MORE Things I Learned in my 20’s

I’ve been asked to write another one of these posts. If you're interested, you can find PART ONE HERE. Now.. Let’s crack into it!

If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying

I used to think I had a lot of time to do whatever I wanted. You may be like me in that regard. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, after all! But what kind of life do you want? 

Think about the situation the average person ends up in. It’s not pretty. Most people hate their jobs, their bosses, and are unsatisfied with both their position in life, and their relationships. They aspire to be better than they are, yet lack the willpower to do anything about it.

Face it: Life is a mud-slicked incline where you either continue forward, or slowly slip back. If you don’t maintain focused effort, you will lose whatever skill or knowledge you’ve gathered. Personal development is not a “once and done” situation, it's an ongoing progression.

If you’re not where you want to be right now, you don’t see a path to get where you want, and/or you have no idea what situation you want - it’s time to decide. Do you want financial freedom? Do you want to travel the world? Do you want to learn another language? Do you want to simply have autonomy and purpose at work? Then decide when you would like to have that by. Simply by picking a goal (better if it's specific and concrete), and a date (someday is not a day of the week), you will automatically start thinking of the steps it will take to get there.

As Tony Robbins says: Taking massive, consistent action toward your goal, and you will achieve it. Small, inconsistent actions, on the other hand...

This leads us to..

Build Up Willpower

An excellent book on the topic is shockingly titled “Willpower,” by Roy Baumeister. It goes through the current research on the topic in an approachable, easily digestible manner. I’ll briefly go over the topics here:

Willpower and Glucose (Sugar)
  • Willpower is glucose (sugar) in the brain.
  • Eating simple carbs/sugars (refined sugar, white grains, etc) will give you a spike in sugar, but leave you depleted shortly after. Just another reason to eat healthier, slower burning complex carbohydrates.
  • Eating healthier foods, such as complex carbs and vegetables, will give you a more stable supply of willpower-supporting sugars
  • Enduring pain, controlling emotions, and denying desires are all acts of will that burn through some of your glucose.
Building Willpower
  • Willpower is like a muscle: it weakens after immediate use, but gets stronger the more you use it.
  • Start small: floss daily, pick up the dirty clothes around your room, or even simply making your bed everyday. Little things will build your willpower and make you more likely to continue doing it. Once you do them enough (some say 21 days), it will become a habit.
  • Habits require very little willpower to maintain. Once you have one small thing installed, build another one. The reason most lifestyle changes fail is because they tackle too many things at once. Small compounding change is what you need to aim for.
The book also goes more in-depth on detailing the signs of depleted willpower, allowing you to control yourself when you most need. If your brain is depleted of glucose, you will find temptations greater, and your ability to resist will be weak. It’s a potent one-two punch, but can be defeated if you recognize the signs:
  • Higher emotional reactions
  • More desire to express negative emotions
  • Irritability
  • Stronger cravings for unhealthy foods
In sum: be conscious of your willpower. It is a large factor in the “Conscientiousness” part of the personality scale. Conscientiousness can be briefly summed up as: following through, planning, being prepared and methodical. In other words, being thorough, careful, and vigilant. This is the only correlated personality trait with success.

Why do I always emphasize starting small? Because we are creatures of habit. Our small, seemingly-inconsequential habits are the ones that determine what we will do when the big, important events happen. When under stress or temptation, we will default to our everyday choices, our average selves.

If you’re despairing, saying “But Phil, I have terrible self-control!” then you're in the same spot I was when I started. See it as a challenge. Get a buddy to see who can floss more times each week and put something on the line. After years of effort, I can finally get things done when I decide that they should be done.

As the old adage goes: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Self-Discipline is one of the only true freedoms you can achieve. After all, if you can’t control yourself, what can you control?

Build Resilience - Avoid Weakening Yourself through Luxury

This isn’t going to be popular, but I’m going to shove this bitter pill onto the table because its necessary medicine.

Comfort is not happiness. We should not aspire to comfort. In fact, comfort is what weakens us and makes us slide downward on that slippery mudslide of gradual decline. Bones and muscle get stronger under controlled stress, but become brittle and withered when given excessive comfort. Comfort is an addictive poison that we should allow ourselves to indulge in on occasion, like a fine spirit or wine, but not something we should heavily lean on.

Maybe you’re comfortable and think “I could totally do all those uncomfortable things I used to do! I just don’t want to do them anymore!” and maybe that’s true. But if you still think you're capable of doing them, you should challenge yourself to see if that's true. Maybe you define yourself as an outdoorsman, but haven’t roughed it in 10 years. If that’s the case, challenge yourself to try. See how much you’ve declined, because assuredly you have gotten worse without that practice.

It’s Incredibly Easy to Become a Charlatan

char·la·tan; ˈSHärlədən,ˈSHärlətn; noun
 a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill; a fraud.

Are you a writer who doesn’t write? Then you’re not a writer.
Are you a dancer who doesn’t dance? Then you’re not a dancer.
Are you an Xer who doesn’t X? Then you’re NOT an Xer!

Replace X with whatever you define yourself. Life gets ahead of us sometimes and we end up having to sacrifice our long-term goals or dreams for the short-term minutia and simple survival. 

Keep your eyes on the prize, continue to take steps - no matter how small - and push yourself. You can reach greatness - all of us can - but it requires that we continue to push ourselves, to move forward, and to see what we are capable of.

I'm not saying to kill yourself with work, but I am saying that working for a goal that will eventually free you from the drudgery of daily life is worth it. Working for yourself, and for something you believe will leave you feeling better than watching another season of your favourite show.

In Closing

Life is not a series of trials with the end goal of doing nothing and being comfortable until you die. Doing nothing all day is a form of death in itself.

Life should be a series of daring attempts at improving yourself, your relationships, and the life you lead. It should be helping people and yourself achieve your wildest dreams and performing at your best.

Carpe Diem - You Only Live Once

Challenge yourself to see what height you can reach and don’t settle for mere comfort and mediocrity!