuscule actions and thoughts that work in tandem to create what we perceive as a habit.

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“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

Take something as simple as coming home and immediately positioning ourselves in front of a screen for a comforting dose of entertainment.

The action of sitting and switching on the screen is only the last in a long chain of small decisions and allowances that have been made according to previously established and unquestioned patterns.

Perhaps one has a habit of mulling over all future responsibilities on the commute home, whilst listening to radio advertisements that remind the mind of a particular snack’s deliciousness.  This results in a pattern of stress that makes a run to the fridge the only natural action upon arriving at home, and the pleasure of entertainment the only way to drown out an overwhelming stream of disorganized worry.

These tiny actions and thought patterns can be easily observed in the early morning: our minds tend to default to a familiar set of mental images and emotions upon waking. These prime the next set, and those the next, and so on and so forth.

The term ‘autopilot’ is often used, but it fails to convey that autopilot systems are the result of thousands of tiny adjustments, decisions, and calculations that result in a predictable pattern of behavior.

This is why meditation is so powerful. By observing our thoughts for a mere hour, we can see the wellspring from which all of our mistakes, failures, and disappointments come. We can see the reason why day after day, year after year, things remain the same, and problems come and go like so many lights on the highway, each just like the last, stretching out behind us and into the horizon.