Regret: How to Feel Better About the Road Not Taken

You’ll always feel nostalgic whenever leaving behind anything that provoked strong emotions in you.

Nostalgia combines the pleasant memory of the past with the cold realisation that a desirable aspect of that past is irredeemably lost.

And sometimes you’ll feel regretful about a road not taken.

The thing about regret is that we tend to imbue those roads with idealised connotations that aren’t real, fantasising about a “what-if”, perceived life that essentially exists only in your imagination.

And it is your imagination that paints this inexistent experience with a wide array of colours and hues.

“There are people in your life who inspire art. And you blow them up into mythical characters and you give them all these magical qualities. Maybe they’re just stepping stones to something bigger and better.” – Californication.

But you’ll never know if you’re actually better or worse off for not having taken that road.

Maybe the decision itself was there in the first place for the sole purpose of carrying you to where you are now (that is, if you believe in destiny).

Either way – it was a stepping stone.

I think you can’t avoid regret though.

It’s a natural by-product of living an analysed life. I’d try keeping your life moving in one direction though: forwards.

Christopher Hitchens once said you have to choose your future regrets.

You’ll often have enough information at the time to know what you’d rather end up regretting in the future; but in any case you can’t know where either path will end up.

“Even with all the advantages of retrospect (…) you can’t make your life look as if you intended it or you were consistent. All you can show is how you dealt with various hands.” – Christopher Hitchens

It’s great to reflect and to analyse in retrospect but you always have full information in terms of you ended up living your life and the benefit of hindsight after the fact.

Only after you’re in that position, can you connect the dots:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs

And as you look back, you can poke holes in how certain decisions made lead to some dead-ends and things didn’t pan out how you’d initially hoped they would.

But if it felt right in the moment, then you can’t be hard on yourself or regret making the decision (unless it was a snap decision that wasn’t thought through).

So all you can do when making a decision is try to make the best decision at the time, given all available information at the time.

Even if it blows up in your face, you know that you’d do the same thing given all available information.

Live life to the fullest, look back on your experiences and heed the lessons from them, and move on.

After all – “life must be lived forward and reviewed backwards.”

 

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4 Practical Ways to Recover from Work (Backed by Science) – Part 2 of 2

This is the second part of a series full of practical tips on how to properly recover from work (you can read part 1 here).

Let’s dive right in shall we.

5. Take frequent breaks rather than save them up

If you need a break – take a break.

If you want to maintain high levels of productivity at work then you have to take regular breaks.

If you need a holiday – go on a holiday.

When you work for long stretches of time without taking a holiday, it can be exhausting and such an approach will only hurt you in the long-run.

You risk over-depletion.

Through over-depletion, you end up digging into your compensatory resources.

So when you take your holidays too late, it is likely you will face a more prolonged and difficult recovery process.

In fact, a lot of your holiday will probably be centred around bringing yourself (and your personal resources) back to baseline rather than expending energy to do new things or travel.

After all, if you’re in an over-depleted state – you don’t have much energy at your disposal.

Take regular holidays because if you deplete yourself, it will be difficult to recover from that and bring yourself back to baseline.

6. Don’t check work email during off-job time

If you get work email over the weekend and decide to check it, you are activating work-related systems during your leisure time.

Not only are you robbing yourself of 100% unadulterated leisure time, you’re actually doing yourself a tremendous disservice to your overall well-being in the long run.

What this means is that you are not recovering from work properly and that you are risking burnout in the long term.

Studies have shown that better psychological detachment in employee leisure time predicts better performance in the long-term.

In fact, employees who don’t respond to emails on weekend tend to perform better at work in the long run.

Easiest way to help your cause?

Don’t have email on your phone.

7. If you’re a workaholic, focus on exercising into your recovery time

You can read more about that here.

8. Get rid of hassles – Cut toxic people out of your life

Fritz et al. 2010 paper prerequisite

But you know how stress hormones are summoned by your body to tackle job-related assignments in the workplace?

Well, emotionally taxing people will draw on the same stress-related functional systems in your leisure time and will burn you out.

In his book Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich emphasises that you cut out the negative people and spiritual vampires from your life because, otherwise, “you are fighting off stress, anxiety, and worry rather than pushing forward toward what you want to achieve.”

Toxic and emotionally draining people also affect your overall productivity, as filmmaker, artist, and found of the Webby awards, Tiffany Shlain posits in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind:

“You’re letting those people into your brain and they’re going to influence your thoughts. I find that I even dream about some of the people I follow [on social media]. We need to be really mindful of who we let into our stream of consciousness.”

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

4 Practical Ways to Recover from Work (Backed by Science) – Part 1 of 2

You have to be able to reset properly on a daily basis.

Otherwise you’ll turn up to work the next time running on fumes.

Works takes away a lot from you; it drains your resources (e.g. energy, mood etc.)

You need to replenish and be able to build up those resources through the right types of activities so that you’ve properly recovered during your free time.

It’s important, not just because recovering from work properly translates into better productivity (at work and at home), but also translates into better psychological health and overall well-being

As recovery becomes increasingly elusive, some become so depleted that they suffer from burnout.

This is the first of a two part series full of practical tips on how to properly recover from work during your free time.

1. Identify activities that replenish your resources

According to Sonnentag (2001), general resource-replenishing activities include:

– Social activities (e.g. meeting up with friends),
– Low-effort activities (e.g. watching TV),
– Physical exercise.

Resource-replenishing activities are called recovery experiences.

Physical exercise is great because it has huge stress-management potential and changes the chemistry of your body, not to mention other help benefits that are worth bearing in mind.

Social activities are great too, although there are notable exceptions when socialising fails.

Resource-replenishing activities can include those that require different sensory activation.

So if you’ve been reading all day at work, try cooking as part of your recovery from the workplace.

If you’ve been staring at a monitor all day, smelling and tasting some good food will surely restore you.

2. Remember what makes a great recovery experience

The best resource-replenishing recovery experiences are those that incorporate the following:

  • Psychological detachment from work 

This means “switching off” and completely forgetting about work during leisure time.

It’s not enough to physically distance yourself from work.

You need to mentally distance yourself in equal measure and think about something else entirely – other than work. 

You can read all about psychological detachment here.

  • Mastery

Mastery can be gained from seeking out and experiencing intellectual or physical challenges; doing something that will broaden your horizons.

This is where low-effort activities fall short. 

There’s no mastery in low-effort activities.

There’s no greater meaning to them, no greater sense of progress or accomplishment.

For me, I gain a sense of mastery from writing this blog, discovering the secrets of human psychology by reading books, or cooking, to name a few examples.

But I also experience mastery in my swimming and cycling, striving to improve every time I hit the pool or hop on the bike.

  • Control

A sense of control (or autonomy) in whatever it is that we do is a fundamental human need. 

We experience a lot of autonomy from deciding our schedule in the sense that we get to choose how we spend our time.

Filling out your taxes after work may theoretically be classified as recovery, but it’s not necessarily something you’d like to be spending your leisure time doing.

In fact, quite often is the case that people procrastinate on filling out their taxes to such an extent that little choice is involved in actually choosing to do this particular activity.

It is a fundamental need to have a choice in what we want to voluntarily spend our leisure time on, a sense of autonomy in choosing what activity we want to participate in.

  • Relaxation

Your activity needs to relax you.

It needs to help you kick back and chill.

Whether this is hitting the pool, reading, or chilling with friends while listening to some tunes, it’s all good if it’s relaxing.

3. Try to avoid low-effort activities if you’re stressed

Low-effort activities aren’t always great for recovery.

If physical activity is the healthy, nutritious meal of all recovery experiences, then you could say that low-effort activities can sometimes be thought of as the junk food of them all.

You might feel you’re recovering while chilling on the sofa, but if you’re still thinking about work or are worrying about a job-related task while doing so – you’re not recovering from the workplace properly.

In such a scenario, you’re still activating the same job-related functional systems and you’re still experiencing prolonged activation – it’s as if you’ve never left the office.

Low-effort activities can backfire on your recovery this way.

Be done with work the moment you are done with it.

Be done when you’re done.

4. Learn to disentangle from worry

Worry is a future-focused emotion.

You think of an uncertain event in the future and imagine the anxiety stemming from an outcome that hasn’t materialised and doesn’t simply exist.

By worrying about a future event, you are not living in the present moment.

Don’t let worry poison your leisure time.

Instead, learn to relate to it differently.

One effective way to do that would be to practice mindfulness so that the worry has less of an impact on you, both emotionally and behaviourally).

“It [mindfulness] is awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of the experience moment-by-moment”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn (2003)

The mindfulness approach encourages people to accept their difficult thoughts and feelings rather than working against them.

“Anxiety is an emotion. It is an emotion that disempowers you and accomplishes nothing. So when you learn how to get into the moment and how to engage in active meditation, you no longer feel anxiety and you get into a state of flow.”

-Mike Cernovich, author of Gorilla Mindset and the popular blog Danger and Play

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, be sure to check out part 2 of this series. Feel free to sign up to the whatmybrosaid email list for more posts like this.

Why Mistakes Are Good and How to Feel Better About Making Them

Mistakes are good.

As James Victore, author, designer, filmmaker, and educator writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind:

“Mistakes are a part of life and often the path to profound new insights – so why try to remove them completely? Getting lost while driving or visiting a new city used to be an adventure and a good story. Now we just follow the GPS.”

Mistakes can show you possibility, an alternative perspective.

But mistakes have to be made if you or I are to learn and grow.

Mistakes open up a world that can facilitate unapologetic self-improvement.

According to Grayson Perry, the amount of mistakes you make can be treated as a gauge of how much effort you are putting into your work:

“You have to make mistakes, this is how you learn. If you’re not making many mistakes, I hate to worry you but you’re not working hard enough.”
If it weren’t for mistakes, the microwave wouldn’t have been invented.

The Microwave

Percy LeBaron Spencer loved nature.

He would always carry a peanut cluster bar in his pocket to break up and feed squirrels and chipmunks during lunch.

It’s funny how this bar would aid Percy in discovering the microwave.

How?

Here’s what Scott Belsky writes in Making Ideas Happen about the accidental discovery:

“One of the most famous examples of discovery by mistake is the invention of the microwave oven by Raytheon scientist Percy LeBaron Spencer during World War II.

While working on the development of a radar system to assist the Allied armies in the detection of Nazi warplanes, Spencer stood in front of an operating magnetron.

Later, the unassuming scientist realised that the candy bar that had been in his pocket had melted. Further experimentation to understand this accident created an entire industry.”

How to feel better about making mistakes

We live in a society that celebrates mistakes and glorifies failures.

Indeed, the mistakes don’t have to be yours as you can learn by observing others.

After all, we as humans are – as author of Mastery Robert Greene notes – primed for observational learning.

By learning through the mistakes of others, you are de factor cutting your learning curve into a fraction of the time it would take you to learn by yourself – through trial and error.

However, there is no better education than making your own mistakes and having to learn from them.

Making mistakes can be stressful though.

That’s why people are generally averse to making any sort of them.

They are afraid they might be ridiculed, reprimanded, scolded by others.

Above all however – they simply just feel bad about making them in the first place.

Indeed, areas of the brain related to avoidance are activated when mistakes are made.

So how can we feel better about making them?

It turns out there is a simple psychological answer to this question.

A study published in the journal Nature Communications by neuroscientists Stefano Palminteri and colleagues suggests that if people are given the chance to review and reflect upon their mistakes, they could feel good about making them.

This could also make them become less averse to making future mistakes and better embrace the lessons that ultimately come from them.

Palminteri and colleagues also found that making mistakes could be experienced as rewarding as reward circuits of the brain were activated upon reflection in participants.

Closing thoughts

With mistakes, you either win or you learn.

Microwave inventor Percy LeBaron Spencer won.

But most times, you simply learn.

Heed the lessons from these mistakes and you’ll be golden.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to the email list for more posts like this.

What Is Your Circle of Competence?

Warren Buffet refers to the Circle of Competence as the useful knowledge we’ve accumulated throughout our life.

Through the experiences we’ve gone through, we’ve picked up wisdom and various life lessons, factual knowledge.

But we’ve also developed, as Charlie Munger says, our own skill-sets and areas of expertise.

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Warren Buffet’s “Circle of Competence”

But I also wanted draw a comparison of the Circle of Competence to Anthony Robbins’ idea of the Comfort Zone.

The Comfort Zone

In his book “Unlimited Power”, Robbins talks about our comfort zone being a circle.

Very much like the most inner circle of our Circle of Competence.

We are perfectly comfortable in and familiar with everything in our comfort zone.

In life, we will encounter various problems – challenges or obstacles.

Robbins conceptualises these as “X’s”. In other words, if there is a problem, an X will stick to the outer rim of your comfort zone.

If you don’t overcome the obstacles and challenges, your comfort zone will shrink

If you successfully overcome that obstacle and get rid of the problem, your comfort zone “eats” the X, and it grows bigger.

Essentially – the more X’s your comfort zone “eats”, the more you grow.

The nuanced point

Through life, you will run into obstacles and confront challenges.

Whether you’re going through life actively or passively, you will inevitably run into these.

But if you navigate life with a bias to action, you will run into obstacles far more often.

Because you are actively looking to expand your comfort zone, the universe will fight back and throw all these X’s and challenges at you.

Because the universe doesn’t care if you grow or don’t grow.

All the universe wants is for you to find your mate, spread your seed, and let someone pump out a vehicle that contains 50% of your genes.

So if you’re actively making life happen for you and not happen to you, you’ll have more challenges to overcome.

“Those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.” – Nicolo Machiavelli

And as you jump over the hurdles that life throws you’re way, you’re comfort zone will widen, you’ll become more adept at overcoming these obstacles, and you’ll become more competent.

Because you’ll learn valuable, hard-earned truths and wisdom as you expose yourself to this growth-promoting experiences.

And you’ll grow as a result.

So if you live with a bias to action, your growth over time will behave like compound interest.

The intersection between the comfort zone and the Circle of Competence

Is the Circle of Competence analogous to Robbins’ concept of the comfort zone?

Doesn’t your Circle of Competence increase in size as you navigate life with a bias to action?

Warren Buffet mentions that though our Circle of Competence can expand slowly over time, you should stick to what you know, to what you’re competent at because if you don’t, you’ll be more likely to make mistakes.

But as a culture, we condemn failure and glorify success.

Are mistakes really that bad?

After all, you’ll grow if you properly heed the lessons from them.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

Why Facebook is Junk Food

Facebook appeals to basic, biological needs.

Yes, to some extent these social needs are tended to when you go on Facebook.

But there is a glass ceiling to how much Facebook can fill up your ‘social bar’ (like in The Sims.)

Going on Facebook gives you the impression, the illusion that these needs are being met.

And this, in large part, is thought to contribute to lower self-esteem levels and higher depression rates among the Millenial generation.

I think this is because Facebook is becoming the centrepiece of their social lives rather than a supplement.

Facebook alone can’t feed the need for social connectedness and the need to form strong, meaningful relationships with other people.

It doesn’t completely feed the need of social connectedness; it just gives you the impression that it does.

Facebook is (social) junk food.

You feel like you’ve eaten, but you haven’t eaten well.

After a while, you’re undernourished but all you’re feeding yourself with is crap.

It is a 100% parallel with diet. If you eat junk food all the time, obviously your health will deteriorate.

And there’s this question that keeps floating about:

Does Facebook cause depression? Is it cause or effect?

There is no clear cut answer but one way of looking at it would be to say that it’s a vicious cycle.

Perfectly healthy teenagers will substitute going out for FB and will start to become depressed in the same manner that they would become malnourished on a diet of junk food.

By the same token, a depressed person will go on FB to improve his mood and feel social, but will over time realise that the baseline for being social won’t be met through these means.

What do you think?

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