Summer Thoughts

Image by Rainer from Pixabay

As the summer vacation is approaching or has started for most of us, also this blog will take a summer vacation. We will be back in mid August, but I thought I’d share a final post before the summer with five ideas, concepts and reflections that I hope provide you with some food for your thoughts.

Thought #1: Rather than escape to vacation, choose a life you don’t feel you want to escape from

There is nothing wrong with wanting to escape for a bit from the day-to-day that we all are part of. However, I know people that literally live from vacation to vacation and from weekend to weekend and hate the parts in between. They go through the non-vacation and non-weekend parts of their life as automatons and don’t really live and experience life as conscious human beings.

Of course, that sounds a bit harsh and extreme, but I think that many of us experience the above to some extent. Mondayitis is a real thing that many experience on Sunday evenings and none of us jump out of bed every morning singing hallelujah because we get to go to work.

In my view, we should strive to organize our lives in such a way that we do not feel the need to escape from it through vacations and weekend benders. So, the thought I invite you to reflect on is what changes you seek to make in your life during the rest of the year so that you don’t feel you want to escape from it.

Thought #2: Is this my own belief or have I been indoctrinated by the media?

When we moved to the USA in 2007, I decided to stop watching television and stop reading newspapers. I did this because I realized two things. First, the media mostly presents negative news because we are wired to be several times more sensitive to negative than to positive news. The world is a beautiful place where many, many beautiful and positive things happen, but these tend to get drowned out by the media blasting all kinds of negative crap in our faces all the time.

Second, I realized that governments and the media have a close and intimate relationship where the two use each other to indoctrinate the population and to suppress critical thinking. This can be seen in many places, but the most obvious is the continuous “apocaholism” (addiction to apocalypses) that we are exposed to. When I was young, we were all going to die because of the nuclear war between the USSR and NATO. Then it was acid rain that was going to kill us. After that it was the year 2000 computer problem, followed by Peak Oil. Then it became the climate crisis, which is still ongoing, and more recently it is AI that is going to kill us all dead. The media and governments are using our propensity for negative news and fear of existential threats to indoctrinate us and to make us think what they want us to think.

I still consume media, but mostly financial newspapers as these, for obvious reasons, are the most accurate and objective. And I watch some video content, but I try to really focus on sources that are not traditional media or associated with various forms of governments around the world.

The thought I invite you to spend some time reflecting on this summer is: do I believe the things I believe because these are my original and genuine thoughts or have I been indoctrinated into believing these thoughts?

Thought #3: Did I put myself in this prison?

Whenever I talk to people about them wanting to change up their lives, or reflect myself on changes I would want to make, I often get a list of reasons why it is impossible to do so. In many ways, our lives turn out at the point of equilibrium between a variety of forces. Our kids attend a school with many friends and we can’t move as they would lose those friends. Our spouse is unwilling to adjust to changes that I want to make. My job does not allow me to do things differently. And so on and on.

The fact is that these forces easily become immutable and fixed in our minds and we do not experience any agency or choice after a while. Anyone who operates in society will have to accept certain constraints and limitations and living with a partner will only add to those. Once you become a parent, you have a whole new set of obligations to incorporate in your life. And in many ways, these are positive and good things as the fabric of life is made up of these constraints, limitations and obligations.

When your life starts to feel like a prison, though, it is time to critically review each of the constraints and obligations. For each of these, we need to ask ourselves if it is really true that these are immutable. As the answer for sure is that things can be changed, the next question is what the consequences would be.

This is where the Fear Setting Exercise (popularized by Tim Ferriss) becomes relevant: carefully describe each of the bad things that might happen if you would make this change. Then, plan how you would respond if the negative outcome would materialize. Finally, think about the likelihood of this bad thing happening. Simply by making our fears and concerns explicit, we can achieve change in a more constructive fashion. So, the question I invite you to spend some time chewing on this summer is: did I put myself in a prison? And, if so, how do I get out?

Thought #4: If not now, then when?

When I was young, the feeling I walked around with was that life was unbelievably long. That I had lots and lots of time to do the things that I want to do in life and that there was no need to hurry. The consequence was that I had a tendency to postpone activities I wanted to engage in or projects that I wanted to take on as these would interfere with the day-to-day and never fit in the rest of my life right now.

Both in myself as well as in many people that I meet and discuss this with, I see the pattern persist even as we grow less young. We keep postponing the big things until some undefined point in the future. The problem is, of course, that we easily reach a point where the project or activity that we have been postponing is no longer feasible as we have reached a state in our physical or mental health where we are no longer able to engage. It’s too late and now we will never get to experience it.

Much of the research among elderly and terminally ill people shows that the interviewees seldomly feel regret for the things that they did do, but very often express regret about the things that they did not do. And in most cases, these were things that people wanted to do, but that were postponed until it was too late. So, the fourth thought to noodle on is, for things that you really want to do but have been postponing, if not now, then when?

Thought #5: What do you want people to say at your funeral?

The final thought I want to leave you with is concerned with the entire arc of your life. The guidance by spiritual leaders in Bhutan to their people is to think about your death three times per day, i.e. in the morning, in the middle of the day and before going to sleep. The idea is that by frequently confronting yourself with your own mortality, it is easier to prioritize the important actions and to deprioritize the urgent, but in the larger picture of things, less important ones.

The Stoics have a similar, but slightly broader, exercise: premeditatio malorum, which is the premeditation on the evils and troubles that might lie ahead. Here you imagine the worst things that could happen to you, try to live through the experience as if it is happening and plan how you would respond to tragedy when it does hit you. The idea is that it makes you both happier right now as the bad things that you imagined have not happened right now and it prepares you for when evils and troubles do happen as you have mentally prepared.

In western culture, the most common mechanism is to think about what you would want your loved ones, friends and acquaintances to say at your funeral as that is where a life is summed up, in the end. In Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, a well-known science fiction book worth reading in my view, there is a role called the Speaker for the Dead. This person will, at a funeral, give an overview of the life of the deceased and do so in an objective fashion, sharing both the good and the bad, warts and all. As a final thought to reflect on this summer: what would you want your loved ones and friends to say about you at your funeral? And what are you doing today to ensure that they say the things you want them to say?

Concluding, the summer is often a time for reflection and recharging. It is easy to end up in mindless, time-filling activities that do not really add anything to our lives. With this post, my intent was to challenge you, dear reader, as well as myself to use part of the time to reflect on our lives and decide if you are squeezing the most out of it. And, if not, what you are going to do about it. In the end, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it. Have a great summer!

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