A Tiny Intro from Benjamin: In the very first guest post on the site, we hear from Peter. Peter and I lived together in Berlin and would often find ourselves at the kitchen table talking about all sorts of things, from the meaning of life to how to bake the most delicious cake.
In this article Peter takes us behind the scenes, sharing some specific points which have changed the way he perceives himself and others, and explains how these changes have resulted in an overall improvement to his well-being.
Hi there, I’m Peter.
In this article I want to share with you a couple of things I learned in the past year about myself and about life. I know that sounds very general, but you will soon understand what I’m talking about.
I’m writing this because I feel that I grew a lot as a person during the past year and wanted to share some of my learnings. Maybe you can benefit from reading this, or maybe you already know all of it. In any case writing this has helped me better understand and reflect on what I’ve learned.
I Can’t Seize the Day If I’m Constantly Thinking about the Future and the Past
This year I read the classic The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and although finding the book a bit repetitive and not finishing it, it taught me something important:
We spend so much time thinking about the past and the future that we completely forget living in the now.
Now is the only time that really exists. Past and future are merely abstract thoughts. That’s why if we want to do something, we have to do it in the now. We cannot do it in the future or in the past.
While others may be naturally talented with living in the now, my talent at this point was more towards planning the future. Planning for the future is a great tool if we want to achieve great things, but if we overdo it, it can prevent us from actually living our lives.
For my part I was often getting lost in planning the future, hoping for happiness in the future but not actually trying to create it in the now. I was constantly thinking about what could go wrong in the future, which was creating a fair amount of worry for me. If I can’t solve the problem right now, why should I waste my energy worrying about it?
I’m also training myself to let go of the past more quickly. What sense does it make to keep feeling bad about something that happened in the past? The past is already over, why should we feel bad about it? Why not learn something from our mistakes, and then let it go and allow ourselves to move on? If we hurt someone in the past, we cannot make it undone. We can apologise, but then we should move on. Nobody benefits from us being obsessed with our past mistakes. It just sucks up our energy. The more quickly we let go, the faster we are ready to move on.
Letting Go of the Ego
Another major learning point for me was realising that my ego was often doing more harm than good. What good ever comes from involving our ego in things?
Why does everything have to be about us? Why can’t we be happy without constantly evaluating if a certain situation provides the best possible outcome for us? Somebody just got a bigger piece of cake than us? Well, unfortunate, but we will probably survive it and come out even stronger. Chances are high that the person handing out the cake didn’t even realise. And there were probably moments when we got the bigger piece and others had to deal with it. So why don’t we relax a bit more and just let life be?
I’ve found that things work more easily for me when I leave my ego out. A good example of this is at my workplace. Why do I sometimes take things so personally? If I fail or take a risk in my job, it is “me” who does it. But when I leave my ego out of it and project the risk solely on my professional role, I can act way more freely and relaxed. What I mean here is that we don’t have to identify ourselves with the risk. If the risk feels like a burden, the burden should be carried by our specific role, it shouldn’t weigh on our whole personality.
Should I fail now, it’s not “me” anymore who’s affected, it’s just the role that I play in my job. And maybe in this role it’s necessary to take risks. And maybe it’s necessary that I fail from time to time in order to learn from these mistakes and then be able to fulfill my role even better in the future.
This concept is of course not restricted to our jobs or professional lives. It can be applied to all the roles we “play” in life.
If someone criticises us in our roles as fathers/mothers/sons/daughters, friends, lovers, customers, visitors etc. we don’t have to take it personally.
Instead maybe we can realise that the criticism is not addressing us as a person (or our ego), but merely the role we play. Maybe we can be thankful for the input, and work with it constructively. As it’s this input which provides an opportunity for us to improve our skills in a particular area.
This concept can be extended to opinions as well. If we have an opinion about a subject and and someone disagrees with us, we don’t have to be offended. The person is merely expressing a different opinion in this particular field. We are not being criticised as a person here! It’s a chance to reconsider our own position and maybe learn something, but certainly no reason to get hurt.
Generally I find it easier to deal with conflicts if I leave my ego out of it. It’s not as easy to put into practice as it sounds of course, but the more I do it, the more relaxed I feel in these situations. Separating the roles I play, from “myself”, I’m more open to critique and I feel more emotionally stable.
Nothing Good Comes from Judging and Comparing Myself to Others
Another ego-related thing: I’m trying to compare myself less to others. Nothing good comes from comparing ourselves to others in my opinion. We should accept ourselves as we are.
The only person we should compete with is ourselves. Constantly comparing ourselves to others just brings up negative feelings and is a waste of energy.
Why don’t we focus on trying to be the best possible version of ourselves instead?
How often do I find myself judging a person on the street, a person I don’t even know. “What is THAT person wearing…? It must be THAT kind of person obviously… And I feel better now because I don’t belong to the group of people who wear things like that.” It doesn’t make much sense, does it? What a bizarre way of making myself feel better. I don’t even know the person. And it doesn’t stop there.
I do the same with my friends, the people I love. I find some detail about them where they might not be perfect, or something I would do differently and then I judge the hell out of it. Apparently I can’t have friends who are as good as me or who might be even better than me in some areas. So I have to make them inferior to me by criticising something about them. And usually I do this secretly without sharing it with anybody else. What kind of sick way of reassuring my ego is this?
Why do we judge others? If we feel that another person is superior in some way, we find, or make up, another way where we feel superior to them in order to make us feel better. This is a direct result of our ego trying to make itself feel better about itself.
I think that judging others is a “dirty” and negative way of making ourselves feel better. Why not choose a more positive way of making ourselves feel good? We could find something about ourselves or our lives that we like and be thankful for it. If we encounter something we don’t like as much, we can try to make it better or accept it. Instead of judging we could try to just observe.
So we have the option to make ourselves feel better by making someone inferior to us or to make ourselves feel better by loving ourselves and appreciating what we have. Effectively it’s negative thinking vs. positive thinking, and that’s why I would always choose the latter option.
Other People Are Not Me
I used to assume that everyone acts the same way when they encounter a certain situation or think a specific thing. For example, if my flatmate is being loud, he must be doing so because he wants to annoy me. If that’s not the case, then he’s at least being deliberately inconsiderate, because it’s obvious that the noise level is too loud.
If my other flatmate leaves her dishes uncleaned for days, then that’s a sign that she doesn’t care about me because it’s obvious that I’m very annoyed by all the dishes filling up the sink. I now realise more than ever that this is simply false thinking.
Every person has their own completely different way of thinking and that’s why I cannot assume that when a person does thing A, that they automatically must think B, or the other way round. My flatmate might just have a different perception on what is loud and what is not. He might not find it annoying when somebody else listens to music at high volume and that’s why he doesn’t realise that it might bother me when he does so. My other flatmate could just be more relaxed about a messy kitchen and have other priorities at the moment, that’s why she didn’t get around to it yet.
We cannot conclude another person’s way of thinking from our own way of thinking, because they are simply different people.
They’ve learned different things in their life, they’ve been exposed to different things, even their brain chemistry may work a little differently. So how can we assume that they would act the same as we would?
This realisation has allowed me to deal with a lot of situations where other people act in a different way than I expected. Especially in situations where I felt hurt by another person’s actions. I used to automatically assume that they must be thinking bad thing A or bad thing B. Again, this also involves the ego. It’s our ego not thinking rationally and suggesting again that we’re being mistreated in someway. In this way we should not listen to our ego and just try to accept the situation without judging it.
The opposite side of this is also true. Another person might judge our behaviour totally differently than the way we meant it. Simply keeping this in mind when another person happens to be irritated by our behaviour helps us to realise that it doesn’t mean that our behaviour was wrong. It might just be the other person having expected us to act differently.
Being Who I Am Is the Most Fun (and Being Alone Is Okay)
I enjoy myself the most when I’m acting like myself and not pretending to be someone else. I don’t have to be like someone else, because that person is also unlike anyone else. As simple as it is, this realisation brought me a long way. How I put this into practice is related to the degree to which I love myself and accept myself as I am.
When I’m among people and I feel the need to be a different person or act differently, maybe that doesn’t mean that something is wrong with me but it could also mean that I’m with the wrong people. And if I really have to adjust my behaviour to the situation, e.g. in a professional environment or a formal situation, I see it as acting out a certain side of myself. But if I have to be a completely different person to get along with other people, maybe that’s a sign to get out of there.
If we feel completely fine with who we are, chances are high that we will also enjoy spending time by ourselves more. This is important when we are traveling alone and we don’t always have someone to talk to. It’s a simple fact: If we are friends with ourselves we will always enjoy being alone.
Making Myself Free of What Others Think
This may be the biggest point I’m working on at the moment and has the potential to influence my life in the most positive way.
If I want to be the creator of my life and not live a life determined by outside expectations, I have to make myself free of what others think of me.
Always worrying about what others think of me will always give me a reason not to do something. Or it will give me a reason not to tell others what I think. It’s like a mental prison that I’ve built for myself.
It’s hard to give a recipe on how to achieve this. One point to clarify is that this is an ongoing process. We will never be able to make ourselves completely free from what others think of us. And I don’t think we want that. We want to be treated well by people, so we have to treat other people well, too. That especially counts for our friends and family. In that way we will always consider what others think.
But in other ways freeing ourselves from what others think enables us to take the actions necessary to achieve the life we want and to do the things we want. I think the mere realisation of this already helps us to start the mental process of making ourselves free of what others think. One practical method to achieve this are comfort challenges á la Tim Ferris.
Doing More of What Feels Light and Less of What Feels Heavy
This point is again tackling our own well-being and perhaps our tendency to suffer on the other hand. Why do we remain in situations that make us feel bad? Why not risk a brief moment of inconvenience and say, “guys, I’m outta here..!” and then feel much better afterwards? Why do we remain in relationships that feel more like a burden than bringing happiness and inspiration to our lives? Why don’t we just choose the option that feels lighter more often? The problem might be that we just have a tendency to make ourselves suffer, or that we remain stuck from a fear of what others may think of us.
Of course in some situations choosing the heavier (more difficult) option might be worth it. For example if I don’t enjoy my studies anymore, but it’s just one more year until I have the degree I need for my dream job – then I don’t quit right away because I know choosing the heavier option will get me to where I want to be.
I’m not saying we should always choose the lighter option. But more often than not we can choose the lighter option because we’ll feel a lot better for it.
This was a summary of some of the most important points I realised and learned during the past year. Of course this is not exhaustive. I left out some things because I didn’t want the article to grow too long. Other points I might still be exploring at this point and I don’t feel ready to write about them yet. Also I could have gone into more detail with some of the points, but for now I just wanted to give an overview.
I hope that you could either identify with the points given here or that I’ve given you a new perspective on one or another area. Feel free to reach out with feedback. Otherwise, I wish you a happy and successful 2016!
Peter Fessel is a programmer and musician currently based in Berlin. During this year he is planning an extended trip to Australia and then relocating to London. Apart from traveling he’s into self-growth and spends a lot of time thinking about how to lead a happy life. He also likes to be creative in the fields of music and programming, and sometimes even design.