Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it – Viktor Frankl
As biological creatures, we have outlived the utility of some of our core programs that we are born with. We evolved to survive in a world of predators, hunting and fighting. The programs that allowed us to survive as early human beings are just not compatible with a world of escalators, decaffeinated coffee and spring mattresses. Turns out, our environment can bend much faster to our will than our bodies and minds. For instance – what’s the anatomical difference between a caveman and a 21st century human – nothing. The same principle applies to a few of the default (brain) programs that we are born with.
While the list of outdated programming is long, some of these programs are relatively invisible and cause a lot more havoc than the others – the case in point being our sense of craving. Cravings come in various forms and in general have been vilified by many philosophies and religions that have classified this sense of craving as a “desire” and told us to stay away from it and practice abstinence. We now live in a world which is more free, safe, prosperous and comfortable than ever before but our understanding of this craving is not given much importance and this results in us unconsciously falling prey to it. For instance, a yearning for love might lead us to attempt to gain approval from everyone we meet, a yearning for self-fulfillment might result in us obsessing with accumulating money, a yearning for inner strength might manifest itself as a drive to gain power over others and so on.
The bottom line is that our society encourages us to subscribe to a belief system that says – whatever we crave is right around the corner and once we find it, we will be happy forever and ever.
House, car, promotion, trophy spouse, money, retirement, etc. – the current norm for being happy forever and ever doesn’t work. Think back to your last major accomplishment. Were you ecstatic? How long did that last? A week? A day?
If you want to be happy, be. – Leo Tolstoy
I recently enrolled in a personal leadership class (at Columbia Business School) which delved deeper into recognizing and challenging this feeling of insatiability that fools most of us into running a race against ourselves. We’re constantly setting ourselves up for failure because we do not challenge the outdated programming of our brain and the norms of our society. We have ignored the age-old wisdom that finding happiness lies in the journey and not the destination. Same for success. We live with a goal-based system that tells us that we will be happy once we buy a house, or we will be successful once we get that promotion. But this approach doesn’t work very well because once we achieve our goal, we immediately retrain our vision on the next goal and the drama continues.
Our evolutionary wiring has us trapped on the hamster wheel. So how do we surpass our biological algorithms and rewire our habits to be permanently happy and successful? For starters, listen to the warning signs. When we blindly chase our cravings (maybe without even realizing that we are doing so) most of us would begin to experience a feeling of emptiness which is a signal that whatever you’re doing isn’t working and it’s time for plan B.
Define values that are important to you and work towards being true to these values every single day. With this approach, there is no destination. No gold at the bottom on the rainbow which means that you have to stop measuring yourself with your bank balance or your worldly possessions (even though everything around you – movies, Instagram, etc. are all telling you the opposite). Every single day is a new battle to live a life that is in line with your personal philosophy. The first step however, is to take a step back and understand what is important to you. This list of 50 universal values can be a starting point. After you decide which values are important to you, it is good to define what these values mean to you. Goal setting comes is the second step once you have decided how these values should manifest themselves in your life.
If you haven’t found your purpose yet, then you’re in luck, because you already have things set out for you. Your purpose is to find your purpose. I’m a person who doesn’t believe in unicorns. So, I hope you will permit me to say that once you have found your purpose, the drudgery of soul crushing work will cease to exist.
Humans require social bonds to be happy and feel successful. Finding my partner Laura changed my life and she helped me unlock the power of connecting with other human beings. For those who haven’t found a partner, I believe that living a value-driven life and following your purpose will help you find a person you are truly compatible with.
This is a great hack backed by a LOT of scientific wisdom. We’ve been conditioned to look ahead and measure ourselves based on our ability to achieve whatever tasks we’ve set ourselves. If we instead flip this around for a few minutes every day and acknowledged the fact that we’ve gotten this far and we have relationships, experiences and things that we’re thankful for, we would begin to feel a lot better about ourselves and our lives. And it makes us healthier too. To me, it makes complete sense to jump onto the wagon. Keep a diary or say it out loud in the shower. It’ll probably only take you a minute every day.
The body and the mind are obviously intricately entwined. Ignoring this link can be detrimental to your physical health and your mental well-being. Fortunately, there are only three ways to take care of your body – taking care of your mind, giving your body the right food it requires to function optimally, and thirdly, exercising. Volumes have been written about each of these aspects. Acknowledge the importance of your body by facing reality and accepting where you are at, in each of these categories. Chart out a plan to take yourself forward and as you execute it, you will notice substantial improvements in your happiness quotient.
Taking care of the mind is so important that I had to mention it twice.
You have control over three things in your life – the thoughts you think, the images you visualize and the actions you take – Jack Canfield
I’ve spent most of my life worrying about the actions I have taken or will take, that I completely ignored the first two factors that were in my power to control. We spend most of our lives unconsciously thinking of either the past or the future. There is a lot of social stigma surrounding meditation especially because of its ancient roots, but of late, science has been playing a catch-up game in validating the health benefits of this practice. The way I like to think of it – meditation is like going to the gym – for the brain. By focusing on living in the present, the brain can do a few more push-ups effortlessly with time. For novices like myself, an app called “Headspace” has helped immensely. The cost is 10 mins and the benefits are potentially life changing.
If you’re reading this article it means that you have a curiosity within you and you are interested in learning more and in becoming better. To learn is to either find out about things you did not know existed or to change your understanding of the world.
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so – Mark Twain
In the development of the mind, the roadblock is inevitably marked by feelings of frustration which then give way to anger. Every time you find yourself in such a position, follow the Toyota Production System and ask yourself the 5 Whys to understand the cause-effect relationship of a problem.
For example, I feel miserable on Sunday evenings: Why?
Once you understand the root cause of the problem, you can develop a solution to address this issue. It isn’t easy to do and having a supportive partner or friend might help you unlock the next frontier of your happiness journey.
The list above relates to my personal journey and writing about it helps me break down this knowledge into consumable pieces for myself. Maybe some of the items resonate with you and some don’t. That’s ok – take what you like and discard what you don’t. But whatever you do, don’t stop here.
Course: Personal Leadership and Success
Books: Man’s search for meaning by Viktor Frankl