I have been on this earth for a bit more than 30 years now. I have lived through many ups and downs, and also some monotony (which is the worst, really). For the past 10 years, I have experimented with all kinds of techniques, philosophies, dogmas, whatever promised me the things I wanted. Some of those experiments were helpful, some of them not at all, at least not for me.
As I did with my trading strategy, I took the parts that I found most useful, and carefully put them together, piece by piece, until I arrived at what is my life philosophy today. The last year was the most successful of my life, financially and personally. I was happy, truly happy, and I expect this year, 2018, to be even better.
A life plan is always evolving, always morphing, just like a trading plan. With new information, personal developments, new skills and so on, new opportunities open up while old opportunities become routine, or even disappear. That is simply how life works.
I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but I have found a peace that is so deep, I would say I am very close to my own personal Nirvana. That does not mean that I am sitting around meditating 24 hours a day, on the contrary, I am busier than ever. Also, it doesn’t mean that I think this couldn’t change in the future. Life is arbitrary, something truly horrible could happen and devastate me. But that is a part of life, too, and you have to make your peace with this fact. Only then will you be free of worry.
Part of me being happier – and, more important, calmer – is simply experience that comes with my age, I truly believe so. But more than that, the culmination of all the work, research and thinking I have done over the past 10 years is slowly starting to pay off. Here are my thoughts on what is right and important in life. Use as you see fit.
Before You Can Fix It, You Have To Know What’s Broken
Self-awareness is the first step to becoming better at being a complete human being. We all are born with pure light and pure evil inside of us. Most of us stay in the middle for the rest of their life. After learning the rules of the society we are born into and being molded into a “functioning” human being (more like a functioning psycho), there aren’t many outliers that break out of these century-old norms during the span of their life.
Most people I have met in my life struggle with the same problems…
- Worries and sorrows
- Pride and arrogance
- Fear of humiliation
- Fear of failure
- Unwillingness to make compromises
- Inability to love themselves
- Insecurity (socially, professionally, financially…)
- A rigid set of beliefs
- Unwillingness to be open to new experiences
- Inability to enjoy the little things in life
- Fear of commitment
- No respect for themselves
- Lack of empathy
- Lack of self-reflection
And so on. These are the most common problems there are, there are plenty more, but they are just derivatives of these bigger problems mostly. Now, these are psychological problems, I didn’t even talk about a healthy body yet. I am a firm believer in the reciprocality concept when it comes to the duality of the mind and the body. We are our mind, we are not our body. But our body is our vehicle and the better we treat it, the better it will treat us. Healthy body, healthy mind, there is definitely a connection there.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there are no psychos among health-freaks, and it also doesn’t mean that cripples can’t have a healthy mind, quite the contrary. When there is too much emphasis on serving the body, the mind withers away. And people that are born with disabilities or had an accident often exhibit the most surprising and progressive views on life.
The message is: if we believe in our body, and treat it well, it will serve us nicely so we can turn to the more important things in life. Some people only live to serve their body. That is, however, in my opinion not much better than the life of an animal, a waste of your existence.
Once we acknowledge that our problems come with our intellect that we were given as human beings, we can turn to exploring the biggest secret of life…happiness. Most of us know these fleeting moments in life of true, pure happiness, when your whole body is filled with light and absolutely nothing and no one can do you harm. Like being in love for the first time. These moments don’t last. And the highest high is often followed by an even lower low.
Why is that? Because happiness is a process. It is not something that can be found like a treasure and then you have it forever. Happiness is hard work. It is, in its truest form, a constant grind. But, and that is also true, everyone has their own personal grind which they have to follow. Ikigai.
Ikigai And The Flowstate
I have always been fascinated by people that dedicated their whole life to one single craft. Just look at Jiro Ono of Sushi Jiro in Tokyo, a guy that knew nothing else but to hunt for the perfect Sushi roll for the last 80 years. It was truly a pleasure to meet him in person. Or Ip Chun, the legendary Wing Chun teacher based in Hong Kong (you might have seen the Ip Man movies). These people have found their Ikigai. Ikigai translated loosely from Japanese, means “something worth getting out of bed in the morning for”, or “that, what life is worth living for”.
Whenever you meet a person that has found their Ikigai, you will know. These people emit an incredible aura of peace and wisdom. The centenarians of Okinawa see Ikigai as the center of life, and it is. You need to find yours. You need to find your flowstate. It is absolute bliss. Doing something with so much focus and passion that space and time become one and you forget everything around you, that is – to me – the highest form of happiness a human can reach.
How do you find your flowstate? You have to fish. Try out new things every day, you will find clues here and there that will eventually all point in the same direction. That is your flowstate activity, your Ikigai, your destiny. It takes years. It took me until 30. Now, after finding my true passion, I will do nothing but perfect my craft with laser focus until I die. I am happy to wake up in the morning, every morning, and excited to get to work and I am at peace with myself and the world – should I die tomorrow, I wouldn’t care, because I have everything I could ask for in the world. That is the power of Ikigai.
Get A Perspective
People worry about things all the time. So futile. Fun fact: you can worry about 9,999,999 things and the one thing you don’t see coming will f… you from behind. Big time. So, stop worrying – the things you can change, you don’t need to worry about, you need to act. The things you can’t change, well, it’s a waste of time to worry about them. Counterproductive, depressing, it’s shit.
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Getting a perspective helps, too. The more you do, the less you fret. A person sitting alone at home 24/7 will soon feel that getting out of the house to buy something in the supermarket is a huge challenge, people staring and so on. A person that is the CEO of an international company has problems too, but bigger problems – at least, it may seem so. To the loner, going to the supermarket is just as big a challenge as a new product line is to the CEO. Don’t take things too seriously, it doesn’t make your life any better, never will.
“If you ever start taking things too seriously, just remember that we are talking monkeys on an organic spaceship flying through the universe.”
Never forget. Never.
This goes hand in hand with the last point. Reading allows you to get a perspective without even leaving your house. You can look into the brains of people that lived 2000+ years ago and realize that they had the same problems as you.
Also, reading will make you happier, smarter, more relaxed and prolonge your life. It will also make you a more interesting person and, most importantly, you won’t fall prey as easily to propaganda and snake oil salesmen, because you will learn how to think independently.
Just read the good stuff, not the crap. Millions of people before you had exactly the same problems that you are having right now. Start with the classics, they are time-proven and endured the centuries. There is much more to learn from Shakespeare, Aristotle, Orwell, Lu Xun and others than from books of motivation coaches that no one will ever talk about again 10 years from now. Read the classics, then work your way forward.
Structure Your Approach To Anything, But Preserve Freedom
Humans crave freedom. Humans also crave structure. If you put someone into a cell, take away daylight, any sense of time, and wake him up at random intervals, or turn the light on and off, play loud music etc., you have yourself a great CIA torture chamber. People will tell you anything you want to hear after a day or two. On the other hand, if you have too much structure, your life becomes a grind and every day will feel the same.
You need to be highly effective (do what has the biggest impact), efficient (do that in the most structured way) and put some kind of perfectionism into it, but don’t be OCD about the perfectionism. Your work needs quality, but it doesn’t need to be perfect – think about the Pareto principle, 80% of the work is done with 20% of the effort. The last 20% takes 80% of the effort. Go for 90%, that suffices – unless you are building rockets.
What I do is that I have certain things I have to do throughout the week on my list (I use Wunderlist) – but I don’t have a schedule of what I have to do when so I can always pick the task I want to do the most right now – plus, I have blank spaces in my schedule where I can do whatever I want. And I switch workplaces regularly – coffee shops, home office, airplane, hotel rooms, whatever. Not everyone has this freedom, but I have, and especially for creative work this is absolute bliss.
Also, getting up and going to bed at the same time each day – I try to go to bed at 10pm and to get up at 5am, as 7 hours sleep is the optimum. Getting up early is WAY more effective than you might think, and sticking to the same sleep schedule each day will improve your quality of life and thus your happiness and effectivity.
So, structure your approach, track your progress, streamline your processes, but make sure you don’t try to become a machine while doing so, because you are simply not. You are human.
As I said in the last section, don’t be a perfectionist. It will keep you from achieving anything, and here’s why. Besides you putting way too much time into perfecting the last 10% of a project, which is in 99% of cases a waste of time, you will also fail at a lot of things, because life is not perfect.
Perfectionism tells us that we are failing as we progress towards our goal.
Imagine you being on a diet for 20 days, keeping to it strictly. Then you go on a binge and eat 20kg of marshmallows. Next day, you don’t get back to your diet, because you are a perfectionist – and your diet isn’t perfect anymore. But tell you what, the real success is made the day after a fuck-up. Get back into the grind, accept that you made a mistake and that nothing in life is perfect, do what you have to do. Don’t be a sissy.
A trick here is to track data – track your body fat and body weight, then when you feel like giving up because you made a mistake, look at how much progress you made. Journaling is not only useful in trading.
Talking about trading – if you are a perfectionist, this business will put you straight into the loony bin. Trying to perfect a good trading system will ruin it because you are doing curve fitting and so on. Don’t just don’t be a perfectionist, especially not when it comes to trading results – when it comes to the process, ok, you can go OCD.
Accept Yourself, Respect Yourself
This is intertwined with the last section, as well. Accept your flaws, nobody is perfect. Nobody! What you see on social media is a lie, only a snapshot of a person’s life. The other 99% of that person’s life is just as yours – normal. Also, respect yourself when dealing with others and when dealing with yourself.
Respect yourself enough to say no to others. Respect yourself enough to say yes to yourself.
A Few Other Things That Improve Quality Of Life With Zero To Minimum Effort
- Get some sun and natural movement each day. No need to run a Marathon. A simple walk in the forest suffices, 20 minutes. It will balance your mind, reset your brain, and invigorate your body.
- Take at least one day off per week. I do that on Saturdays. Most of the time, I use Saturdays to go hiking. It is just by far my most favorite pastime activity.
- Find joy in the little things in life, let meditation help you do that.
- Use the Pomodoro technique when working to increase health and productivity (get up every 25 minutes for 5 minutes, walk around).
- Have a garden, work in it. Nothing soothes the mind as does touching the earth and its products with your hands. It is truly incredible. If you don’t have access to a garden, grow Bonsai trees in your apartment or get tomato plants for your balcony, anything.
And that’s it. I am sure you can add more little life-helpers to this list, these are just the ones I found that helped me lead a balanced life, where my base level of happiness is significantly higher than that of most of the people I meet during my journey.