How to overcome ourselves and achieve success in today’s world
The evolution of the human species is no longer a matter of developing better anatomical qualities. The next frontier of human evolution concerns intelligence, to better harness the immeasurable capacity of our neo-cortex and advance the human race to new levels of prosperity. To provide all humans with the basics needs for survival; enact a sustainable, global strategy for not completely destroying our planet; look beyond the small differences that we have across the world and align as a species with so many vast similarities. It is to replace fear, xenophobia, and compulsiveness with compassion, altruism and sensibility.
All of this starts with each of us as individuals overcoming the constant and powerful influence of our inherited and compulsive, limbic brain, and replacing our day-to-day thoughts and actions with our newer and more advanced neo-cortex. It starts with us as individuals putting aside complacency and procrastination and living with purpose and intention to achieve the goals and dreams we set out for ourselves, allowing us to be content and fulfilled with what we have and what we accomplish in our lives. It starts with us as individuals taking full control of our lives and calling all the shots. No longer just reacting to our surroundings, but flourishing. In previous sections of this series we discussed the modern-day struggle with procrastination and not accomplishing the things we want in life; to stop putting off our dreams for tomorrow and start taking action today; to effectively combat our limbic brain which is so determined to distract us and prevent us from achieving greatness.
The recommendations and plan below is not a guaranteed method for achieving your dreams. It is not a comprehensive list. It is not a step-by-step guide to becoming successful, because that doesn’t and will never exist. The first step to success is accepting that it’s not easy, and that you aren’t the exception that will take the easy road to success.
Below is a list of specific strategies I have personally used in my life to help me overcome a debilitating habit of procrastination and to put myself on a path to achieve my personal dreams. The tools I used to move to a foreign country in search of something different. The tools I used to persevere through countless embarrassments and failures across Asia in pursuit of my dreams. The tools I used to build a tremendously rewarding and fulfilling career that allows me to travel the world. If nothing else, below is a testament to the human spirit to overcome the challenges and distractions in life and live a fulfilling existence for the short time we spend on this planet of ours.
Let go of the notion that happiness is the goal of life – This may seem like a controversial advice, especially when pursuing happiness is essentially the anthem of an entire generation, but hear me out. I absolutely don’t agree with living a life dictated solely by pursuing happiness. The mantra 'live a life of happiness' with no other guiding tenets can be dangerous and irresponsible, as it doesn’t clarify or prioritise short-term happiness over long-term happiness, which are two very different things. We have to understand that using happiness as a guiding light can often times be misleading and distracting.
Nobody would define waking up at 6:30am to go to the gym as happiness. We wouldn’t define skipping a party with friends to polish a final term paper as happiness. We wouldn’t define being relentlessly bashed down by publishers who refuse to accept your book as happiness. All of these experiences are part of a longer term goal to accomplish something great, which undoubtedly brings contentment and happiness. If we spend our lives pursuing happiness, we will never be able to bear the hard work, doubt, and stress that it takes to achieve great things.
In order to achieve the life we want, we have to accept, up front, that the path is going to be hard, and that we aren’t going to feel happy the whole time, but that is okay. I have never heard anyone describe climbing Mount Everest as a particularly happy experience. We have to let go of the entitlement that the world owes us happiness, because it doesn’t. The world doesn’t owe us anything.
So sit yourself down and come to terms with the fact that the gap between where you are now and your ideal self is not a path full of rainbows. It is actually full of hard work and darkness, mistakes and self-doubt, and that’s why so few people achieve greatness. Feel empowered by accepting this. Empowered that you know how hard it is going to be and you have decided to move forward anyways.
Know what you are up against before you venture out It's important that you understand what you are going up against in your impulsive, limbic brain when you set out to accomplish great things. The emotional and instinctual centre of your brain will do everything in its power to keep you from accomplishing greatness, because it’s scared of failure. It’s important for you to understand all the ways your limbic brain will try to steer you off course. Spend a week being hyper-aware of your inner dialogue, emotional state and motivation. You have to identify the ways your limbic brain tries to trick you into giving up on things, or distracts you, or fills you with doubt and anxiety.
When you identify a thought or a pattern that gets you off track write it down and look for it to come back again. After a few weeks or so you should have a pretty good idea of the basic ways your limbic brain is distracting you. With this knowledge you can flag when you are falling into a pattern that may lead you off track or distract you, and take corrective action against it.
Prepare yourself for battle – No matter how much advice you read and how motivated you are, you eventually have to face fear, anxiety, doubt and fatigue, and you are going to have to persevere. It’s not going to be easy. Tell yourself it’s not going to be easy and that you will fight through. Prepare yourself that inevitably your limbic brain is going to escalate the stakes. If you fight successfully through the limbic brain's easy tricks, it’s going to get more serious about its approach and start bringing out the big guns. Prepare yourself to go through increasingly strong opposition from your limbic brain. By knowing what’s coming, you eliminate the element of surprise and greatly reduce the impact your limbic brain has on distracting you from your dreams.
Build the house brick by brick – One of the hardest things to overcome about long-term success is the fact that you don’t complete the objective immediately. You don’t write a book in one sitting, you don’t learn a language after one lesson, you don’t get a six pack after one jog. This can be discouraging after putting in so much effort and not seeing immediate results. The key here is we need to focus on a system of behaviour instead of the long-term goal. If my goal is to write a book, it’s actually counter-productive for me to focus everyday on having a completed book to motivate myself. I know that after sitting for three hours and writing I am not going to have a completed book which, when focussed on, can be discouraging. Instead, break down your goals into bricks which, when laid one by one, will eventually build a house. My bricks for writing a book would be to write for one hour per day, and that’s it. Now instead of waking up everyday and facing the insurmountable burden of writing an entire book I just have to face one hour of writing per day. Whenever I get stressed about the burden of writing a book I remind myself my goal is not to write a book, it’s just to write for one hour. Focus on the brick, not the house. One day, when I have a nearly complete house I can take a step back and realise that my hard work is mostly done. That one last kick of acknowledging I’m 90 per cent there helps me power through the end, and boom, I have successfully written an entire book!
Live life intentionally, not reactively – One of the hardest lessons I have learnt on my self-improvement journey is that nobody has a shortcut to success. No one has ever been successful because they have some secret that eliminates the hard work from the equation. The reality is that anyone who has ever achieved the life they truly want has gone through hard times. They did so by living life intentionally, not reactively. They woke up everyday and knew what they were going to do; they didn’t wake up and ask what do I feel like doing today. Living an intentional life is hard because it means choosing to put ourselves through pain and hard times. It is the lifestyle your limbic brain hates the most and will put up the biggest fight to prevent. The reason so few people accomplish their dreams is because living an intentional life is that hard. On the other hand, it is also empowering to know that there really is a simple answer to being successful; it’s not a complicated equation of factors, it’s not luck, it’s not genes or gender or race. It’s plain and simple intentional hardwork. The answer is right in front of us all, and what separates the bold from the beaten is not knowledge of how to be successful, but the willingness to decide every single day that I choose to feel pain and overcome fear to fail and be ridiculed and embarrassed because I know and I accept the fact that that is what it takes to achieve my dreams.
This is the next step in human evolution. To stop ignoring the fact that we already know what it takes to make ourselves and the world a better place. To start accepting the reality that we may not enjoy every step of the way, but at the end of our short walk on this earth we will have made a difference. Just as a house is built brick by brick, so too will a better world be built person by person.