Read and reflect more
Reading Lists,The Art of Self Improvement

Read and reflect: how to lead a vibrant life

She stood idle in a desolate, never ending wasteland with no promise of escape. She was searching for a bump in the landscape, a movement in the distance, a reflection shimmering at her but saw nothing. She was alone and lost. No one would find her here, no one could help. She’d somehow carelessly stumbled upon this land, not paying attention to where she was going. She had been daydreaming, seeking comfort in her mind which had been a far more pleasant place to dwell than in reality. She had become numb, but that was okay as there was a certain comfort to be found in that numbness. But now she had awakened suddenly; it was as if she had been in a dream and had begun to fall only to jolt awake and catch herself, to be met with a feeling of relief as it wasn’t real. But no relief came, she was lost and knew no way out. And so she had stopped walking, stopped moving forward. She was now paralysed in fear, in anticipation, in regret, in a rapidly depleting well of hope. She closed her eyes and begged the numbness to take her back, for in that suffering, in that numbness brought familiarity, and so she felt safe.

“If you stay in one spot, the view never changes, but if you keep moving forward, then new landscapes are revealed, and along with them, new potential.”

Shannon Lee: Be Water, My Friend

Becoming Stuck

Often in life we can feel stuck; we might recognise we want things to change but we don’t know what those things are. Sometimes we might want to lose some weight, so we begin training but are quickly met with huge amounts of resistance and it becomes too difficult.

The first time we ran, it felt easy. The physical act of running might have been a challenge, especially if we lacked fitness, but the forward momentum of making a positive change carried us forward. Like a rock strapped to you that had been flung forward, propelling you onwards on your runs.

However, the more runs you went out on, the slower that rock travelled and the harder it became to keep going, until it eventually just stopped. Now, each time you try to run you are weighed down by this rock, which seems to be increasing in size each time you try again. You are stuck again, but this time you have a rock pulling you down further. Another failure, another defeat. How will things ever change?

It’s easy to feel lost in these situations and feel like you will never make it, that you will never achieve your goals. The desire for change is present, but you’ve tried so many times with no success, or, you don’t even know where to start with a new goal. Here enters action paralysis. Action paralysis occurs when you overanalyse and overthink a solution or a way forward so much that decision making becomes ‘paralysed’. You don’t know what to do next. You consider trying a new option, but then the ‘What ifs’ creep in. What if I can’t do it? What if I give up again? What if I don’t like it? What if I try my hardest but I’m still not happy?

You want to make a change, but time and time again that simple desire for change isn’t enough to carry you through it.

So, what practical steps can you take to continue moving forward toward achieving your goals?

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Read more books

Books are often an under tapped source of knowledge, filled with a wealth of experience and lessons learnt. More often than not, you can find someone who has been through a similar struggle, or at least a similar thought process to yourself. They contain wise words of wisdom for challenges in life and can help provide comfort and motivation in times when it’s lacking.

Through Ant Middleton’s trilogy I started to learn the value of taking more risks and taking accountability for my own life. Ant’s book was a refreshing read and whilst I couldn’t relate to his own experiences, such as going to prison or climbing Mount Everest, the lessons he spoke about in his book proved invaluable for me securing the job of my dreams.

Through David Goggin’s book Can’t Hurt Me I learnt the value of never giving up on exercise. In particular, he spoke of an idea of callusing your mind; this is to expose yourself to small and manageable amounts of suffering over and over again, such as going out for a run each morning, until the suffering decreases and it becomes more normal and you become mentally more resilient. In essence, it was about creating manageable, positive daily habits that you could build on to help you achieve personal growth. With this idea in mind, I lost 10kg of weight in 2020.

Through Shannon Lee’s book Be Water, My Friend I learnt about Bruce Lee’s philosophy and the benefits to being more open, more flexible, like water. Throw a rock in a stream and the water simply adapts and moves around it. A part I particularly related to was that of an old Chinese proverb:

“A tree that is unbending is easily broken”

Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher, writer and founder of Taoism
Instagram: @theartofbeinghappy_art

The idea being that in the wind a tree that is strong and rigid, such as an oak tree, does not move with the wind, and so it will be knocked down. However, a tree that is flexible and bending, such as a bamboo tree, will remain intact. Being rigid and inflexible in life will lead to disappointment and stagnation. Being flexible opens up many doors.

Consider books as little moments of insight captured throughout the ages, ways to help provide a guiding light when you feel lost. Words of encouragement and direction to help you find yourself when you feel lost. As Bruce Lee so rightly put:

Remember, I am no teacher; I can merely be a signpost for a traveller who is lost. It is up to you to decide on the direction. All I can offer is experience but never a conclusion, so even what I have said needs to be thoroughly examined by you. I might be able to help you to discover and examine your problem by awakening your awareness. A teacher, a good teacher that is, functions as a pointer to truth but not a giver of truth.”

Bruce Lee, Chinese-American martial artist and philosopher

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Reflect regularly

Quite often we don’t realise the power of self-reflection. There’s a common misconception that keeping a diary or a journal is writing “Dear Diary, today my boss gave me a funny look and I think she now hates me”. Sure, this kind of journaling might have its place, but this isn’t what I’m referring to. Keeping a journal, a log, of common thoughts that crop up in your mind or writing down things when something negative happens can help you work through the problem and help you spot patterns in your thought process. This will in turn help you understand more about yourself.

For me, I felt numb. I couldn’t understand it, the world just seemed completely and utterly grey to me. Previous activities that I had enjoyed, I could no longer find enjoyment in. In particular, I noticed I no longer enjoyed drawing, which was a big hit to me as it’s something I’ve always loved to do. I spent a while thinking about it and trying to force myself to enjoy the process and then I noticed a thought that kept cropping up in my mind “You’ll never be able to make money from doing this, why are you doing it?”.

Just like that I realised my problem; I had turned a fun activity into work. I spent hours searching for things to draw that would get me likes on places like Facebook or Instgram and ended up entering ‘action paralysis’ when I felt so overwhelmed over what to draw that I just dropped drawing altogether.

I was no longer drawing what I wanted to draw, but rather what I thought other people wanted me to draw. And I didn’t want to draw those things, nor did I know what other people wanted me to draw. Guilt and unhappiness took over the process and drawing became stressful. When I switched back to drawing things for me, I noticed my enjoyment for drawing begin to creep back in. It wasn’t an instant process and I had to work at it, but eventually I got there and my love for drawing has returned.

“Leisure is not the absence of activity, it is activity. What is absent is an external justification. You can’t do leisure for pay; you can’t do it to impress people. You have to do it for you.”

Ryan Holiday, Stillness is the Key

This is a lesson that was reaffirmed when I listened to Ryan Holiday’s book, Stillness is the Key. Remember how I said books can provide small insights? This one helped guide me and helped me accept that it is okay to do things for me. Not everything is about making money or progressing my career.

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In summary, if you combine reading with self-reflection you will begin to uncover the way your mind works and common thought patterns which make you feel ‘stuck’ in life. Books provide the ideas for you to consider; you might not agree with every suggestion made but it’s important to keep an open mind when reading. For years I wrote off yoga and mindfulness and I didn’t understand how simply being present in the moment and doing a few stretches could change your life. It took me a good few years to come back round to it and really consider what I could take from these practises to help me move forward.

Likewise, I’d always written off journaling as it felt embarrassing to keep a journal and whenever I tried to write I felt like I had to write carefully, as if someone was over my shoulder reading everything I wrote. I couldn’t be as honest as I wanted to, but over time I opened my mind to the practise and learnt to use it as a tool for expressing myself. Worst case, if I really did feel conscious about what I was writing, I would write it in a Word document to get it all out, then delete it. Find what works for you.

She rose to her feet and began to put one heavy foot in front of the other. She didn’t know where she was headed, but she knew she could no longer stay here for if she did, that would surely be the end of her. Days past with no clue, no sign to reassure her she was going in the right direction. She began to question her decision, but it was too late to go back now so she persevered forward until she noticed something in the sand. It was faint, indistinct, which made it easy to miss but she was paying attention now; it was a footprint. She gazed forward and noticed more footsteps disappearing into the distance and her heart lifted. For the first time in a long while, she felt hope for the future, hope she would find her way out of this inhospitable land. She did not know where the footsteps led which brought a sense of unease, but she was ready to see where they might taken her. And so she walked, she kept moving forward, open in mind to what lay ahead for her.

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