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.”

 

Build Your Own Empire

I understand when someone talks about their struggles in trying to escape.

In trying to escape both the physical poverty they were born in to…

And the paralysing self-doubt and debilitating mental poverty that continues to stifle their growth and self-development way into their 20’s and beyond.

In a banned MTV interview with Tupac Shakur, 2Pac shares a powerful message:

When you’re born, usually you’re born into a dynasty or an empire (…) following in your father’s, grandfather’s footsteps. You’re always told “oh your father, your grandfather did this” so we got this, the family heirlooms…

There’s none of that in the outer city. I call it the outer city ’cause we left out. There’s no nothin’.

We didn’t get any family heirlooms, the family crest…all of that stuff that you would think was so important was meaningless. I mean come on – our family crest was cotton (…)

The only thing we could leave behind is culture, is music, dignity, and determination. That’s all we had.

I feel as though I’m cheated because instead of me fulfilling my prophecy, I have to start one. Instead of doing a good job and carrying on an empire, I have to build one. 

And that’s a helluva’ job for a twenty-one year old. That’s a helluva’ job for any youngster, male or female, to have to build an empire for your family.

Especially when the odds are that you know that somebody else who lives in the inner city – the real inner city, suburbia – who, when he’s born at 16 he gets a car, [it’s] automatic. There’s money in the bank for college, for Christmas you go for vacation somewhere…”

Skip to 3:17-4:43 to watch the bit of the interview relevant to this post, but I urge you to watch the whole thing. It’s illuminating.

Build an empire

It’s easy to get bitter about not getting the springboard to an awesome life that you deserve or to whine and complain about how easy others have it while for you it’s always been an uphill battle.

You can wallow in self-pity, be bitter or angry about the fact that others get things handed to them with no resistance while you’re constantly struggling – but that’s life.

The gazelle can complain about the lion until it goes blue in the face.

Ain’t nothing gonna change.

Accept it.

Own who you are and where you come from.

Adjust your beliefs to enable you to function in the objective world – not in the idealised, fantasy world of how you wish the world to be.

Because you are not entitled to anything and the world owes you nothing.

If you want something – you have to go to get it.

Though you may have escaped or are still yet to escape the physical poverty you might be living in, you also have the job of having to de-programme yourself from the mental poverty that you were conditioned into from a very young age.

Because you can’t build an empire on shaky foundations.

Develop an inner directness whereby you yourself decide how to live and develop the necessary metal support structures to help you along your way like a strong self-confidence, self-assuredness, and high self-esteem.

Those things don’t come from reading only.

You need action; what you do will change how you think.

And you need to win small victories to climb the mountain.

But it’s definitely possible – you can still build an empire.

You’ll just have to work harder for it.

But the best thing about is that it’ll be your very own.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter.

Lessons Learnt From Cooking New Recipes

Growth occurs at the boundaries of our capabilities.

As part of my 2016 New Year’s Resolution, I decided to cook a special meal once a week.

These recipes weren’t supposed to be easy or difficult. They were supposed to be challenging. The unknown is challenging. Cooking something new is exactly that.

And one of my first realisations was that cooking well is hard.

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

– Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own (1992)

Don’t get me wrong, I considered myself to be a good cook. I knew how to cook a juicy steak. How to cook well-seasoned, succulent chicken breasts.

Through persistent trial and error, I feel I’ve nearly perfected cooking fluffy, flaky white rice.

But ever since I started my challenging myself as a cook by trying to spark up new dishes, me being a ‘good cook’ has become an extremely fluid concept. 

And as you can expect in trying times – I had a few realisations and the first is this:

We might think we’re good in some areas of our lives…

But once we actually put those skills to the test, we realise we have a long, long way ahead of us if we want to achieve actual greatness.

I very quickly realised that I was far away from practicing culinary wizardry.

And the worst thing is that when I failed the first few times at cooking these new dishes – I started doubting myself in every other area of life.

I started thinking what a poor cyclist I am…wh-what has that got to do with anything?

But I just laughed these ruminations off.

It’s very important to be cognisant of such self-deprecating mental gymnastics.

If you’re not, they will hinder your progress, not to mention make you feel lousy.

Being cognisant of these thoughts is super important because, after all – they’re just thoughts.

To paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, you’ll be able to accept these naturally occurring thoughts but detach yourself from them without assigning any deeper meaning or significance to them.

Your brain doesn’t want you to put yourself in challenging situations.

It wants you to make sure you’re passing on your genes or pumping out kids.

It wants you to live a comfortable life, characterised by familiarity, which actually breeds resentment and self-loathing over time.

If you listen to your brain when trying to grow, you will shackle yourself and unceremoniously sentence yourself to a life of monotony.

If you want to grow, you have to be ready for the high emotional spikes and low emotional dips.

For the high highs as well as the low lows. 

Embrace the challenge

Because if you challenge yourself in one area of life, it somehow magically brings up other areas in your life.

I’ve noticed this with my cooking.

In retrospect, cooking a new dish every week positively impacted my health, my social life (sharing the fruit of your labour is the best part) and my exercise regime. 

And on a micro-level, I developed a healthy weekly habit.

It helped me become more organised and disciplined while cooking and these traits spilled into my daily life.

It imposed a structure into my life, and cultivated in me an attention to detail.

Also, (and I concede this may be too nuanced of a point) cooking forced me to delegate more attention to other sensory modalities and not be overly focused on experiencing life just with sight and sound.

Anyway – what’s your challenge for the new year?

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Act on Strategy to Get What You Want

Here you are.

Behind you are the roads you’ve travelled.

Some are less travelled, others not taken.

But that’s the past. No need to dwell on it too much; heed the lessons and move on.

“Life has to be lived forwards and reviewed backwards.” – Søren Kierkegaard

You turn around and look forward.

As you look ahead – roads, long and paved with potholes.

A few of them might lead you to some pretty dark alleys.

But then there’s the road you want to take.

But wanting is not enough – you have to walk the walk.

How do you get there?

You have to have a strategy; even the slightest veneer of an overarching strategy can take you far.

“Strategy is the essence of human action—the bridge between an idea and its realization in the world.” –The 50th Law by Robert Greene

You don’t have to know the strategy inside-out just yet.
After all,  you can’t see that far.
But if you can make out something, anything, and you know you are willing to get there – walk.
Walk diligently, purposefully, and consistently towards where you want to be and look forward to the harvest you will inevitably reap from your journey.

My 2016 Annual Review

This is my second Annual Review for What My Bro Said.

I must admit, doing this annual report last year has allowed me to be more purposeful in my reflection and understanding of my wants and aspirations.

At the same time, it’s allowed me to constructively work towards my aspirations. And I’m joyous to have reached most of my goals all the while making substantial progress in every area of my life.

In this report, I will share what I was working towards in 2016 and how I fared.

I will share my successes and failures of the past year. However, I will be a lot less critical of myself than I was yesteryear.

I will also share my plans for the future to build upon what already works and dedicate special focus to areas that need further improvement.

I will answer 3 questions:

• What I was working toward in 2016?

• What went well this year?

• What am I working toward in 2017?

1. What I was working toward in 2016?

Goal: Academic excellence (i.e. a 1st in my degree)
Result: a very strong 2:1 (68%)

In my final year of University, I wanted to get a strong first in my degree. This was a very tough task because I hadn’t performed as well in my second year.

I graduated from university with a strong 2:1 (68%), narrowly missing my desired first.

Still, I managed to pick up a few strong first’s in other modules, most notably my dissertation project.

My project yielded interesting, promising results and I took up a position as a Research Assistant over the Summer to carry out an extension on a larger sample size.

Goal: My first ebook
Result: My first ebook + my very first 50,000 word novel + weekly blog post

Writing was a big focus for me in 2016.

I accomplished this and so much more.

It’s a huge personal accomplishment that I managed to maintain a blog writing habit for over a year (and counting!)

Indeed, I wrote a blog post that was initially meant to be an ebook. I felt you’d enjoy it more this way.

But I also wrote my very first 50k word novel; a novel I had been writing on/off since I was 17.

Aim: Growing our community here on What My Bro Said
Result: Difficult to say

Have I succeeded at this?

Depends.

Given everything that I’ve spoken about here on the blog about goal-setting theory and building systems to carry you towards your goals, it is important to note two things.

Firstly, I built a system to blog on a weekly basis. Secondly though, I didn’t have a tangible goal to reach. I just wanted to use my system to see how well this blog would grow organically.

But I realise I didn’t put enough effort in to get my word out to as many social media channels as possible etc.

I must admit, I don’t like that part of blog writing. In general, I’m not a big fan of social media (although keeping in touch with people from afar is the best thing about it.)

Aim: Playing the drums more
Result: n/a

In late December, I reviewed everything I had done in 2015. I looked through my iPhone notes, photos, and emails for clues that would jog my memory. I searched for recurring themes in my life.

I still have this feeling that I’d happily start playing again. I love playing on the drums. But I’ve come to realised there are many, many obstacles.

Aim: Cooking a new dish every week
Result: yes and no

As part of my journey to living a better life, I intended to cook a special meal once a week to improve my cooking skills.

And though I did this week in, week out for the first few weeks, I stopped.

But then I started again.

And stopped again.

But I feel that overall I pushed myself to cook different things and because of this, I did. I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have cooked eclectic dishes had I not set out to do so in the first place.

Aim: Improve fitness
Result: yes and no

I wanted to re-build myself physically after being sidelined with a knee injury for nearly 6months.

I did this but in a different way than I had previously imagined.

In 2015, I was aggressive in my training regime. I’d constantly push myself in the gym and on the bike and this took its toll.

In 2016, I focused on the health side of sport. I swam and cycled for health and restorative purposes, but also with a vision to build myself up over time.

I think this approach will help me in the long run.

2. What went well this year?

Reading

I read 15 books in 2016! (Check out my Instagram to see what I read)

Personally, this is a huge accomplishment for me.

I realise that others are reading 40+ books a year (I’m open to suggestions on how I can read more!).

And I’m super keen to learn from them, how they do it.

Because I realise what got me here (i.e. reading 15 books) won’t necessarily get me there (e.g. to read 30 books).

But ultimately – I’m in the competition that has the Me of Today in one corner and the Me of Tomorrow in the other.

Writing

For all of 2016, I wrote a blog post every Monday here on WMBS.

I also wrote an ebook-turned-blogpost.

And finished a 50,000 word novel I had been writing since I was 17.

Research Assistant

I became a R.A based on merit. This fed my personal and professional growth in many different ways.

I graduated!

This past July, I graduated from university 🙂

Travelling

The culmination of my university years sparked off a journey of self-discovery.

I travelled to 10 cities after my university exams were over.

June – Glasgow, Warsaw, Krakow, Marseille, Paris

August – Milan, Verona, Venice,

September – Warsaw, London,

October – Paris,

November – Hong Kong.

Never before had I travelled so much and I am very pleased by that.

I’d learnt so much about myself and the world and can’t recommend travelling enough.

It shapes you in immeasurable ways.

President of the Psychology Society + Student Rep second year running

At University, I wanted to make the most of my third and final year.

I asked professors, recent uni graduates, and searched far and wide for the answer.

This book helped immensely.

I am convinced that I made the most out of my final year.

I was elected as Student Rep for a second year running and became the President of the very first Psychology Society at my uni.

As President, I was able to improve the many things that I felt was lacking in my own uni experience. I was able to build a social network with various professors in the department and build strong relationships with them.

I was also able to bring together likeminded people and create a group of friends who would meet on a weekly to bi-weekly basis.

But it was also a period of tremendous personal and character growth. I solidified myself in the role of a leader but also, I feel, as an instigator of winds of change.

At the end of the year the society won a “Best New Society” award.

A period spent in immersion culminated in an award.

I got accepted into a full-time, two-year graduate programme

I was pleased to have found my first job still in 2016.

I’ve only just started but it’s a totally different ball game to what I’ve become accustomed to over the past years.

3. What am I working towards in 2017?

Cycle to Paris

This was something I was working towards back in 2014 but I got sidelined by a knee injury.

I still want to do this.

This will help me with my diet and fitness and overall health.

I need to prepare diligently, consistently, bit by bit.

Once I cycle to Paris, it will be the culmination of a period spent in immersion.

Purposeful reading of quality books

I would like reading books to continue being a big part of my life for me.

I’m not setting myself a target to reach as I did in 2016, but I plan to continue using the system I had developed for myself and see how far it takes me.

Also, I have asked people I respect to recommend me two titles each.

I have done this to achieve a breadth and depth of reading of quality books.

Travel

I am abundantly aware that my travelling escapades won’t match the magnitude of this year’s adventures.

With only 25 days of holiday, one can only do so much.

But this will help me become more organised in my travels.

I’ve already got a few ideas…

Concerts

I love music and as a drummer I particularly enjoy rock.

I’ve listened to many bands over the years but I’ve never gone and seen them live.

I’ve already booked tickets to see the bands I used to listen to and I’ve done so in a way that will also feed into my travelling aspiration for next year (e.g. I’m going to Berlin for an Aerosmith concert).

***

I enumerate these things while being conscious that I can update these as I go along.

Roll on 2017!

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Savour Obscurity While It Lasts

Wow we really want things to come to us quickly.

Fast cars, grand houses and grand fortunes.

 

And our journey can be frustrating.

We are impulsive creatures and we don’t like playing the long game.

If we had it our own way, we’d want instant resounding success and all the fame and money that goes hand in hand with instant resounding success.

But what if you achieved all that success?

What would you do?

What would the next thing be?

I guess you’d do nothing but go through peak experiences and make the most out of life and sample all the best that life has in every area of life.

But isn’t that sort of like completing the game? The game of life.

It’s like you’re at 95% and it will be much tougher to get those last 5%.

Like in GTA, you’d have to do side missions, look for hidden packages, all of which are really just a supplement to the overarching theme of the game.

You probably actually had way more fun when you started the game, intent on building your empire, going through all those missions and getting rich by hook or by crook.

So is it all about the journey rather than the destination?

As Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, said:

 

“Dopamine is not about pleasure. It’s about the anticipation of pleasure. It’s about the pursuit of happiness rather than happiness itself.”

There’s something special about “obscurity”

And in Hugh MacLeod’s book Ignore Everybody, Hugh actually mentions how artists (musicians, painters, writers etc) might produce their best work before “they’ve made it”:

The funny thing is, when you hear the “rock stars” talk about their climb to the top, the part they invariably speak most fondly is not the part with all the fame, money, and parties.

It’s the part before they made it, back when they were living in a basement without electricity and “eating dog food”, back when they were doing their breakthrough work.

When it’s just you, a dream, and a few cans of dog food, there’s only one person to worry about. But when the dream turns into a reality, there’s all sorts of other people suddenly needing to be taken care of, in order to keep the engine running.

Publishers, investors, managers, journalists, retailers, suppliers, groupies, employees, accountants, family members…and the paying customers. They all have a stake in your act, and they all want a piece of the action.

Of course, one reason the rock starts can speak of their basement-an-dog-food era so fondly is because it eventually came to an end; it didn’t last forever.

And with all the world tours and parties, this era of creating their seminal work soon became a distant memory.

So quite naturally, they miss it. But if they were still “eating dog food” after a few decades, I doubt they’d be waxing so lyrically.

The message is savour obscurity while it lasts.

It’s the pursuit of happiness that’s the best thing about life.

So don’t wish away the now. Enjoy the phase of life you are currently in.

Because you’ll make it. It will all turn out well in the end.

Only for you to realise that it was all well and good all along.

What My Bro Said

 

Get into The Mindset Of The Future

In high school, one of the things I had to do was write a 4,000-word essay on any topic and any subject of my choosing. So much freedom of choice that it was crippling.

I chose to write in Psychology and about the “effect of violent video games on young audiences.”

I remember thinking of the whole endeavour as a daunting drudgery that I had to someway, somehow survive. In the beginning, stress and uncertainty were huge factors.

I felt lost and overwhelmed.

The funniest thing about the whole experience was that it turned out to be the most enjoyable assignment of my entire 3 years in high school.

I look upon every stage of that entire research project very fondly.

What would I have been able to unlock?

What if I had the mindset about the project that I have now (i.e. enjoyable, stimulating, insightful, an awesome learning opportunity) when I first started the assignment?

What would I have been able to unlock?

13166559284_b2f016a2ac_h.jpg
randy der via Flickr

How much better would I have been able to perform in the assignment? What else would I have been able to tap into?

At beginning of any project, things may seem daunting at first. It all might seem like an insurmountable mountain to climb.

You just envision all the work ahead of you.

Woah.

And even if you get into the assignment or whatever it is that you are focusing on, it can feel like a long day at the office for countless hours or days on end.

It’s always tough. You’ll endure plateaus and times where you’re running in place and nothing is progressing. After all – The Dip is unforgiving.

But along the way you are learning little lessons. You need to learn them. If you don’t learn them, you won’t grow. You won’t level up.

These are the lessons that are gearing you up with the confidence and ability to face head on the various challenges life will undoubtedly throw your way.

And it is these little lessons that amount to a broader understanding of whatever it is that you’re working on.

A broader understanding in your field of expertise or just life in general.

It is this understanding that will carry you to the next level of progress.

So try get into the mindset of the future.

Be aware that you’re investing in yourself, in your future, or contributing to a greater cause. Always have that at the forefront of your mind when things are tough.

You’ll be better off for it.

And chances are you’ll look back fondly on this current period of hard work and drudgery some weeks, months, years down the line.

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