5 Books That Will Make You Less Stupid

There’s a famous quote that goes something like, “As the depth of my knowledge increases, so too does the breadth of my stupidity.” I can’t remember who said it. But I do know that dude/chick was onto something.

In fact, you may have heard of this idea before. It’s also known as the Dunning-Krueger effect. The graph looks something like this:

One look at your social media feed is all it takes to confirm this idea. When it comes to the latest trending topic, the dumbest opinions will invariably be the most prominent. Meanwhile, the people who do know a little something about it are silent — because they also realize how much they don’t know.

As such, becoming smart is simultaneously an act of discovering your own stupidity. It isn’t until you’ve crossed the border of competence that you begin to feel less stupid — only regaining an idiot’s swagger once you’ve become an expert.

The following five books are some of the best I have ever encountered for this reason. That is, the wisdom they distill stems from a breakdown of something you probably think you know a lot about. Paradoxically, this awareness of your own foolishness is what makes you wiser.

So without further ado, here are five books that will make you less stupid.

The Denial of Death by Earnest Becker

3549-square-1536

Take a second and think about what motivates you in life. Is it love? Is it money? Is it fame? Is it glory? Whatever you cite as a motivation, Earnest Becker’s book The Denial of Death will probably shit on it.

Indeed, the central thesis of Becker’s work is rather disturbing, because it asserts that everything we do stems from an avoidance of the inevitable.

Whether it’s the clothes we wear, the careers we choose, or the movies we watch, Becker proposes that all human activity is motivated by the desire to avoid what we will eventually become. On the surface, this idea seems intuitive. After all, if we wanted to die, what would be the point of farting around down here? Yet what’s striking about Becker’s claims is the extent to which death anxiety permeates our psyches.

Bouncing off the work of previous thinkers like Freud and Kierkegaard, Becker asserts that the central problem of existence is the knowledge we are Gods who shit. Unable to comprehend this duality, our minds reject their constant process of defecation and decay and instead seek an ‘Immortality Project’ that will survive their physical deaths.

With vibrant detail, Becker goes on to trace how the successful completion of this immortality project is what leads to mental well-being, while the collapse of one is the source of all pain and suffering.

Disturbing as this book may be, it helps make you less stupid in the following two ways: 1.) it exposes you to the futility of your daily struggles, and 2.) it helps you see what you have in common with your fellow woman and man — thus making you feel a little less alone.

Key passage:

“Each person thinks that he has the formula for triumphing over life’s limitations and knows with authority what it means to be a man, and he usually tries to win a following for his particular patent. Today we know that people try so hard to win converts for their point of view because it is more than merely an outlook on life: it is an immortality formula.”

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James


If you’re like me, you’ve probably gone through a phase of militant atheism at some point. And why shouldn’t you? On top of being responsible for nearly every war, religions are rooted in some pretty absurd claims about the supernatural.

While William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience does not prove the legitimacy of religion by any means, it does offer some profound insight into the nature of ‘God’ as it appears in consciousness.

By exploring the accounts of figures such as Francis of Assissi, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the Oracle of Delphi, James proposes that religious experiences do correspond with a transformative power, regardless of their fundamental origins.

He accomplishes this feat through extensively detailing the trance one undergoes during a ‘conversion event.’ This trance is profound enough to make all previous suffering seem laughable — even inspiring crazy actions like self-flagellation, voluntary starvation, and complete withdrawal from society.

As such, he asserts that religious experiences speak to a very real, transformative part of our psyches. And this idea serves as the kernel around which religious psychology (and I would argue, psychology as a whole) has formed.

While this book might not turn you into a believer, it will offer a thorough understanding of the nature of religious phenomenon. In doing so, you will become less stupid about your own doubt/ belief in the Big Man in the Sky.

Key passage: 

“The perfect stillness of the night was thrilled by a more solemn silence. The darkness held a presence that was all the more felt because it was not seen. I could not any more have doubted that HE was there than that I was. Indeed, I felt myself to be, if possible, the less real of the two”

The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhaur’s The World as Will and Representation is often known as the book that inspired Friedrich Nietzsche. Yet personally, I think Schopenhauer’s work deserves much more acclaim than a simple footnote in the life of his predecessor.

Throughout this lengthy tome, Schopenhauer deftly guides the reader through his theory of existence. His central thesis is as follows:

Everything we experience in the world is the product of a metaphysical Will. This Will serves as the thing-in-itself, from which the fundamental universe springs. The material world is simply an offshoot the will-to-life, which is constantly striving against its counterpart — the will-to-death. Yet the two are a part of one whole, thus making our existence a constant battle against itself.

While this conclusion seems pretty shitty, Schopenhauer does offer some redemption in his conception of the aesthetic. Namely, he asserts that art offers of a momentary transcendence of the will. As such, asceticism is the highest form of existence – because it consists of a denial of one’s own self-destructive will.

With elegant prose (not to mention the hilarious jabs he keeps throwing at Hegel), Schopenhauer seamlessly weaves his thesis through the works of Kant, Hume, Plato and even the Upanishads.

Overall, The World as Will and Representation will make you less stupid by helping you conceptualize the ties that bind everything. It’s a brilliant complement to the previous two books, as one can see shadows of James’ God (i.e. the aesthetic) and Becker’s Immortality Project (i.e. the will-to-life).

Key passage:

“Therefore the man of genius requires imagination, in order to see in things not what nature has actually formed, but what she endeavoured to form, yet did not bring about, because of the conflict of her forms with one another”

Moby Dick by Herman Mellville

These next two books are your stereotypical Works of Literature. As such, telling you to read them might be like telling you to invest in a 401k or go the gym. You know you should do it — but do you really need this asshole to remind you?

Well, sorry gang. I don’t mind being that asshole today. Truth is, these books have earned their snobbish reputations for a reason. And I’ll do my best to briefly lay them out here.

The first, Moby Dick, has gained its widespread esteem because of the scale of its allegory. When you read about the White Whale, you know Melville is actually talking about something Big and Important. Its just hard to put your finger on it. The only certainties are that Moby Dick is an object of desire, and that Captain Ahab is willing to kill himself in the pursuit of it.

See what I did there? Okay, probably not. Let me explain: The theme behind Moby Dick can best be understood in terms of Schopenhauer’s Will.

Because Schopenhauer claims that material objects are subdivisions of a higher Will, things are constantly striving against themselves: a fight that results in eternal suffering, and eventually, failure.

When viewed in this light, Moby Dick is merely a metaphor for the tragedy of existence. Ahab, Starbuck, Ishmael — each are part of a single unit, as is Moby Dick.  The crew thinks they’re chasing the White Whale, but little do they know, the whale is also chasing them. We too are being pursued by this whale. You, me, and everyone are but sailors on the Pequod, forever awaiting the vengeance of the beast we seek to slay.

Key Passage

God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart forever; that vulture the very creature he creates.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cerventes

51M2zppamsL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

The second work of fiction, Don Quixote, can also be viewed as a metaphor for the Will. Yet while Moby Dick relates the tragedy of willing, Don Quixote speaks to its comedy.

The book outlines the story of Don Quixote de La Mancha, a self-described knight errant who has read too much and slept too little. He rambles around Spain in search of adventures, hoping to win the heart Lady Dulcinea Del Toboso — a woman whom he completely made up.

Indeed, the hilarity of the book stems from Señor Quixote’s madness. While he imagines he’s on some quest for love and glory, the only results his adventures seem to bring him are blood and bruises. Time and time again, he’s confronted by the incongruity between his desires and their fruits. Yet he blames his misfortunes on the wrath some enchanter — bound to discourage the noble quest of knight errants.

Don Quixote and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, symbolize the quest that each of us are making for the sake of our wills. Though we know we’re led by a crazy master, for some reason we keep going, following our code of honor, hoping to find that lover who has already closed the door.

Key passage

“It excited fresh pity in those who had heard him to see a man of apparently sound sense, and with rational views on every subject he discussed, so hopelessly wanting in all, when his wretched, unlucky chivalry was in question.”

Advertisements

On the Follies of Nihilism

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "jim carrey nihilism"

If you’ve wondered around the internet lately, you’ve probably noticed that something’s been up with funnyman Jim Carrey. In case you missed it, the following video has been making the rounds lately, encapsulating Carrey’s newfound philosophy.

That’s right, folks. There’s no meaning to anything. And Jim Carrey doesn’t exist any more.

Now, one could easily interpret this behavior as Carrey’s attempt to cope with some recent trauma. But surprisingly, a great deal of people have latched on to Jim’s message. Any time the above video is shared, the top comments will often describe Carrey as ‘woke,’ like he’s stumbled upon some truth that allows him to transcend the Red Carpet.

Indeed, this notion that ‘everything means nothing’ has seen somewhat of a surge in pop culture lately. And when you look around at the world, it’s kinda hard to deny it.

Let’s be real; shit’s been pretty fucked lately. The poles are melting. Jobs are disappearing. And we’re electing reality TV stars to deal with it. In a world that seems to be inching closer to Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, the idea that it’s all pretty pointless can seem liberating.

And honestly, this ‘nihilistic’ viewpoint contains a lot of truth. However, the overall worldview which can result from ‘nihlism’ is pretty misguided. And if taken too far, this thinking can become dangerous to both a person and the people around him.

What is Nihilism?

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « nihilism art »

Reality wasn’t always this confusing. Around 200 years ago, mankind seemed to have its shit figured out.

Of course… that’s not to say things were perfect. We still had war, slavery, disease, etc. But outside of these hardships, there existed a loving Creator who would reward humanity for putting up with them in the end. We humans were kind of a big deal.

However, as we poked around at our surrounding a bit, the foundation on which our beliefs about life rested began to crumble. Turns out, our galaxy isn’t the only one in the universe. It’s one of billions. And oh yeah, you know the monkeys? We’re kinda related to them.  

As mankind progressed scientifically, we came to realize that our species wasn’t nearly as special as we thought. These discoveries forced us to grapple with the uncomfortable fact that there’s no rhyme or reason to anything. It’s all just a happy little accident.

Enter: Nihilism.

Nihilism is supposed to account for our failure to find an intrinsic value behind existence.  It is often (incorrectly) associated with philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously declared that ‘God is dead.’

For ‘nihilists’, there’s no compelling reason to stand behind anything.

We can’t have knowledge, because the human brain can unwittingly be deceived. We can’t have morals; those are just constructs designed to preserve our microscopic lives. We can’t have a purpose. We can’t have jobs. We can’t have relationships. We’re all just a bunch of atoms bumping into shit until we die.

Clearly, this type of thinking seems pretty troubling. But for some, ‘nihilism’ has proven to be a welcome relief.

The ‘Optimistic Nihilist’ 

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « optimistic nihilism »

Imagine I could create a perfect clone of you.

This clone would be indistinguishable from the ‘real’ you, having all of your memories, personality traits, etc. What’s more, I could swap this clone into your life right now, leaving it responsible for your various roles and relationships.

You’d be free to do whatever then, right?

If you spent the rest of your days drinking margaritas on a Spanish beach side, the world wouldn’t really change. You’d be no one. And your actions would have no consequence.

This thought exercise provides a glimpse into the worldview of an ‘optimistic nihilist.’ Since values are pointless, it is equally pointless to give them weight during decision making. This means you’ve got nothing to worry about; it’s hakuna matata for the rest of your days.

Young people have latched onto this perspective pretty fervently. And indeed, its popularity can be seen in the widespread acceptance of comments like Carrey’s.

If you’ve read any of the other material on this site, you can probably that I’ve shared similar thoughts in the past. And indeed, this type of thinking has largely shaped the course of my life. It’s a really important step.

However, there lies a huge subtlety within this mindset which ‘optimistic nihilists’ often miss:

Nothing is Something

Image associée

The problem with ‘optimistic nihilism’ is that the phrase itself is a contradiction.

Think of it this way. ‘Nihilism’ is defined as the absence of meaning. ‘Optimism’ implies positive meaning. So, how can positive meaning emerge from a worldview which rejects the basis of meaning itself? It doesn’t make any goddamned sense.

Truth is, a person who claims to ‘believe in nothing’ often misses the vital point that nothing is something. And when this distinction is missed, one runs the risk of unwittingly turning the concept of Nothingness into his creed.

To drive this idea home, consider the following thought exercise:

Imagine you notice a hole in someone’s pants. How do you know that the hole is there? Well, chances are you’ve been checking out the person’s nether regions, and now you realize an area of empty space exists within the boundaries of the pants.  If there were no pants against which to compare this empty area, you couldn’t call it a hole. You couldn’t call it anything.

You see, our brains perceive ‘nothing’ the same way they perceive a hole in someone’s pants; it’s a relative concept. And since relative concepts are a comparison between two things, nothing must be something.

Don’t just take it from me. The famed philosopher Martin Heidegger describes this very idea in his essay An Introduction to Metaphysics. 

Whoever talks about Nothing does not know what he is doing. In speaking about Nothing, he makes it into a something… such talk consists in utterly senseless propositions.

Thus, people who profess to be ‘nihilists’ are terribly misguided. Though they claim that there exists no basis for meaning, their philosophy derives meaning from the very real concept of nothingness. This error negates the worldview they purport to hold. And if left unchecked,  it can have some disastrous consequences.

For instance, consider a dude who assumes that his life means nothing.

After weighing his existence on the grand scale of space and time, this guy has realized that his 75 years don’t amount to shit. What’s worse, he’s forced to spend the majority of his life pretending like they do. This makes him angry. Really angry.

Convinced that values are meaningless, this man decides that he’s going to spread his anger with the external world. As such, he spends decades loading up on weapons. And one day in October, he decides to shoot into a concert killing 59 people, including himself.

Sound familiar?

While this example is extreme, the point is that treating nothingness as a creed can lead to some dark shit. Truth is, our brains operate by virtue of the meanings they find. When one perceives those meanings to be senseless, the brain can’t function properly.  It literally has no reason to live.

As Nietzche recognized, this is a big, big problem. So.. how can we find meaning in a random, uncaring universe? It’s simple: perspective.

Perspective as Meaning

Image result for rorschach test

The strange truth is that the meanings we discover in life rely on the perspective of a knowing subject. This process lies at the core of all meaning, and its implications are pretty fucking weird.  

Before we get to that, let’s do a final thought exercise.

Consider the word ‘potato.’ What does it mean? Well, if you’re an English speaker, you’ve probably learned to associate ‘potato’ with a certain starchy crop. Yet if you speak Afrikaans, ‘potato’ would just seem like a random sound or string of letters. It wouldn’t make any sense.

So, what’s the true meaning of ‘potato’? It’s depends on your perspective!

‘Potato‘ can either be a senseless string of letters or a carb-loaded vegetable. The meaning isn’t created until it is filtered through your subjective experience. This same concept applies to all meaning, including that of life itself.

For instance, if you start from the grand perspective of time and space, it will be true that your life is essentially pointless. However, if you start from the perspective of your friends and family, it will also be true that your life is essentially everything.

These perspectives are contradictory. Yet each of them are correct. The ‘meaning’ simply depends on your frame of reference at the time in which you are interpreting it. And since your frame of reference is continually changing, the meanings themselves are continually changing.

That’s not to say that meanings are arbitrary. Because at the center of it all, there exists a tireless Watcher to whom these ideas are making themselves known. This raw state of subjectivity is the mechanism through which all meaning is created. And while the meanings are changing, that state of being a knowing subject never does.

… And at this point, I have nothing left to say.

I can’t explain the nature of subjectivity, just like I can’t explain the appearance of a telescope as I gaze through it. All I know is that It’s there, and that It provides the meaning.

The Necessity of Sacrifice

Antietam Battle Page Hero_0.jpg

The Union Army stood three miles from victory.

After killing or wounding a quarter of Robert E. Lee’s troops the previous day, a final charge could have spelled the end of the Civil War. With the Potomac River at their backs, the Confederates braces themselves for a final stand on September 18th, 1862.

All day they waited. Nothing happened.

Outnumbered 3-to-1, Lee’s forces were somehow able to slip across the river and back into Virginia. The war would last another two and a half years.

This wasn’t the first time General George B. McClellan had overestimated his enemy. During his Peninsula Campaign, he regularly reported to Washington that he faced an army of 200,000 Confederates (the actual number was 85,000). Such tendencies grated the nerves of Abraham Lincoln, who once remarked, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”

Shortly before the Battle of Antietam, the Union general once again dreamed up a superior opponent. Believing the Confederates were three times their actual size, McClellan refused to send reinforcements during several crucial point in the battle. And when the enemy was pinned at the river the following day, he did nothing.

An honest review of McClellan’s failures as General reveals a common problem: He had an extreme fear of sacrifice. Though armed with superior forces, his concerns about losing his men inevitably caused a great deal more to be lost.

Strangely, McClellan’s struggles in this area are not dissimilar to the ones we face on an individual level. To win the battles that emerge in life, we’re often required to harbor an extreme willingness for sacrifice.

This shit goes pretty deep, so bear with me.

You and Your Sub-selves

shadow.jpg

To understand the necessity of sacrifice, you must first comprehend the nature of your Self. As I’ve mentioned before, this a very tricky endeavor.

One of the reasons this topic is so confusing is that when you talk about yourself, you’re actually referring to a composite of different people. Think about it this way. Are you the same person around your friends as you are your family? What about your girlfriend? Or your co-workers? Or your pastor? Or your dentist?

Chances are, you behave differently depending on your context. So when are “you” the real you?

Much like an army, your identity is actually composed of a number of different actors. If you’ve ever heard of things like an inner Child, an inner Rebel, or an inner Critic, then you have some idea of how this “person-within-a-person” can function.

If you wanna get picky, you could technically divide these “sub-selves” down to infinity. But instead of getting into all of that, the important point here is that the thing you call you is actually a mixture of a bunch of underlying you’s.

Of course, if you’re composed of things that are underlying, there must exist some higher thing from which your selves originate, right? Indeed, there is some consistent, higher thing to which you can attach your identity: The act of observance. 

While you may act like a hoodlum around your friends and an angel around your in-laws, you are the only thing that is consistently observing yourself within these contexts. From womb to tomb, a constant Watcher lies inside you, forever looking down upon all of his various offshoots.

It’s not hard to see how this idea can be equated with spirituality. Whether through prayer, meditation or auditing, people have shown a remarkable willingness to separate from themselves and appeal to this higher, observant entity. They rely on Its wisdom to lead them through the battle, and eventually, deliver them from the suffering that stems from the greater war.

To whom else does this logic apply? You guessed it! A general. Much like the head of an army, your Higher Self is responsible for evaluating Its forces and directing them toward victory.

Problem is, some of us have shitty Generals.

The Necessity of Sacrifice 

Abrahams-near-sacrifice-of-Isaac.jpg

If you’ve ever studied the Bible, you’ve probably heard a disturbing little tale about a dude named Abraham.

As the story goes, God called on Abraham one day and requested a small favor: He wanted him to murder his son. Abraham’s all like “WTF, God?” But God’s like, “do it or you’ll pay.” So Abraham binds his kid and carries him to the top of a mountain. As he’s about to deliver the killing blow, God comes in at the last minute as is like, “Haha, jk bro. It was all a test.”

One might come away from this story thinking God’s a sick bastard. Regardless, the myth of Abraham and Isaac remains poignant because it speaks to one of the harshest truths about being human: We have to kill the things we love.

To flesh out this idea a little further, let’s return to our metaphor of the General.

During the heat of battle, it is often necessary for a general to send some of his men into certain death. While these sacrifices are painful, they’re a necessary step in preventing the future suffering which would follow a defeat.

And so it is with our sub-selves. To ease emotional conflict, one must be willing to sacrifice various facets of her identity depending on the conditions of the battle. What’s more, the refusal to do so will only allow these turmoils to fester.

For example, consider a woman who discovers her husband has been cheating on her. This woman may take great pride in her marriage. She and her husband may have been high school sweethearts, and they may now have two kids and be active figures in their community.

Yet after accidentally opening some risque texts from another chick one day, she will suddenly be faced with a dilemma: Is this betrayal worth killing herself?

Make no mistake. A divorce would be a death sentence. This woman’s role as a wife forms a very significant portion of her identity, and confronting her husband about his misdeeds would require her to put down that thing she has spend so long growing and nurturing.

Yet if she’s not willing to sacrifice this part of herself, she will suffer “God’s” judgement through permanent damage to her self-esteem. And this effect would bleed into all of the other areas of her life. As such, sacrificing her sub-self as a wife is a necessary step to avoid the punishment that would befall her entire army.

In order to make these sacrifices, one must turn to a General who is not afraid of them.

The Power of Vulnerability

ulysses-grant-P.jpeg

After McLellan’s demotion, the Union eventually turned to Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.

Early in the war, Grant had gained fame for his victory at Fort Donnelson, after which his superiors accused him of “neglect and inefficiency” for attacking without their permission. Meanwhile, Sherman became known for his March to the Sea, which saw his men destroy the homes and supplies of damn near every Confederate City they encountered.

“War is cruelty,” Sherman once remarked, “the crueler it is the sooner it will be over.”

Their willingness to engage in bloody conflicts caused many to refer to Grant and Sherman as “butcher” generals. However, their tactics were effective. A little over a year after the two gained power, the Civil War came to a conclusion.

Easing the conflicts that emerge in our own lives often requires us to act with similar aggression as Grant and Sherman. This practice is what’s called vulnerability, and the attitude can be one of the most empowering qualities a person can have.

When you are vulnerable, you make the conscious choice not to hide your thoughts and feelings. This process can be downright painful, because it requires you to offer up various parts of yourself for slaughter.

For instance, telling your boss that he’s asking too much from you at work could potentially cause you to lose your role as an employee. However, you’ll need to surrender this sub-self if you want to end the suffering that comes with your work-related stress.

Many times, you’ll find this attitude is highly rewarding.

It might be surprising to learn that your boss values your honesty; or that people don’t judge you when you’re new at the gym; or that the world doesn’t end when you ask out that chick you like.

But like McClellan, we often avoid battles that could easily be won out of an irrational fear of sacrifice. And when this response goes unchecked, it will sometimes cause us to twiddle our thumbs while the enemy retreats behind the Potomac.

By fostering a willingness for sacrifice, we are able to step above the confines of our monkey brains and do what makes Him happy.

It’s cruel. It’s weird. It’s nonsensical. But it’s all we’ve got.

In Defense of the Crazy Person

townes

“Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”

While country legend Steve Earle has since walked back on the above quote, it contains a popular sentiment among songwriters: Townes Van Zandt was one of the greatest to ever do it.

With lyrics that combine witty, homespun platitudes with masterful prose, Van Zandt has influenced nearly every figure in the Folk/ Americana scene since his debut.  His work has graced the top of Billboard’s Top 100, and has been featured on acclaimed TV shows like True Detective, Breaking Bad and Deadwood.

In spite of this status as one of music’s all time greats, Townes spent the majority of his life in utter squalor.

One can’t blame his upbringing. With nearly perfect SAT scores and a wealthy heritage, Townes’ parents groomed him to be a lawyer or senator. Yet as he aged, Van Zandt began to suffer mental breakdowns, after which doctors diagnosed him as a manic depressive.

Unable to fit in anywhere else in the world, Townes turned to music. His songwriting prowess was soon noticed, and after moving to Nashville, Van Zandt secured a record deal and released a series of albums in the early-70s.

Though these records contain some of the greatest songwriting ever recorded, the rest of Townes’ career fell victim to his mental illness.

Living in cheap hotels and backwoods cabins, Townes’ performances were limited to small dive bars. He became a raging alcoholic by the mid-1970s, often having to quit midway through a show because he was too drunk.

Confined to a wheelchair by the 1990s, Townes died on a friends couch at the age of 52.

Though many hold Townes as the quintessential example of a tortured artist, his genius spurs another uncomfortable question: How could a person so keenly aware of the human condition also be so terrible at navigating it?

Townes is far from the only genius to be plagued by mental health issues. In fact, it seems as though a high proportion of the world’s most innovative minds are also batshit crazy.

While it’s dangerous to romanticize mental health issues, there’s evidence suggesting “crazy” people may actually be more in tune with reality than we’d like admit.

The Denial of Death

3549-square-1536

In his Pulitzer-prize winning book The Denial of Death, anthropologist Earnest Becker proposes that everything in human life stems from the desire to conceal death. And I’m serious. Everything. 

Technology, architecture, religion, art, morality, politics – society at large is designed to protect us from the uncomfortable truth that we’re gonna die.

The reasoning behind this idea is two-fold. First there’s good ole Darwinism, which posits that the genes best-suited for survival will be the ones passed on to future generations. As such, the material that makes us “us” will invariably be inclined to avoid death. It’s in our DNA.

The second reason is that we humans inhabit a world of objects and symbols.

Though we’re confined to physical bodies, our brains can also remember the past and project the future. This grants us a “symbolic” self. And since we know the physical self is gonna die, Becker argues that the object of a person’s life is to prolong the survival of the symbolic self. This quest becomes what he labels an “immortality project.”

People seek this immortality in a myriad of ways. Whether it’s having children, stamping their name on buildings, or subscribing to a religion in which they’re told they will live forever – all immortality projects are designed to convince the symbolic self that it will survive its physical death.

Furthermore, clashes between immortality projects are the source of all societal conflict. Indeed, religion and politics prove to be such testy subjects because they are key features of a person’s symbolic self. When someone challenge these notions, he can literally be viewed as a threat to survival.

If you take Becker’s work at face value, it’s easy to see how mental illness can be a rational response to the world around us.

When You Can’t Deny

Imagine a radioactive toxin is accidentally released on your town. Afterwards, doctors tell you the effects from this exposure are most certainly going to kill you and everyone you know. However, they’re not sure if it will happen today or in 50 years. How would you feel?

This scenario is the premise behind Dan Delilo’s postmodern masterpiece White Noise. The irony behind it is simple: Life is like a toxin that will eventually kill everyone.

The characters in White Noise all go crazy after their exposure to the Airborne Toxic Event. And likewise, many people go crazy after being exposed to the conditions of life.

Indeed, people suffering from depression/anxiety may actually be more in tune with the nature of reality. For instance, depressed people have been shown to have a more accurate idea about their importance, sense of control and general capabilities than their happier counterparts.

What’s the reasoning behind this depressive realism? It’s easy to understand under Becker’s framework.

Namely, depressed people are merely realizing the doomed nature of their Immortality Projects.  Whether you’re a failed artist, a war veteran, or a parent who’s lost a child, any disruption to your symbolic self’s sense of immortality will expose it to the horror of its inevitable death. In turn, your mental framework will be one which centers around  hopelessness and despair.

Likewise, Becker proposes that other mental illnesses are related to the breakdown of an Immortality Project.

For instance, schizophrenics attribute the voices they hear in their heads to an outside party. In turn, they lose their sense of a symbolic self, and their Immortality Projects are rendered useless. Such a degradation once again exposes to the schizophrenic to death, which often leads to him hearing voices that tell him to harm himself.

Likewise, clinical narcissists are unable to fulfill their Immortality Projects in the outside world. Therefore, they create an interior framework in which the world centers around them. While this behavior is toxic to everyone around them, the narcissist’s self-centered worldview is a necessary survival mechanism.

The same reasoning can be applied to a host of other mental illnesses. Yet the important point here is that these maladies may actually be attached to a more accurate realization of the world.

Such an etiology would both explain why so many mental illnesses are co-concurrent, and why a high proportion of the world’s great minds are batshit crazy.

Staying Sane

sanee

I know that I’m painting a pretty bleak picture here. And indeed, Becker doesn’t offer any real solutions the problem of our doomed Immortality Projects. Perhaps there are none.

Yet even though “crazy” people may actually be seeing the world more clearly, that’s not to say one should romanticize such illnesses.

First, this reasoning fails to take into account the chemical side of the equation. After all, biological processes do affect our mental framework; doctors speculate that people who have issues regulating chemicals like serotonin and dopamine are particularly prone to mood disorders (though the evidence for this theory is controversial). Such maladies can be treated with things like medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, so one shouldn’t succumb to depressive realism without considering the effects of brain chemistry.

Second, mental illness also brings about cognitive biases of its own. For instance, some mental issues lead to what’s called “all-or-nothing” thinking, which causes a person to view situations as either completely good or completely bad.

Yet when you look a little closer, you can see the nature of things isn’t so sharply-defined.

If you’ve ever played with a puppy, scuba-dived in the Bahamas, or went drinking with a group of life-long friends, you know there are certain experiences that are irreplaceable. The problem of our doomed Immortality Projects steals nothing from these moments. And since our lives are but a mere composite of moments, they cannot be completely bad.

Thus, it is possible for one to remain sane while recognizing the absurdity of the world. People do it every day.  However, to chalk up the worldview of “crazy” people to chemical imbalances or poor perspective ignores the very real existential plight they are facing.

There’s a reason so many of the world’s great minds are also batshit crazy. Perhaps the only difference between a visionary like Townes Van Zandt and your average, run-of-the mill drifter is dumb luck.

So have some sympathy for the crazy person. She’s may not be as loopy as you think.

Trump, and the Subtleties of Not Giving a Fuck

maxresdefault

If you’re just reading this after waking up from a coma, let me first congratulate for stumbling on my humble, little blog. Your priorities are solid. Next, I would ask that you take a seat, cause I have a piece of news that’s a bit of doozy.

Take a deep breath. I’m gonna say it quickly:

Donald Trump is the president of the United States.

Shh, shh. It’s okay. If you’re wondering how this happened, most of us are still doing the same.

But from where we’re sitting, Trump’s been in office for about two months now. During that time, he’s launched a slew of national protests and established himself as the least popular president to in the quickest amount of time.

In these next four years, you’re going to hear story after story about Trump’s various Tweets and misdoings. But as you go about reorganizing your life, it’s important for you to understand what exactly caused him to rise in first place.

Xenophobia, racism and populism have all been cited as explanations for Trump’s ascent to power. While these reasons contain a kernel of truth, much of Trump’s rise can actually be attributed to a subtlety important philosophy he displayed throughout his campaign:

Namely, Donald Trump did not give a fuck.

During his candidacy, Trump showed that he did not give two hoots about the established political order. Talk about your dick in a national debate? Fuck it. Ban an entire religion from entering the country? Why the fuck not.

Say what you will about The Donald. But despite the pundits predicting his downfall every step of the way, Trump kept marching to his own, heinous little beat. And you’ve gotta admit – before you thought he could win, some teenie part of you thought it was entertaining.

As a matter of fact, this “no fucks given” mentality is actually one of the most liberating qualities a person can have, which is largely what drew people to Trump. Yet this state of “not giving a fuck” becomes dangerous when it’s channeled toward the wrong means.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

screen-shot-2016-07-14-at-12-58-48-pm

Before we return to Trump, it’s helpful to understand why not giving a fuck is a trait that’s so important.

One of my favorite bloggers, Mark Manson, recently released a book on the topic called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Despite the gimmicky title, the work contains some pretty profound insights into the liberation that comes with the “no fucks given” mentality. Here’s a brief summary of Manson’s argument:

Throughout our lives, an endless amount of forces are competing for our fucks. We give a fuck about our education. We give a fuck about our careers. We give a fuck about our reputation, our family, our political parties and whether or not the barista spelled our name correctly on our caramel venti mocha.

Obviously, some of these things are pretty fuck-worthy. Yet when we dole out our fucks too liberally, that’s when life fucks us.

The examples of this trend abound, but an easy one can be seen in a guy who struggles with this ladies. This dude gives a lot of fucks about his loneliness. But when the opportunity to speak to someone he finds attractive presents itself, he’ll usually stare at the floor and go buy another drink. After too any of these encounters, he’ll start complaining about how women can’t see the value in “nice guy” and wallow in self pity.

This guy gives too many fucks. He’s not willing to risk the inevitable awkwardness and rejection that comes with dating, but he still feels like he’s entitled to a vibrant love life.

On the contrary, a person with a healthy attitude doesn’t give a fuck about rejection or loneliness. He has higher priorities like his career, his hobbies, his family and friends. As a result, he feels no fear in communicating his interest with women, and in turn, he will have more success in the dating game.

In this example, it’s the man’s lack of fucks that makes the difference. And so it is with most of life’s challenges.

Wanna quit your job and start a business? You have to not give a fuck. Wanna end a relationship with a toxic family member? You have to not give a fuck. Wanna run for president when people think you’re a joke? Well, you get the point…

Every choice you make requires you to surrender something. And in order to make the proper sacrifices, you have to quit giving a fuck about potential losses. Because when you give a fuck about everything, you feel entitled to a cozy, problem-free existence. But sorry y’all; that world doesn’t exist.

As we get older, the people we used to worry about impressing begin to move away and die, and we come to realize this truth. But a barrier exists within American culture that is preventing people from achieving this state, and Trump capitalized on it…

The 21st-Century American Shame

article-0-1AE60838000005DC-526_964x609

In many cases, shame is the mechanism that causes us to give a fuck. For instance, the man who suffers from Nice Guy sydrome is ashamed to communicate sexual interest, and this causes him to struggle with the ladies.

Yet not all forms of shame are bad. Sometimes you experience an uncomfortable, but tolerable, feeling when you do something that makes people judge you negatively – like farting in public. This feeling is called external shame, and it prevents us from acting like (and using our) assholes around each other.

On the other hand, there’s internal shame, which is way more insidious.

Internal shame is a constant sense of being undesirable. It usually stems from childhood experiences during which a person is repeatedly and relentlessly shamed for her behavior. As a result, she will feel the need to please some arbitrary judge throughout her adulthood, which can result in depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.

Due to changing economic conditions, I propose that a sense of internal shame has festered within the American populace. This may seem like a stretch, but hear me out.

Below are two charts that compare the median income, housing prices and costs of tuition between 1971 and 2014 (all numbers are in 2014 dollars, and the housing prices are listed at 60% of the median for young men and 80% of the median for young families).

Young Men (25-34)

Income

House Price

Down Payment

Monthly PITI

Pct. of Income to PITI

Cost Of Tuition

1971

$44,646

$86,000

$17,200

$655

17.6%

$8,000

2014

$36,097

$170,000

$34,000

$950

31.6%

$23,500

Young Families (25-34)

Income

House Price

Down Payment

Monthly PITI

Pct. of Income to PITI

Cost Of Tuition

1971

$53,522

$115,000

$23,000

$875

19.6%

$16,000

2014

$53,477

$227,000

$45,400

$1,267

28.4%

$47,000

As you can see, in a period of over 50 years, income has decreased for single men and remained stagnant for young families. Meanwhile, housing costs have doubled while tuition has tripled.

With a greater portion of people’s money being spent on tuition and mortgages – vacations, cars and other luxuries are less affordable. As a result, many in our generation cannot live up to the standards on which they were raised, which leads to an increased feeling of internal shame.

For a culture that worships material wealth and achievement, these developments are costly. Indeed, a shocking 2015 study showed that white Americans in the Rust Belt are beginning to die at an earlier rate (the only country in the developed world to experience such a trend). Is it any coincidence that these same areas are overrun with heroin, meth and alcoholism?

No. The meaning people once derived from their lives is disappearing. We cannot achieve the lifestyle we were raised to believe was valuable, and as a result, we do not feel valuable.

Enter: Donald Trump.

The 2016 Campaign

Rubio_Trump_Carson

In psychology, a phenomenon known as transference occurs when a person projects her emotions onto an unrelated party. If you’ve ever avoided dating someone because s/he reminds you of an ex, you’ve experienced this feeling to an extent.

With leadership roles, people tend to gravitate toward figures onto whom they can project their desire to escape fear. For instance, if the pilot of your aircraft suddenly suffers a heart attack, you’re desperately going to want to find a leader in the cabin who can land the plane safely.

As I explained in the last section, the central problem of our generation is the failure to reap the fruits of a growing economy. This trend leaves people ashamed. And as shown by the developments of 2016, voters are seeking to transfer that shame onto a leader whom they view as having defeated such a limitation.

In other words, people wanted someone who doesn’t give a fuck. And in the last election, they were a lot of them.

During the 2016 campaign, “outsider” candidates dominated. Of the nearly 62 million votes cast in the primaries, Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders won 56.6% of them. These guys had virtually no support from their respective establishments. Sanders was an independent; Cruz was hated by every member of his party; and Trump was a fucking celebrity.

Yet these candidates were able to break the historical mold and win a substantial majority of the vote. Why? Because they didn’t have to give a fuck.

With no “higher-ups” to please, the outsiders of 2016 did not have to tamper their rhetoric. This allowed Sanders to castigate the billionaire class (who help fund most campaigns) and Trump to talk about his dick on national television.

Meanwhile, candidates like Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio had to “give a fuck” about the standards of their party. They were more ashamed to speak non-formally on the campaign trail, which led to the inoffensive, “please-everyone” rhetoric voters are used to hearing (seriously: remember when Mitt Romney’s 47% remark was enough to doom him  five years ago)?

With a sense of internal shame festering within them, people were no longer comforted by this manufactured formality. So, they chose to turn to leaders who did not display any.

Aaaaaand.. then we got Agent Orange.

This trend wasn’t just confined to America. In 2016, the Philippines elected the Hitler-esque Duterte, and Britain voted to leave the European Union. Both of these movements rode the backs of shameless leaders who were “telling-it-like-it-is.”

So, if this state of not-giving-a-fuck is such a good thing, why is it being trumpeted by demagogues?

When Not Giving A Fuck Goes Wrong

TrumpVPMirror_1000

There’s a bit of a misunderstanding when it comes to not giving a fuck. Namely, it’s not actually possible.

Behind every action lies an intention. Even if you’re on the block, with two glocks, screaming fuck the world like Tupac, you’re still giving a fuck about not giving a fuck. Thus, it’s impossible not to care about anything.

So, to determine where a person is allocating his fucks, the best place to look his actions. And in Trump’s case, his actions show that the prime source of his fuck-channeling is his himself.

Many have labelled Trump a narcissist. People who suffer from this disorder think that the world centers around them; others are merely tools with which the narcissist can fulfill his emotional needs.

When you look closely, you can see that Trump’s prime motivator is attention. So far in his life, Trump has posed as a publicist to spread stories about who he’s dating. He’s thrown his name on buildings, steaks, board games and vodka. He’s undermined Muslims, immigrants and women to construct a voter base. And in all of these actions, Donald Trump has been the prime beneficiary.

So, yeah. Trump’s probably a narcissist. He’s very good at not giving a fuck about the things that don’t suit his purpose, but the only purpose he is trying to serve is the promotion of himself..

In spite of these motivations, I don’t necessarily buy into the narrative that Trump poses a critical threat to America. Other developed countries have elected egomaniacs, and they’re only slightly worse for the wear.

Instead, I think the best response to Trump is to question what he, and we, are giving a fuck about.

Namely, we should ask ourselves if our dislike of Trump stems from a desire to have everyone else share our worldview, or if we dislike him because we care about the people his actions might hurt. The former reason is narcissistic; the latter is important.

So, perhaps we stop quit giving a fuck about where Kellyanne Conway is kneeling, and start giving a fuck about how medicaid cuts are going to affect the impoverished. Perhaps we should quit caring about Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, and begin caring about how tax breaks will continue to widen the income inequality that has been killing middle America.

The fucks that we give define us. It’s subtle, but opposition to Trump can be as self-serving as the methods he used to gain power. Half of America is watching the lives they once knew crumble. While voting for Trump ran against their best-interests, the action is motivated by a real life-or-death struggle.

So maybe we should stop giving a fuck about the trivial games of the politicians, and start giving a fuck about them.

The Dangers of Dreaming

dreams

You see it written on the social media bios of millennials everywhere:

I have wanderlust.

The phrase has become pretty ubiquitous lately. And it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea, in and of itself. It signals an “intense desire to travel.” And since extended traveling has been shown to improve things like openness, extroversion and emotional stability, you can’t really fault someone for liking it.

But for many people, traveling is not just something they like. They have to lust for it. It’s like the idea becomes Christian Grey. They want it to pin them up against the wall, douse their back in candlewax and call them a filthy slut.

And in essence, that’s what having “wanderlust” can do to your self-esteem.

Riddle me this: If your desire to travel is so strong that you’re literally lusting for it, then what stops you from doing it? Sure. There are plenty of excuses: You’ve got a family! You’ve got friends! You have a job! You’re in school!

But sorry, y’all. If you’re not preparing for a lifestyle that centers around traveling, you don’t actually have an “intense desire to travel.” You have an intense desire to dream.

You see, “Wanderlust” suffers the same problem as many of our dreams: They come from a good place, but many tend to fall in love with the image more than the practice.

It’s hard to blame people for this problem. Between the various Disney movies, advertisements, and national mythoses, we’ve all kinda grown up with the belief that our lives should be really special and awesome. Yet this narrative is pretty un-realistic, and if you fall for it too hard, it can become toxic.

While a little “dreaming” is okay every now and then, the act comes with an inherent problem. What’s more, falling victim to this flaw can take away the control you need in life.

The Utility of Dreams

Image result for social contract

The biggest problem with dreams is that they cause you to flee from the world in which you actually live. In that sense, they’re useful – because sometimes the world kinda sucks.

Thomas Hobbes famously speculated that the base state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”Before the rise of societies, our neighbors could club us on the head at any moment and steal all of our food without much consequence.

To flee from this ugliness, Hobbes postulated that a “social contract” emerged in which humans submit themselves to a higher power ( i.e. the law) to maintain civility.

But this contract seems pretty arbitrary in its nature. After all, the same force that caused our ancestors to steal from each other – self-preservation – is still pretty much the basis of our behavior. Yet we construct a system that conceals this ugliness from being displayed in the open, and it helps make our world a little better.

Our dreams serve a similar purpose.

It’s not fun to think that our lives will consist of 45 years and a cubicle, or that the person we’re marrying could turn into a deadbeat alcoholic. So we submit to a dream. In our mind’s eye, we’re on track for a fulfilling, purposeful career with a loving spouse and a big home with a white picket fence.

These visions provide us hope, allowing us to forget that we live in a cruel, uncertain world that could come crashing down on us at any moment.  Yet our dreams are merely projections of the mind; we don’t have a goddamned clue if they’re true or not until after we’ve experienced them.

That’s not to say that dreaming is bad. It’s just that too much dreaming much comes with a big problem…

“Dreaming” is often a form of low self-esteem

self-esteem.jpg

In many big cities, there are agents whose jobs are to “discover” young talent, guarantee them fame, then get them to pay a large upfront fee for their services. Hucksters like these make a living from exploiting people’s dreams, and the best way to avoid them is to start with the premise that your life is okay as it is.

This trait is what we call self-acceptance, and it is a key component of self-esteem.  Yet “dreaming” inherently undermines your ability to accept yourself, because it causes you to reject your current identity.

Identity is a tricky concept, but it can be said to consist of two parts: the external and the internal.

Your external identity is what’s imposed upon on you by the environment. It includes things like your job title, your skin color, your nationality, etc. Conversely, your internal identity is how you perceive yourself in relation to these traits.

A person with healthy self-esteem has a consistent internal/external narrative. She’s honest about her emotions. She’s comfortable with her circumstances. She appreciates  the people around her, and she’s not ashamed of her heritage. Basically, she has no shame about her position in life.

On the other hand, a “dreamer” is constantly  rejecting her external identity.

She’s the person who always wants a better job, cooler friends, bigger boobs and a different city.  Her entire self-concept is geared to reject the environment by which it’s shaped. Thus, she never really accepts herself, and consequently, has low self-esteem.

This reasoning goes against most of what we’re taught to believe. After all,  life’s about achieving that Next Big Thing, right? If we’re content with the way things are, what incentive do we have to change?

Here’s the solution to this dilemma…

Dream About What You’re Doing

15965293_1311968478841938_8861256870738896083_n

The main difference between a dream and a goal is action.

When you act, you bring the features from your internal identity out into the external world. This process of bringing your “Inner Self” out is what I call integration, and it’s the main premise of my upcoming book (stay tuned).

But for now, let’s say you’re dreaming about moving to New York. There are tangible steps you can take which would bring you closer to that goal. For instance, you could save $200  every paycheck for your flight. You could begin contacting people within your network who live in the city. You could apply to jobs, apartment complexes, and clubs to join right now.

Yet if you avoid taking these steps, the idea of “moving to New York” is merely a dream. You probably don’t even want to do it. Instead, the idea of escape is what’s attracting you, and that’s an indication of low self-esteem.

In a culture that worships material wealth and achievement, embracing an ordinary life can seem blasphemous. Yet the truth is that most of us are going to be “average” in the long run. That’s like, how math works.

So instead of striving to escape our positions, sometimes the best path forward is to find contentment in the mundane.  The novelist David Foster Wallace sums up the idea beautifully in the following quote:

“True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer.”

In the absurdity of existence, there’s something courageous about a person who can spend his entire life doing dull, thankless tasks. Perhaps these people are the real heroes – not the ones who blind fate deems beautiful, rich, or intelligent.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive for greatness. It’s just that if you have big goals, you should be doing something in your daily life to bring you closer to them.

Because at the end of the day, you are what you do. Thus, loving your actions – both the routine and transcendental – is a feat of self-compassion.

 It won’t all be glorious. But when your glory comes from within, your dreams will become a part of the reality in which you reside.

Getting to the Root of Anxiety

Image result for anxiety

You’ve been dreading the confrontation for weeks.

You and your girls booked a trip to Cabo, which will require you to take a week off from work. But your boss is one of those old school, “don’t-call-in-unless-your-dead” types, and you know he’s going to throw a fit at your request.

Alas, the deadline to put in your two-week notice has arrived, and it’s now or never.

You down a Red Bull in the car and pump yourself up to some Beyonce. Your mind is set; as soon as you enter the office, you’re going to tell him what’s up. But as you walk towards the door, your pulse begins to pound, and all of the worst-case scenarios start running through your head.

What will he say? Will he hold a grudge against you? Will your coworkers be mad? Will you lose your job?

As you round the corner, you see him seated at his desk with his sergeant-like posture.

“Good morning, Johnson,” he barks.

“Morning sir,” you gulp.

Your heart drops. Before you know it you’ve reached your cubicle, and suddenly the prospect of canceling your reservations seems easier.

This, my friends, is anxiety. We all know the feeling. And it kinda sucks.

We experience this fear in a variety of situations. Whether it’s a difficult confrontation, a first date, a job interview or an important test, many aspects of our lives provide us this type of stress.

Sometimes the feeling is useful. When we’ve got a lot on the line, an emotional kick in the ass is often what we need to get up and going.

But on the other hand, this feeling can also sap our very enjoyment of life.

For instance, imagine being so afraid of contracting a disease that you constantly wash your hands until they bleed. Or that the sound of the letter “B” inspires so much fear that you feel you must tap your head 50 times to cancel it out.

You see, the exact mechanism that prevents you from confronting your boss is also the conduit for such dysfunctional behavior.

While you may not need to count every ceiling tile before leaving your house right now, there are probably some issues in your own life tied to that little anxiety demon.

Luckily, a little tinkering with your thoughts can help you recognize the irrationality of this feeling, which will lead you toward a better life.

Why do we feel anxiety?

85a427aff480166c617479241066564f.jpg

Anxiety is defined as a “fear or nervousness about something that might happen.”

Whether it’s the butterflies you feel before a first date or the dread that accompanies OCD, all forms of anxiety stem from an emotion attached to an expectation.

The main actors in this feeling are the tiny, almond-shaped thingy’s in your brain called the amygdala. These little guys trigger your body’s fight or flight response, a survival mechanism that allows you to quickly react to situations you perceive as life-threatening.

Thus, anxiety serves as a form of self-defense.

When you sense a threat, like a stranger following you down a dark alley, anxiety tells you to either run away or start recalling that karate class you took in second grade.

More subtly, this feeling also works to defend the idea of yourself.

For instance, you might consider yourself to be an incredible musician (in spite of the fact that you’ve never booked a gig). When someone questions your life’s direction, you could “fight” this threat by calling him an idiot, or”fly” from your doubts by numbing them with drugs or alcohol.

Either way, both of these responses are designed to protect your ego’s survival.

Again, sometimes this feeling is useful. If you imagine yourself to be a future attorney, failing the LSAT’s poses a pretty severe threat to that idea. Thus, you might “fight” your anxiety by viciously studying every night.

But when we turn to maladaptive behaviors to cope with these fears, anxiety can ruin our whole fucking lives.

Consider the unemployed dude who still lives with his parents. This man’s actually using a pretty effective coping mechanism for his anxiety. After all, if no one rejects him in the outside world, it’s easy to defend the idea that he is a cool, unique person.

But becoming too comfortable with this response might eventually cause him to shoot up an elementary school. You see, the “flight” behaviors are equally good at alleviating anxiety in the moment, but in the long run they kinda suck.

Yet when you’ve gotten used to hiding your whole life, mustering the courage to face your fears is often the most difficult step.

That’s why it’s important to understand the following: All of your fears are completely baseless.

Why your fears are bullshit

Image result for worry chart

The above chart gives the most succinct representation I know of why all fear is complete bullshit.

In every single situation you are ever going to face, two possibilities exist: you can control the outcome or you can’t. Given this, why are you worried about either?

Sure. Sometimes we face scenarios where a lot is at stake.

If the LSATs are coming up, you really, really need to do well on them to justify your $30,000 of  debt, right?

But even this situation falls into the domain of can or can’t-controlledness.

For off, your debt is a sunk cost. That money is gone forever. Second, if your career depends on a good grade, then you need to allocate the appropriate amount of time towards studying. If you can’t do that, then the situation is beyond your control. It’s that simple. Worrying about it won’t change a damn thing.

What’s more, even when shit does hit the fan, our bodies are actually really good at adapting to it.

In 1978, a group of researchers made the startling discovery that paralysis victims enjoy their day-to-day lives as much as recent lottery winners. That’s right. People who have suffered life-debilitating injuries experience the same amount of happiness as those who have seen their hopes and dreams come true.

 No matter what happens to us, we’re endowed with a strong propensity to eventually return to our baseline level of well being.

This fact might seem sobering, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

At the core of everything, we are beings of the present moment. Though the mind can project itself into a hypothetical future and replay what it’s already experienced, it forever remains locked in the now.

So what use does it have in becoming attached to that which is beyond its control? Whether you become a celebrity or a homeless person, you’re always going to be right here.

So get used to it, man. And quit taking things so seriously.

How to be afraid anyway

Image result for standing at the edge of the earth

Now that you know all of your fears are baseless, it’s time to go conquer the world right?

Not so fast, hombre.

Even with this divine knowledge, you will never escape the fact that you’re human. We have a certain name for people who don’t feel emotions: sociopaths.

So the trick isn’t to stop being afraid. The trick is to acknowledge your fears and keep acting anyway.

After college, I chose to start a freelancing career from scratch while traveling around the world. Obviously, this decision came with its fair share of doubt and anxiety.

But each time I would experience these feelings, I simply tried to acknowledge they were occurring and continue emailing my next client. And whaddyaknow, six months later things have gone just fine.

If you need to conquer your own anxiety, one great way to start is by taking small steps.

It could be something as simple as saying “hi” to a stranger each morning. Or driving to the gym three days this week – anything puts the current you in front of that which it has been avoiding.

By doing so, you acknowledge the presence of your fears then tell them to “fuck off” with your actions. And with each confrontation, you slowly begin to how irrational they were in the first place. This discovery is the catalyst for future action and the recipe for taking control of your life.

Because at the end of the day, anxiety is a primal fear whose sole purpose is to keep us alive.

But I’ve got bad news, gang: We’re all dying anyway.

With each moment, we retreat from our former selves into an unknown future that eventually comes to a permanent stop. Thus, our task is not to flee from the inevitable. It’s to embrace the fact, then discover ways to die a little better.

 So relax. Take a deep breath. And tell your bosses’ bitch ass that you’re going to Cabo.