Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:
To explain why I’m writing this, let me start with three curious cases: The Curious Case of the Easily Triggered, The Curious Case of the Constantly Paralyzed, and The Curious Case of the Never At Rest.
The first one is the curious case of the easily triggered.
This refers to incidents I’ve personally experienced when an event, usually something I wrote, said, or shared, as well as other things they encounter, arouses a response of thoughtless urgency and disproportionate emotion. Examples of this are:
- Automatically calling someone a racist because he didn’t put a black square on his social media. (Not everyone’s life revolves around social media. In fact, most of what’s projected on social media is at the very least incomplete and at worst dishonest.)
- Accusing someone of being a fascist, communist, dilawin, dutertard, backwards, or some other label because they do not agree with your political position. (I remember one non-political tweet I made that had angry people calling me both dilawin and dutetard at the same time.😂)
- Quickly investing in the latest greatest recommendation of social media and others without taking time to understand the instrument and, more importantly, your own investment goals. (I’ve had people call me all sorts of things for replying “Would you recommend this to someone who requires different investment goals (such as retirement, or kid’s tuition, or own a home in 10 years)?” when told I should encourage crypto or financial trading.)
The problem with being easily triggered is that it usually leads to an emotional response not a thoughtful one. And like many of my own emotional decisions, the outcome is usually something that is regrettable. Thinking through things means that we think through not just our position on something but also the purpose of our position. For example, for racism, the purpose is not for everyone to have the same post on social media but to share an appreciation for each other’s differences. We hurt that purpose when we attack a different post. For politics, the purpose is to have a great nation, led by great leaders, and loved by great people. Do we achieve any of those by participating in personality politics, divisive bickering, and being high-strung about issues without spending almost no time understanding the different sides of it? For investments, most people think the one and only financial goal is “get rich”, but when asked, “What do you mean by rich?” it becomes really obvious that what they really want is to be able to do whatever they want. I’m sure many people have gotten lucky, but I certainly don’t see success as a function of doing everything I want.
All of this to say, being easily triggered, reacting emotionally, not pausing to consider the deeper purpose of things and understanding different sides, while maybe justified with good intentions (whatever that means), rarely leads to that which we say we hope to achieve.
The second one is the curious case of the constantly paralyzed.
An example of the constantly paralyzed are those who are always fretting about different situations, different expectations, and different decisions in life yet, upon closer inspection, have not been able to achieve any meaningful progress in the areas they constantly fret about. While we all worry (I sure do!), there is a kind of deep concern that leads to progressive action and a kind that turns one into a hamster on a wheel. Examples of this are:
- The one always worrying about his health, jumping from health book to health blog to health video to health gadget to health whatever but progressively getting less healthy.
- The one always worrying about financial health, or not having cash, or not earning enough but constantly over-investing (Like me!) or over spending (Many times like me too!).
- The one always worrying about a partner leaving or “falling out of love” while not making any progress in understanding their partner better, building shared lives, learning to appreciate more and take for granted less, and taking steps to care for their own well-being and achieving their own potential.
I don’t give these examples to criticize anyone or to claim I don’t struggle with any of these. I pretty much, currently or have in the past, struggled with all of these. The question is not so much whether we struggle but whether we are progressing in our struggle, growing and improving with our efforts, or are we struggling on a treadmill, bearing burdens and trying things, but not moving forward.
Finally, the third one is the curious case of the never- at-rest.
As I fleshed out my thoughts on this one, I kept thinking that much of what I was writing described me. The never-at-rest are those whose constant activity may present a high level of agency but who many times fail to ask: What is this worth? At the risk of sounding like Marie Kondo, stopping to ask, “Does this bring me joy?” and “Does this bring my loved ones joy?” are great questions to reflect on as we chase achievements, and experiences. Examples of the never-at-rest:
- The workaholic and the life-hackaholic, always trying to optimize themselves without first asking what kind of life do I want out of all of this? So many adopt life hacks, optimizing little bits of their life, with no thought to some master plan.
- The validation-addicted who constantly needs external signals to feel valued or energized or the the fans of the validation-addicted, always trying to follow the lives of their influencers. They want to know, and copy, what next nice place to visit is, what next good restaurant to try, what next cool brand to wear, what next life-changing book to read, even, at least in my circles, what next life changing church to attend! The clue here is the need for external signals of validation that usually leads to the seeking of external agreement as proof of the rightness or wrongness, as well as the coolness or un-coolness, of a decision.
- The one who can’t sleep, who can’t stop checking his phone, who can’t stay still enough to enjoy the moment for the moment. The best example I can think of is me! 😂 And what’s really helped me realize this is having my son, Elijah. Before the Covid pandemic forced us all to work from home, my weekdays and nights looked like this: gym by 5am, office by 7am, home by 9pm. Now that I work mostly from home, I’m learning to see my activities from the eyes of Elijah. He one time asked me, “I’ll be quiet while you work but can your work be quiet when we play?”
The challenge here is that our busyness gets in the way of joy, and what is life without joy? Is the good life simply a life of endless random optimization until death? Or is the good life the one that is full of unexplainable satisfaction? Having my son has convinced me that the latter is a more valuable way to live.
With these three cases, and without further ado, I’d like to share my thoughts on thinking, meaning how I try to be mindful and thoughtful about my life, and how doing so helps pull me out of being easily triggered, easily paralyzed, and easily never-at-rest, quicksands I know I can very quickly sink into.
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