Is there any Hope?

In an era where we seem to be the most advanced and prosperous humans, everything seems to be going to sh*t. So what keeps us going?

I’ll discuss the different aspects required for hope, the 2 different ‘brains’ that we have, and a whole bunch of values! I’ll speak into certain parts of our life that seem daunting or hopeless and how to turn that around. A little bit of an Islamic perspective will also be discussed.

Through evaluating our perceptions and pain, I aim to make you feel more hopeful (or not) & better equipped to deal with life’s constant curve balls.

Inspired by: Everything Is F*cked by Mark Manson.

Let’s breakdown what hope actually is, in order to build and maintain it. There are 3 critical components:

  • Control
  • Values
  • Community

We should have a sense of control over our life, to determine our own fate. We need to understand our core values, considering it’s our driving force & what we strive for. These enable us to build a sense of community with other individuals, which is ultimately feeling like we’re part of something greater than ourselves.

If we lose any of those 3 components, we lose hope.

Having control over our own life is a critical aspect of hope. How do we gain a sense of control? We first need to acknowledge and accept that there are parts of our life that we cannot control, and that’s okay. Speaking into the parts that we can control, my idea would be to form structure and discipline. Setting out specific tasks and goals, are the easiest way to feel like we’re accomplishing something and moving forward.

Start small, stay consistent, work smart.

Build on and repeat.

Values, values, values. I can’t emphasize how essential it is, to have a solid understanding of our values. We need to know what we stand for, what we believe in, and more importantly: why. When we have a clearer idea of what our values are, we can effectively live them out. Actions speak louder than words, so we need to hold ourselves accountable to ensure we’re truly carrying out our values.

A tip for this: read the different type of values shown in the pic below, choose 2 or 3 that you truly believe in. Write them down and keep them clearly in front of your desk or wall.

Serve a cause greater than yourself. This is where community plays the biggest role in my opinion. I mention over and over again, how important it is to contribute to those around you. When things seem hopeless, what can we do? Strive to make a difference within your community. Understand that community can mean anyone you see on a regular basis. The people in your work / school environment, your neighbours and especially those who are less fortunate than you.

We're all made of the same soil, from the same planet. We're all leaders, first to ourselves then to those around us. 

Another really cool concept discussed in the book, were the 2 different types of brains that we have; Thinking & Feeling brains. These are vital to understand, because of how relevant they are in dealing with our decision making and motivation.

Why do we do things we know are bad for us?

That’s where understanding the 2 different brains come into play. The Thinking brain is what represents rational, logical & conscious thoughts. The Feeling brain represents emotions, impulses and intuition.

We do things that are bad for us because they feel good.

The Thinking brain is objective and factual. It requires a lot of energy and effort to make rational decisions. The Feeling brain however, is more subjective, highly sensitive and unreasonable. For us to be able to develop self-acceptance and a healthy mindset, we need to unify both brains. An integrated, unified and coordinated whole; where both brains interact in balance with each other.

Ultimately, we all succumb to feelings. We do things that feel good (pleasure). We avoid things that feel bad (pain). As I mentioned in Thinking Out Loud 3, our own classification of what is good or bad, is what controls our feelings. It’s empirical then, to dissociate from and accept those feelings, rather than act on them.

Here’s an incredible question that I found really difficult to answer:

When do we know whether to consciously think things through vs trusting our gut decisions?

I don’t actually have an answer for that, but it’s just something to ponder over. Think of the events that have led you to making certain decisions, and how you went about it. How does our idea of pain play a role here?

When we avoid pain, we induce stress and tragedy; which makes us fragile. Something important to realize, is that you can’t get rid of pain. It’s the universal constant of the human condition. It’s always there, the only thing that changes is our perception of it.

So how can we develop a better relationship with pain? By becoming anti-fragile. To develop a system which gains from stressors and external pressures. Not to numb the pain and constantly avoid it. But to become self-limiting and choosing what we are willing to give up. The question to then ask is:

What pain we are willing to endure?

Here’s a little Islamic perspective on hope. As Muslims, we believe that everything happens for a reason; that we’re ultimately here on a temporary journey. The hopeful aspect regarding this, is that no matter what happens to us, we believe it’s destined. That this world is a trial to the Hereafter.

“Islam encourages a person to be optimistic and plant a seed even in the last minute of his or her life, irrespective of the fact that the person who planted the seed, may not yield its fruit.”

So if we’re trying to stay hopeful amidst all this chaos, what can we do?

Ensure that we have a foundation in the 3 components discussed earlier; Control, Values & Community. We can develop a sense of control by forming structure. Live through our values by first understanding them. Become part of the community by serving those around us.

Understand that we have two different “brains” and the importance of integrating them both. To be accepting of our pain and learn to become anti-fragile.

So the point of all this is essentially not to have hope. To be hopeful, you need to believe that things are going to sh*t. Instead, just Be. Don’t hope to become better, BE BETTER. Live for now, and give each moment your best shot. Your perception of the world is evolving each and every day, nothing is meant to be static.

“The only thing that is constant, is change.”

Heraclitus

Passion ~

Disclaimer: I just want to acknowledge that a lot of the content I produce is based off my personal experiences. This happens to be from a privileged background (which I’m extremely grateful for), and I understand that it may not be as easy for other people to follow. Just want to share what I’ve learnt and hopefully you can all gain something in one way or the other.

So in today’s topic, I’m going to discuss a few things which I’ve read about and that have helped gain a better understanding of passion. This is not to say that I’ve realized my life-long passion or anything, but writing about it just helps me better digest the concepts at hand. I’ll start with a wonderful concept called Ikigai, which originates from Japanese tradition. Then I’ll delve into comfort zone (once again), consistency, mindset, and how we can make practice perfect.

Ikigai

Let me first introduce a Japanese concept called Ikigai, which roughly translates to “reason for being”. I read the book last year by Ken Mogi and it definitely changed the way I viewed passion. It essentially boils down to 4 concepts:

  • What you love doing
  • What you’re good at
  • What the world needs
  • What you can get paid for

If you can find an intersection between all four points, you’ll ultimately find your ikigai. This makes sense, considering first and foremost, you need to identify what you love doing. This helps you get started, because you’ll obviously have an urge to do what you love. Then figure out what you’re good at, which you’ll probably already enjoy doing. The second 2 points are where things get a little trickier, and that’s because there’s a difference between hobbies and a passion. Hobbies are activities out of your general occupation, which are meant to be relaxing. Contrary to that, passions are meant to drive you and keep you going, no matter how exhaustive or overwhelming.

The diagram below illustrates just what I mean by that. What the world needs and what you can get paid for, are the final factors which would truly give you a reason to live. It isn’t going to be straightforward identifying an intersection, but having an idea of what you’re aiming for, definitely contributes to the journey.


Do more! Leave your comfort zone

There’s no way you’re going to figure out what you love doing, if you keep doing the same things over and over again. This relates to what I spoke about in The Journey V, whereby it’s a vital component to add some form of discomfort in your daily routine. For example, by taking cold showers regularly. This conditions you to leave your comfort zone, which is a holistic process. I say holistic because this helps you in every aspect of your life, it allows you to brave through your fears. Once you’re able to condition your mind in one aspect of your life, why not use that same theory in other aspects? Find more ways to regularly leave your comfort zone, and stay consistent with it, to strengthen those neural connections.

“How you do one thing, is how you do everything.”

Don’t be guided by fear! Explore that hobby you’ve been yearning to try, whether it be surfing, running, martial arts, drawing, writing or acting. Approach the person you’ve always wanted to speak to. Try out cooking using a new recipe for something you’ve always craved. Visit a new city or somewhere you’ve never been to before. If you can’t do that, just read about new places and things you’re unfamiliar with. The point is to keep trying new things out, because you’ll start to better identify what it is you enjoy and what you don’t. Here’s a great phrase a friend of mine recently told me: You Only Die Once. This obviously originates from the YOLO trend, but it’s a rather fantastic way to think about it. You truly don’t know how long you’re going to be here for. Don’t wait until tomorrow, you may not get the chance.

Consistency compounds

I know some of these topics are repetitive, but again, it serves as a reminder to myself and to everyone of you reading. Consistency requires you to remind yourself on a daily basis, of what matters to you. When you do little things over and over, it becomes a lot. The thing about consistency, is that you need to realize that you (probably) won’t become an overnight success. You need to work towards your goals everyday, regardless of your mood. Whether you’re tired, uninspired, bored or “just not in the mood”, you have to make sure you get a little done. This ensures that you’re always making progress, and after a few weeks, you would’ve achieved a lot more than you realized you could. The cool thing about this is, once the ball is rolling, you’ll feel inspired and have the urge to continue anyway.

Let me give you a classic example, for those who fail to finish books. If you dedicate a certain amount of time each and everyday to read, you’ll actually make a lot of easy progress. Instead of reading when you have ‘free’ time or you’re in the mood to get ‘woke’. This in turn builds discipline and allows you to make time for what’s important to you. The same works for any other activity you enjoy doing or want to get good at. The more you keep at it, the better you get. I’ll build onto that further below.

For those of us who are fasting this month , here’s another wonderful reminder which emphasizes consistency:


“عَلَيْكُمْ مِنْ الْعَمَلِ مَا تُطِيقُونَ فَوَاللَّهِ لَا يَمَلُّ اللَّهُ حَتَّى تَمَلُّوا وَكَانَ أَحَبَّ الدِّينِ إِلَيْهِ مَا دَاوَمَ عَلَيْهِ صَاحِبُهُ”

“You must only perform deeds you are capable of doing. By Allah, Allah will not withhold from you until you give up. The most beloved religious deeds to Allah are those performed regularly.”

and in another narration:


“The most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant, even if it were little.”

Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him)

Mindset / Intention

This links back to what I’ve spoken about again and again, your mindset. You need to believe in your ability to grow and find what you love doing. Work on your negative self-talk and on preventing saying things like ‘I’ll never be good at this’ ,’Some people are just born better / smarter’, ‘I’m not creative’ or ‘I’m just not talented enough’. This keeps you in a fixed mindset, which prevents you from further achieving your goals or exploring different activities. Always tell you self: ‘Not yet’! This keeps the space open for you to realize that you just need to put in more time and practice, in order to develop that specific skill-set. More importantly, you need to find your real intention behind what you’re doing, start with why.

We know in Islam, that actions are based on their intention. But that ultimately means, that what you do on the surface will never be as important as your reason for doing so. What was your intention for trying to do it? This brings me to another point of Ikigai; what the world needs more of. Having pure and authentic intentions, being honest and doing the uncomfortable work. Remember why you started, keep your intentions in mind, and always try and add value to the world around you! This can sometimes be overwhelming, because we know how large and diverse the world around us is, how could we try and make it better? By being the consistent change you want to see in the world. There’s one more point I want to add, to further make the most of that consistency; deliberate practice.

-Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)

Deliberate practice makes perfect

This is where quality > quantity comes into play. You may have heard of the 10 000 hour rule, whereby the more you practice something, the better you get at it. As much as that is true, a vital element in those hours, needs to be “deliberate” practice. In essence, you need to focus on your weak points and find out where you can improve on a constant basis. This directly links to comfort zone yet again (which is why I mention it so often).

Regular practice involves doing something you enjoy, essentially staying within your comfort zone. Deliberate practice on the other hand, is constantly trying to leave your comfort zone; working on what you’re terrible at and accepting criticism from those who are better than you. Because if you only practice your strengths, how will your weaknesses ever improve? So as much as you enjoy practicing whatever it is you love, push yourself a little more each time, and work on what’s difficult. This allows for holistic growth, and can eventually make the practice perfect.

I know I’ve covered a bit of ground in this post, but I hope you can appreciate how it all links together. I’ve also repeated a few topics again, just to iterate how profound these concepts can be in your life. Once you start working on a certain aspect, it can ripple into every part of your life. It’s important not to try implementing several changes at once, and end up giving them all up. Start small and stay consistent with it. Then you can build on that once you feel comfortable with the habit. Keep in mind, that the more you’re able to condition yourself to leave your comfort zone, the faster you can grow and learn. Your intention also plays a big role, so don’t do things for the wrong reasons either. Be true and honest with yourself, as well as those around you. Ikigai may not be the easiest practice to achieve, but once you start identifying a few intersections, you’ll hopefully find something you can truly be passionate about!

Death!

Ahh, the topics seem to be getting more and more interesting hey? Trigger warning in advance for people who might find this topic a sensitive issue. I do not intend on writing in a dreadful or pernicious manner but rather in an eye opening or inspirational way.

For those of you that spend enough time with me, you’ll know that I often use death as motivation. It’s also been a recurring theme in the past few posts, considering how often I mention memento mori. In this post, I’m going to dive into my personal view on how we can use the realization of death to our advantage, not only to live life to its fullest, but to also help gain a deeper psychological understanding of our own behaviours.

Just as with change, death is inevitable; resistance is futile. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is an incredible book which emphasizes the importance of the present moment. Again and again, I can’t tell you how vital it is to implement that form of mindfulness in your life. Keeping death in mind healthily, is probably the ultimate form of being present. When we understand that now is all we have, and that we could die at any moment, we open ourselves to living more meaningfully. Considering the only guarantee we have in life, is that we’re going to die. The point isn’t to get anxious or worried about it, but rather to appreciate everything and everyone much more.

Have you ever realized how we create problems and situations for ourselves, even when everything seems to be going okay? On a subconscious level, think of how often we try to escape our own thoughts and ideas, from the fact that we’re so temporary. We tend to complicate things for ourselves all the time and find different ways to keep our minds occupied. If you’re into philosophy, you’ll often notice that many of the discussions revolve around our deep and hidden anxiety regarding death. This is something that we don’t truly understand, yet it has such a profound impact on our day to day interactions. So when faced with unforeseen emotional turbulence, ponder on why it’s affecting you as much as it is. I just mean that there’s a lot of unnecessary distraction that we create for ourselves, and being aware and more thoughtful of where it’s arising from could help deal with it.

So, how can we use this thought process to motivate or inspire us?
More than anything, when you’re in difficult situation: overwhelmed, stressed, panicked or depressed, embrace that it will be temporary. Remind yourself that this too shall pass!
Prioritize what’s important to you by following your dreams, leaving your comfort zone & keeping in mind that we only have one shot at this! So
how could you not give it your all? Picture yourself on your death bed from time to time, and think: How would I want to feel at that moment? Remember that we regret the chances we didn’t take, not the ones we took and failed at. So don’t let fear stop you from chasing your goals. Don’t let fear keep you in your unhappiness, we seriously don’t have time to waste on that.

From an Islamic point of view (my religious practice), this world is meant to be a temporary transition. The hereafter is what ultimately matters; what we’re meant to be striving for. Our prayers include: not making this world / life our biggest priority. When we dig into the essence of this, it makes sense… Everyone that has ever preceded us, everyone that will ever follow, is so temporary and so unimportant in the greater scheme of things. How does it then make sense for us, to think that we’re the centre of the universe and that we won’t be accountable for all that we do on this planet? Does being rich and famous really matter? Can you take anything materialistic with you when you’re gone? We need to focus more on leaving a positive impact on the world. To give people something to remember, not to merely be remembered.

The beauty of Islam is that it emphasizes peace and forgiveness as much as possible. Especially because we don’t know how long we’re going to be here for. Being kind to your neighbours, giving charity, assisting those in need, gaining knowledge, smiling to strangers, taking care of yourself. These are all actions which are highly valued and rewarded; where it’s accounted for in the afterlife. It brings me back to the main point, if we don’t know how long we’re going to live for, why not be the best possible person you can be, to everyone around you? So we need to try and understand and just think about how there’s a lot more to life than just existing, we need to strive to live.

This is where I’m trying to aim the posts in this blog, to difficult conversations and topics that many of us are uncomfortable with thinking and speaking about. So keep these questions in mind, especially when you’re afraid, upset, confused or just unsure. We can all find so much more meaning if we understand how valuable our time is. Keep pushing yourself, do more for others, and picture yourself on your deathbed more often. I have a lot to discuss regarding balance; mind, body & soul. That will be the topic for the next post.