What matters to an active man is to do the right thing; whether the right thing comes to pass should not bother him. — Goethe
Congratulations for opening this email because you’re currently reading an historically significant issue of The Weekly Piquant— the 5th edition (halfway from the 10th!). Thank you for coming this far, and I really appreciate your perpetual interest.
This week, we have insights from bestselling authors Matt Haig and Ryan Holiday on how to battle anxiety by resolving to cut down on our responsiveness to the ever increasing external distractions and expectations. We also have a simple yet often overlooked framework for better decision making from Benjamin Franklin. I hope you learn, unlearn or relearn a few new things to make your life better just as I have.
Cut Down Your Responsiveness
In almost every moment throughout the past week, I was repeatedly reminded about the single most important realization that could serve as either prevention or cure for our generation’s prevailing problem of anxiety: in a world so overloaded with enticing activities demanding simultaneous attention as well as societies heaping loads of expectations on infantile shoulders, you should only do or give just as much as you possibly can and still remain alive and sane.
In other words, do not over stress yourself with multitasking even though the world we live in has been fashioned to make you do just that.
I’m currently reading The Power of Myth, an enchanting book of conversations between mythologist Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers. Alongside this, I’m reading Notes from a Nervous Planet, novelist Matt Haig’s personal and vital look at how to feel happy, human and whole in the activities overload twenty-first century.
“It sometimes feel as if we have temporarily solved the problem of scarcity and replaced it with the problem of excess,” observes Matt.
The entire world is now within reach. There are now way too many books, movies, music, people, friends, information… and everything is accessible to us in an instant. However, while our choices are infinite, our lives have time spans. “We can’t live every life. We can’t watch every film or read every book or visit every single place on this sweet earth.”
So, Matt Haig suggests, “rather than being blocked by it, we need to edit the choice in front of us. We need to find out what is good for us, and leave the rest. We can think about and do anything. And so we end up sometimes thinking about and doing everything. To remain sane amidst this overload, we might have to, sometimes, be brave enough to switch the screens off in order to switch ourselves back on. To disconnect in order to reconnect.”
The bottom line is that we don’t have to attend to everything just because they are accessible. Our incessant obsessiveness with a long list of activities is costing us our mental wellbeing and making a luxury of sanity.
How to Make Difficult Decisions
And so in our bid to narrow our attention in an overloaded world, we might often find ourselves struggling hard with decision making. Even the most flimsy task can be hard for us to conclude because we are unsure which option to choose, like Matt Haig wrote: “Even choosing what to wear in the morning could make me cry.”
Well, your predicament might not be as bad as Matt’s, but the point is that even in this past week you might have found yourself struggling to make difficult decisions in your business or life.
It’s in such times as this that Benjamin Franklin’s decision-making frameworkcomes in handy.
After receiving a plea for advice from a friend who was torn between two difficult choices, Franklin suggest a rather simple and no-brainer yet easily overlooked practical solution: draw out the pros and cons of the two choices and then balance them out to unveil the fairest choice. He writes:
“My way is to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns; writing over the one Pro and over the other Con. Then during three or four days’ consideration, I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives, that at different time occur to me, for or against the measure. When I have thus got them altogether in one view, I endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out. If I judge some two reasons con equal to some three reasons pro, I strike out five; and thus proceeding, I find where the balance lies; and if after a day or two of further consideration, nothing new that is of importance occurs on either side, I come to a determination accordingly.”
Brett & Kate McKay of The Art of Manliness did a swell job breaking this framework down into six action steps that you can easily follow. Check it out now or bookmark for reading later.
Don’t Let Others Dictate Your Worth
In a very similar vein, I realized I have had this article on how to stop letting others dictate your worth by Ryan Holiday (author of The Obstacle is the Way) on my Pocket list for a little while now.
What do you do when despite all the good works you’re doing, the world refuses to appreciate your efforts? What should you do when the rewards for your acts are less than you expected? Maybe despite all that you do your parents were not impressed, your spouse didn’t care, the investors were not convinced and the audience did not applaud. What are we to do then? Our instinct is to allow the negative or not-enough feedbacks to affect us either into stopping the good works altogether or into a psychological breakdown and anxiety. However, Ryan admonishes, we should remember that “doing the work is enough.”
“We have only minimal control over the rewards for our work and effort — other people’s validation, recognition, rewards… so it’s far better (and more resilient) when doing good work is sufficient, when fulfilling our own standards is what fills us with pride and self respect, when the effort — not the results, good or bad — is enough. In other words, the less attached we are to outcomes the better.”
Ryan shared two touching stories to make this great point. I suggest you read the entire article, several times even, so that you could grasp the full premise of this message and have it seared into your subconscious.
That’s all for the week! Remember, even the world’s high expectations of you should not drive you to craziness. A better life starts with clarity and sanity.
Thanks for reading!