“Where you spend your attention is where you spend your life.”
The Hero of Heroes
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with discovering what makes people win. I used to think what made someone good at one thing was different than what made them good at another, and while there is some truth to that, I’ve noticed that there are a few things that make people good at everything. It’s almost like a Pareto distribution of skills necessary for winning. There are a handful of skills and traits that we can learn which can help us get to the top of all the pyramids, so to speak.
While analyzing the “winners” of our society, I’ve noticed that they all possess certain trains to get to the top of their fields. What makes a successful professor is different from what makes a successful athlete is different from what makes a successful musician, or businessman, or mother, or soldier, or fashion designer…you get the idea. Each one of these people has developed themselves in the areas they need to in order to reach the top of their game.
Well, life is more than just one game, it’s a series of games.
So that poses the question, what are the traits and skills we need to develop to win the series of games?
In some ways, that’s different from what it takes to win one particular game, but in other ways, it’s also the same. That led to me looking for patterns, not only in successful people of my time but in the heroes of the myths of all cultures.
For generations, even predating written history, people have been trying to figure out this question and share their findings with the ones who inherit their world. They shared these ideas through stories of heroes that would display the traits and ways of being necessary for “winning.”
Let me give an example, Hercules is a kind, strong, brave, and persistent young man and because of that, the story ends well for him. When little boys are told the story of Hercules, they want to emulate his heroic qualities and be one themselves. Adults are happy to tell them this story because they know (on a subconscious level) that these lessons will help the children in winning the game of games, life. The same can be found in religious stories, ancient myths, and popular culture. The Avengers is a perfect example of this. Spider-man is my personal favorite.
So I started thinking, what if I analyzed what was common among all of these hero myths?
Will I find the skills needed for success everywhere?
I don’t think I know exactly what will make someone successful everywhere, but I have compiled some commonalities between the heroes in every story I’ve come across. This is a pretty big idea so I’m going to be going over each of them with their own blog post.
These series of posts will not be an exhaustive list of these traits and skills, but they are the ones that I’ve found to be most important. This post is going to focus on the power of attention.
This story has a similar arc to Disney’s famous The Lion King, one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ll be making various connections to The Lion King and it’s relevance to the modern world throughout the story.
This story is one of the oldest, but most elaborate and influential, myths of the Egyptian Gods. This is the Osiris Myth.
It begins with the god Osiris, the King of Egypt, ruling a fair and prosperous kingdom. Osiris is extremely wise and well-liked by his subjects. He’s harsh with his judgments but fair with his punishments.
Osiris is analogous to Mufasa in The Lion King. They are both a representation of The Wise King archetype.
Osiris was married to Isis, the Goddess of health, marriage, and fertility. They had a good marriage and Isis was lovingly devoted to Osiris. Osiris also had a brother named Set, the God of deserts, disorder, and violence.
Isis seems to be the ancient Egyptian representation of the anima.Set is analogous to Scar from The Lion King. Like Scar and Mufasa, Set’s relationship to Osiris represents “the hostile brothers” archetype.
Set was jealous of Osiris and his power. He wanted to be the King of Egypt. Osiris knew his bother had these feelings but chose not to acknowledge them. Instead, he was willfully blind to his brother’s hostility. Set used his brother’s voluntary ignorance against him and killed Osiris. Set chopped Osiris up into little pieces and spread his body parts across Egypt.
These different pieces ended up representing the different districts in ancient Egypt and were thought to be the origins of their old borders.
Mufasa was killed by Scar because Mufasa did not want to see the evil in his brother. He chose to be willfully ignorant. Just like in The Lion King, Set was able to kill Osirus because Osirus didn’t want to see the evil in Set. This is one of the biggest lessons I took from this story: Willful ignorance is strong enough to take down a good, powerful, and wise leader. Or maybe the ancient Egyptians were trying to say that only willful ignorance is strong enough to take down a wise, powerful, and good leader. Either way, willful ignorance is destructive and the forces working against us will use our ignorance to catch us off guard. Choosing to not see the evil will kill us, maybe when others may need us the most.
Of course, when a king dies it’s big news and it’s not long until Isis finds out. She’s furious and goes around to each district gathering Osiris’s parts. Eventually, she finds his phallus and impregnates herself. Once she’s pregnant, she leaves for the underworld where she can raise her baby, the hero, Horus the Younger, away from the disorder and violence of Set’s reign.
Horus the Younger is commonly depicted as a falcon-headed man because he represents attention. The agent of attention is born from the wise king and the anima. I think it’s also worth mentioning that Horus is raised in the underworld. To the modern person, the underworld has connotations of Hell or other terrible places but in ancient Egyptian mythology, the underworld was another dimension where the gods could watch the humans from afar. Horus, the agent of attention, is raised in a world separate from the one he will inherit. Similar to how children are raised in environments separate from “the real world.”
This is where the Osiris myth diverges from The Lion King a bit. In The Lion King, Simba (Horus analogous) “grows up” with Timon and Pumba singing Hakuna Matata, whereas Horus was raised in the underworld by Isis. Those are obviously different, but in some ways they are similar. Both of our heroes are learning the ways of the world in a safe haven away from the real burden of responsibility.
As Horus gets older, he learns the truth about his father. That Set usurped him and is running Egypt into the ground. Horus decides to return to Egypt, confront Set, and avenge his father.
This is like when Simba decides to leave Timone and Pumba to go take his rightful place as king. This is the quintessential coming of age story (at least for boys), a boy leaves his friends so he can go an answer the calling to be greater. Usually catalyzed by a woman, in Simba’s case, it’s Nala.
When Horus returns, Set tries to win Horus over the same way he did with Osiris. But Horus has something is father didn’t, the gift of true attention. With his attention, Horus could see Set for what he was, an agent of betrayal and malevolence. When Horus confronts Set, they have a great battle. Set tears out one of Horus’s eyes, but Horus ultimately defeats him in the end. Since gods cannot truly be killed, Horus banishes Set from the Kingdom.
This is one of my favorite parts of the story because it has so many of the lessons that make this story worthwhile. 1) Attention is the one thing that will give us a fighting chance against the forces of malevolence. 2) When we are confronting the forces of malevolence and disorder, we will get hurt in a serious way. 3) We’ll never truly destroy the forces that are working against us, we can only fight them off and make them leave temporarily.
Horus picks up his eye and returns to the underworld, where Isis had kept all the pieces of Osiris. Horus gives Osiris his eye, restores attention to the old corpus of wisdom, and together they both rule Egpyt into prosperity and peace.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the pharaoh represented the union between Osiris and Horus. A good ruler needs to have the wisdom of the past as well as attention to the present in order to lead the people into a prosperous future. I think it’s great that Horus knew that to do what’s best for Egypt, he needed to give attention to the wisdom of his dead father. There is powerful meaning to be found in the journey of giving the attention of the youth to the wisdom of the old that runs deep within the soul of every human being. There are so many myths that depict that exact journey. It is not solely attention nor wisdom that will lead us to freedom and prosperity, but the union of both in a way that allows us to recognize and overcome the forces working against us.
Attention is what’s needed to brings us to the top of every hierarchy and overcome the forces of evil, so to speak. This idea has been expressed through archetypal images and myths throughout history and cross-culturally.
I think the image on the back of the American dollar bill depicts this perfectly. Attention is the thing that is at the top of the pyramid, but it’s also more than that too. Attention transcends the rest of the pyramid, it’s almost as if the ones who are paying attention are no longer part of the rest of the pyramid. (I’ve noticed this to be true in my experiences as well.)
Attention is the thing that will take us to the top of every hierarchy and overcome the forces of evil, so to speak.
But why? Why does attention sit on top ofthe hierarchy?
I’m not sure if I’ve come up withthe answer to this question, but one of the answers I’ve come up with is that with the power of attention we can plan for the unknown, create the future, avoid danger, and predict the future.
I believe this is a huge part of the reason why so many internet influencers (and the Kardashians) make so much money. When you harness people’s attention, you have the ultimate power. Our attention is the most powerful thing any of us has to offer. That’s why companies are willing to pay millions of dollars for advertisements and people will dedicate their lives to being famous. Attention is the real currency, everything else is illusory.
Paying attention to where we pay attention is critical for living a powerful and fulfilled life. When we pay attention to our minds, we can improve our mental health. When we pay attention to ur bodies, we can improve our physical health. When we pay attention to anything, we can improve it. What gets measured gets managed, and what gets managed gets improved. Attention is the first step to all of that.
I recommend looking into mindfulness exercises and practices. Meditation is a fantastic way I try to train myself in paying attention to my mind and myself. There’s so much research today that grounds the value of paying attention to ourselves in hard science.
Pay attention to where you pay attention. It’s the most valuable thing we have to offer.
Test and performance anxiety can be completely debilitating. Anxiety in general can destroy the best of us, but it can be overcome. First, we have to understand why we get anxiety in the first place.
Our brains have a threat detection system that’s constantly examining our surroundings. I talk a little bit about this in my post The Brain vs. The Mind (Part 1). When it notices something that could be a potential threat, now or in the future, it immediately tries to solve that problem. Our minds are constantly preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Needless to say, this process is stressful and if overdone could lead to anxiety. When our brains don’t know what to prepare for, this is exactly what happens. If the brain detects a potential threat but doesn’t know how to prepare for it, then it will try to prepare for everything.
Like literally everything.
Our minds will want to prepare us for a panther attack from the tress, and the next economic crash, and embarrassing moments, and food shortages, and life beyond school, and…and…and…you get the idea.
We are anxious because we’re trying to solve every possible problem at the same time, which is impossible. Our minds work hard to find solutions and when it can’t, it works even harder. At this point, our bodies will use their stress responses which have physiological effects. Our bloodstreams get flooded with cortisol and adrenalin, which is super useful in the short term, but terrible crippling over the medium to long term. This is why anxiety can be so taxing on the body.
These stress response systems aren’t entirely terrible. After all, they are fantastic indicators for potential threats now and in the future which is awesome because we can use that to our advantage. In the context of education, this means we can use our anxiety to determine if we have sufficiently prepared ourselves. This is a slippery slope and takes practice to identify how much anxiety is enough, but it’s a powerful skill once it’s been honed. The biggest difference between unnecessary anxiety and beneficial anxiety lies in our habits.
How much have we actually prepared for the threats in front of us?
How many hours have we put in to earn the calm?
Coping with Anxiety
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”
Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
In terms of education and test-taking, anxiety can arise from not knowing what to prepare for. A big part of conquering anxiety is understanding why we get it, then taking the steps to solve the threats in front of us.
When riddled with anxiety, many people become paralyzed. Often it can seem like it’s impossible to move when anxiety has taken over. Not surprising considering that freezing is the first step of the stress response. I talk more about this and how to overcome it in The Relationship with Ourselves (Part 2). Part of getting through that paralysis is defining what it is we are anxious about.
Remember, our minds are constantly working to solve problems, and if the problem is not clear than our mind spins out and anxiety takes over. Conquering anxiety equals defining anxiety. We have to take the time to discover what it is that we are actually anxious about. I recommend writing it down and using Tim Ferriss’ Fear Setting Exercise. Once we discover what the worse case is, we can work on making that specific situation better, or if we can’t, then we can work to cap the downside – make sure the losses aren’t too extreme and/or irrecoverable.
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”
Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD)
Defining what needs to get done and what needs to be understood is incredibly powerful. I’ve noticed that whenever I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed it’s because the tasks I need to complete aren’t crystal clear. When my goals are as clearly stated as actions that I need to take in the real world, the anxiety melts away.
For this reason, I’m a huge advocate of checklists. They are a fantastic tool for taking the huge ideas we have up in the sky and bringing them down to Earth in bite-sized actionable steps. I recommend reading The Checklist Manifesto. Dr. Atul Gawande beautifully outlines the power of checklists, how to make good checklists, and how to get everything done right. I’ll definitely be writing something on that book later down the line. His insight on checklists in unparalleled and incredibly powerful.
Get things articulated in small and simple tasks.
Another fantastic way of coping with anxiety is to shorten our timelines. When stress is high, focus on small increments of time. The higher the stress, the smaller the increment. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen in a year, or a month, or a week, or a day, or an hour. Focus on what’s right in front of you, even if that means tuning out everything and focusing on just getting through the next few seconds.
I’ve noticed that when I’m extremely stressed out, it helps to just focus on the next 3 seconds. I get through my rough patches 3 seconds at a time. When I’m less stressed, I’m in a more visionary state and I’m able to create and execute plans over weeks or (when I’m really on) months.
Focusing on the seconds or focusing on the months, time will pass either way. Adjusting our timeframes is a powerful way of maintaining control especially when we’re wrestling with something like anxiety.
I also talk more about anxiety and their relationship to education in my posts Strategies for Better Studying Part 2 and Part 3.
The Yerkes-Dodson Law is a relationship between nervous system arousal and performance developed by American psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson. The law states that arousal in the nervous system (stress) can actually help with performance, but only up to a certain point. In high amounts, arousal could be detrimental to performance (as most people with test anxiety know too well). This knowledge is powerful because it suggests that we actually need some level of stress to perform at our best. Most people’s natural reaction to test anxiety is to try to get rid of all of it, but we actually want to hold on to some of that stress. Yerkes-Dodson also suggests that if we’re not stimulated enough then our performance will suffer as well.
The graphic above shows the Hebbian Yerkes-Dodson Curve which is a simplified version of the original curve. It leaves our hyperarousal effect on simple tasks and the differentiation between difficult and simple tasks. There are a ton of interesting findings related to performance and stress that developed as a result of this work. For example, intellectually demanding tasks may require lower levels of arousal for concentration whereas tasks demanding persistence may require higher levels of arousal for motivation. Because of this, different tasks may have different Yerkes-Dodson curves but the Hebbian version is a solid average of most tasks.
Understanding the Yerkes-Dodson curve is crucial for managing stress and anxiety specifically to enhance or maintain a certain level of performance. We don’t want to completely avoid stress altogether, we just want to manage it enough to prevent performance impairment.
“Stress is a result of a lack of structure.”
Touré Roberts (1972 – )
When managing stress, we want to keep good stress (eustress) and let go of bad stress (distress). Here are a couple of methods that I use to help with stress management:
Entering the Sleep-like Brain States. Meditation, driving long distances, running, breathing, showering, and cleaning are a few of the things I do to get my mind in a sleep-like state. Taking time to unplug and step back from working on whatever I’m working on helps decrease my nervous system arousal. Most of the time, our brains are doing “duration, path, outcome” operations. It’s obsessed with how long something will take, the path we will take to get there, and what will happen once it’s all over. These are most of the operations we do in our day-to-day lives, but it’s taxing on the brain. Entering the sleep-like states replenishes our ability to continue using the “duration, path outcome” operations.
Define the stressor. Similar to anxiety, half of the battle is clearly understanding what it is that is stressing you out. I try to get this out in my journaling or other reflective writing. Honestly, sometimes I’ll just write what’s stressing me out in my notes app just so I have something to externalize my thoughts onto. This helps because once something is clearly defined, we can take the steps necessary to solve the problem.
Eating healthy and regularly. Studies have shown that eating breakfast regularly helps with mood stabilization. It’s also much more difficult to perform when our blood glucose levels are low. Doing difficult and stressful tasks requires a higher cognitive load. The higher demand for our mental faculty calls for higher physical demands on nutrition. It’s much easier to get stressed when we’re hungry. We can eliminate any extra stress but keeping our bodies happy and healthy.
On that note, avoiding stimulants. Caffeine is a big one. Caffeine and other uppers hype up the activity in the central nervous system, they literally chemically increase our arousal. All of our emotional states, like stress, are related to biochemical ratios in our bodies. Everyone’s body is a little different, and I urge everyone to pay attention to how each of the things they ingest makes them feel. We can control a surprising amount of our emotions from controlling what we take in. I personally try to keep off stimulating chemicals when I’m highly stressed. However, I do use caffeine on occasion if I don’t have the energy levels required to perform my best. Basically, I recommend generally avoiding stimulants but if you really want to try to only use them if your arousal levels are lower than the sweet spot.
This last method I wouldn’t try unless you need to really calm down. Six deep breaths trigger a parasympathetic response. If we can manage to get 6 deep breaths in, when the exhale is longer than the inhale, then our bodies take that as a signal to relax and starts to turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, the part of our brain the relaxes us. This is a physical way of lowering nervous system arousal.
Be aware that we do need some stress in order to perform at our best, so don’t just try to find ways to eliminate stress. It’s all about finding balance.
Confidence and Anxiety
Confidence has a significant relationship with anxiety. If we don’t believe that we can overcome a challenge, it’s really easy for us to shut down. We won’t prepare for the dangers to come and our minds will make us more and more uneasy as the danger gets closer. Confidence gives us a fighting chance to overcome anxiety. Without confidence, anxiety will win every time.
How to Increase Confidence
The tricky part about confidence is that we need to prove to ourselves that we have confidence before we can start having it. I talk a little bit about this in my post, The Relationship with Ourselves.
Rather than trying to talk ourselves into acting confident, we need to show ourselves that we are capable and get some wins under our belt. There are a few ways to do this. One of my favorite recommendations is to go out and learn something. Literally anything. Find a skill that has always seemed interesting and learn about it. Practice it. Invest in it. Confidence is a side-effect of watching yourself kick ass at something. People who are good at things are confident. People who seem confident, but aren’t competent are just arrogant. If you take shortcuts, you’ll know and you won’t exude genuine confidence. Building a relationship with ourselves and knowing ourselves as someone who is authentically confident is difficult and takes time, but it’s totally worth it.
Focus on building an identity and creating solid habits. Those are perfect ways of developing confidence within ourselves because when cultivating identity and habits, we’re already making constant little wins.
Last Thoughts on Anxiety
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)
“There is nothing so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness it is in your expecting evil before it arrives!”
Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD)
Two different men from vastly different times and they’re saying the same thing. It’s not worth it to worry. Any suffering we are to bear will be experienced when we experience it. If the practices in this most don’t help, try to find ways to not participate in the madness of anticipating pain. Sometimes I drive myself crazy worrying about the future, but other times I can catch myself and remember that I’m only hurting myself by thinking that way.
Not all of our thoughts are true. Not all of our thoughts are useful.
I also recommend reading Stoic philosophy to learn how to operate in times of high stress and anxiety. Letters from a Stoic and On the Shortness of Life by Seneca are fantastic pieces of work and are both on my Must-Read Book List.
“Life is suffering.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Suffering, pain, death, and misfortune are all a part of life. Rejecting these parts makes things harder than they already are. If we learn to embrace hardships and learn to love our fate, amor fati, then maybe we will be relieved of a little pain.
In life, we perform. We are always performing. If people depend on us, we need to perform. Learning how to thrive when it is our time to shine is a skill that translates beautifully in any field. I consider performing to be a powerful meta-skill worth taking on.
During my freshman year of college, my friend and I performed at open mics twice a week and it really helped with my performance anxiety. The first time I went up on stage, my voice was shaky and played all of our songs super fast because subconsciously I wanted to get off the stage as fast as possible. But by the end of the first semester, the stage felt like my natural habitat and was a place for me to thrive and shine.
We get better at anything with deliberate practice and time. Performance and test-taking are just other skills to develop. Focus on developing yourself and giving your all. Know exactly what you need to conquer and be mindful of your stress levels and management techniques. Everyone can be a great test-taker, it just takes a little work.
Sometime after college, I was exposed to the idea that…
Questions are extremely powerful.
In his book, Tribe of Mentors, Tim Ferriss says that the answers to anything and everything that we want is in other people’s heads and questions are our pickaxes. He attributes his 10x, 100x, and 1000x gains to his development of better questions.
I instantly fell in love with this idea. Not because I immediately recognized how useful that perspective is (although I wish I could say that), but because I was having trouble finding answers to the questions that were burning inside of me.
Why am I always getting the short end of the stick?
How come I’m not being rewarded for doing the right thing?
Is this all there is to life?
Will it ever get easier?
What’s the point of understanding complicated things if no one cares about them?
When will I have sacrificed enough?
How do I make more money?
Why do I keep making bad choices?
The frustration drove me deeper and deeper into nihilism, but this new piece of knowledge was bright enough to help me see the light.
It’s not that life was giving me harsh answers to my questions, it’s that I wasn’t asking the right questions at all. Then I realized…
Improve my questions, improve my life.
It’s not that knowing that asking better questions suddenly made my life better, but knowing that there is something I could do to give me a fighting chance was liberating and empowering.
I just needed to ask better questions.
Little did I know that the best was yet to come, and I was just beginning to understand the power of questions. There was another way to use questions powerfully.
This other idea was clearly articulated to me by Jordan Peterson, but I found it to be true in many other instances of my life.
When we’re asked questions, our minds almost immediately go to work on finding an answer.
This can be extremely uncomfortable if we’re asked the wrong (or right) questions. We can ignore the answers and act as if we don’t know them, but we will. The curse of knowledge is that we will never unknow something, so once we are asked the question we are also given the answer.
The cool part is that it doesn’t matter who asks the questions. We just need to be asked the question in order to start looking for an answer. This means that we can ask ourselves these questions or find someone to ask them to us.
At first, this idea seemed inconsequential but then I realized that I can discover honest and reasonable answers if I take a little bit of time to be asked what I really think I should do.
It can be something as small as “What do I want to eat for dinner?” or something as big as “What do I want my life to mean when everything is said and done?” Our minds will find us an answer if we let it.
This can be done in a way that is ineffective, but the key is to want to answer the question in a way that does not compromise ourselves. Try to be genuinely curious about the answers.
Suddenly, big questions don’t worry me as much and smaller questions are answered with myself in mind. My major life choices aren’t made carelessly or for other people. Learning and practicing this is so freeing.
Despite my question list being presented in no particular order, I do think it’s important to mention that good questions in the wrong order can get bad responses. Sometimes jumping right to the deep work questions can surface some superficial answers. If we take the time to warm people up with easier questions before jumping right into the difficult stuff, we’ll get answers that are more honest and well thought out.
My Question List
Here is a list of every question that I’ve found worthwhile to ask myself. I recommend spending at least 5 minutes thinking about each one (obviously in your own time, there are way too many of them to do it all at once). A lot of these questions aren’t necessarily designed to give me pragmatic answers, but to get me to think differently and break old ways of thinking.
I think everyone should keep a question list, if you decide to make one please share it with me at email@example.com. I would love to see what other people’s pickaxes look like.
Bolded questions are the ones that I would argue have most impacted my life.
“Often, all that stands between you and what you want is a better set of questions.”
Tim Ferriss (Tribe of Mentors)
In no particular order:
What do I want to change and how will I know when I have?
What would this look like if it were easy?
What am I avoiding just because I know the answer is painful?
How can I make my 10-year plans happen in 6 months?
How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?
What am I not saying that needs to be said?
What’s being said that I’m not hearing?
What are the actions I need to take today?
What am I unwilling to feel?
Whose expectations am I trying to fulfill? My own or those of someone else?
How much would I pay to relive this moment 40 years from now?
Who do I know that can help me with this?
Do I need this?
Is there an action that I can take now to make this better?
What is something that feels productive to me at the moment, but usually ends up wasting time and energy?
Am I doing this for Present Me or Future Me?
What do I enjoy refining?
What makes me different?
What is something that I know is stupid that I can stop doing today?
What are my 7 streams of passive income?
What skill am I working on?
If someone could only see my actions and not hear my words, what would they say are my priorities?
What is the biggest small thing I could do today?
Is there a way I can automate this?
What do I have to offer?
What am I good at?
What am I preventing myself from feeling?
What can I work on today that will continue working for me years from now?
What am I avoiding just because the desired outcome would take longer than I’d like?
What can I do now that I would be so happy I started doing 3 years from now?
Have I earned this?
Are my goals my own, or simply what I think I should want?
How much of my life had I missed from under planning? Overplanning?
How could I be kinder to myself?
How could I better say no to the noise to better say yes to the adventures I crave?
Assume that more than one path exists to achieve your ideal life. What would some of the alternative routes look like?
What would make today great?
What are the three amazing things that happened today?
How could I have made today even better?
What two things am I going to try to improve this month?
Which thoughts have I had over the past week that are worth remembering forever?
Will this new endeavor either supply me with long-lasting relationships or a new skill set? In other words, will I win even if I lose?
“To be better equipped for the tests that the year will bring — read a textbook. To prepare for the tests that life will bring — read a book.”
Textbooks are not the same as the every day books that people read.
The Fundamentals of Chemical Engineering was a very different read than Man’s Search for Meaning. Textbooks require different methods of consumption. Since they’re are mostly filled with factual information that we are expected to understand and regurtitage, they can seem like a giant ball of chaos. This is a huge part of the reason why we don’t like reading them in the first place.
In my past blog posts, I talk extensively about the human mind and a multitude of theories describing how it works. A commonality in these posts and the writings of others I have read suggest that people are purpose oriented creatures. We need a clear purpose in front of us when we are reading textbooks. What stops people from reading textbooks is the ambiguous nature of it. Looking at a 1000+ page book with the intention of “learning everything” is too unclear and pushes us towards not doing anything at all.
We need a clear purpose when we are reading the books. This helps us articulate exactly what we are trying to learn. We can create purposeful and intentional reading by scanning the textbook before hand.
A Specific Method for Scanning Textbooks
This video is a fantastic resource for understanding efficient textbook consumption:
Here are some of the highlights from it.
Matt DiMaio suggests that students should flip through and scan each page so they can receive an overview on what is coming. This gives us our minds purpose when we flip through these pages.
We see unfamiliar images and phrases which will stick out to us as landmarks of recognition. The best way to maximize the results of method is to keep an eye out for things you don’t understand and lean into the questions that come to mind when we first see them.
Another key to reading textbooks efficiently is to skip to the End-Quiz. This lets us know exactly what to look for. Doing this right after an initial scan is the best time to read the end quiz questions because we have a small idea of what this chapter would be about, but we don’t know enough to know what to keep an eye out for. Reading the quiz before reading the actual chapter helps bridge this gap. Seeing the questions at the end provides a deeper level of articulation when it comes to our purpose when reading this chapter.
By this point, we should have two sets of questions bouncing around in our heads – one set that we created from our initial scan and the second are the questions at the end of the chapter.
If the chapter doesn’t have end of the chapter questions, there is most likely going to be a summary of the main points. These can also be turned into questions that could be answered. The idea is to keep developing questions that YOU genuinely want to know the answer to. This helps keeps our mind engaged when we are going through the text. There’s no substitute for genuine curiosity.
The next suggestion Matt DiMaio makes is to read the bold print because the information has already been broken down for you. The author(s) of the textbook (more often than not) layout the concepts in smaller chunks which usually come together to build a solid and thorough understanding of the overall concept. The bolded print keeps the information organized and are usually highlighting an important idea necessary for understanding the concept as a whole.
After, read the first and last sentence in a paragraph. The first sentence is usually an introduction and the last a conclusion. This is to get a quick, but slightly deeper understanding of the idea and it’s components. You get the jist of it but this point.
This method takes more time than just reading the chapter in one go, but it’s way more effective. During each of these stages, our brain is developing more and more questions which it will consciously and subconsciously look for. This helps us stay more engaged with the text, but is also in line with Active Recall, which is the most efficient learning method we currently accept.
Scanning doesn’t have to take more than 5 minutes and should be done before any intense reading happens. Students should almost never be reading textbooks cover to cover like we would novels. People are purpose driven creatures and firstly we need to know what we’re looking for. Scanning provides purpose when reading. Scanning a chapter multiple times will prime our brains perfectly for effective textbook consumption. Don’t shy away from repetition.
Repetition is the mother of learning.
3 Main Goals of Reading
Sometimes when I see people study for huge exams or quizzes, they will bust out their textbook and just start reading. Not only does this requires extreme amounts of cognitive load, but it’s also terribly ineffective. We are purpose driven creatures and just reading a textbook with the intention of “learning everything” is a slow moving trainwreck.
Here are 3 main goals we should keep in mind when we are reading textbooks:
1) Getting the correct information – we want to make sure we are reading the information that we are actually responsible for knowing. I can’t tell you how many test I’ve studied for that had completely different content than what I was studying. We want to know the right stuff.
2) Retaining that information – when we find this information, we want to make sure that we can remember it! We want to be able to remember it easily and over the long term, otherwise our efforts are wasted.
3) Spending less time – because honestly reading textbooks can be a drag and our time is usually better spent doing the things we’d rather do.
A Quick Tip on Goal Setting
These goals are assuming we agree with the fundamental axiom that there are ways to get better results with less effort. Now I can focus my energy on studying better, instead of trying to convince myself that there are better ways to read textbooks. I try to create goals with underlying assumptions that remove obstacles and push me forward. It’s a nice way of tricking our brain into getting things done.
Another example is what I do with these blog posts. My goal is to improve my blog posts at least 1% every week – that goal is created with the underlying assumption that I will be putting out a blog post every week. Now I’m not focused on just trying to get myself to write, that will come as a byproduct of focusing on improving the overall blog every week.
Methods to Test Comprehension
Reading textbooks out of order seems like a sure fire way to misunderstand the text. However, it’s actually more effective as long as we test our comprehension. Here are a few ways of testing yourself to make sure that you actually understand the key bits of information.
Answer all the Questions Included in the Chapter
Like I mentioned earlier, most textbook chapters have end of the chapter multiple choice quizzes. These are excellent active recall resources and a fantastic way to test your understanding of the key points.
Sometimes a textbook will include practice MCQs sprinkled throughout the chapter. This idea doesn’t just stop with multiple choice questions, they can apply to free response questions as well.
Write Out the Main Ideas in Your Own Words
Jordan Peterson said articulation is the deepest levels of understanding. First, we act out what we understand. The next level is thinking about what we understand. The deepest level is saying or writing it so another person can also understand the information. I should probably write a blog post on the different levels of understanding. When we write something down in our own words, we are forced to confront exactly what we know and what we don’t, which is a fantastic way of testing our understanding.
Evaluate When the Text was Published
The meaning in writing, no matter what kind, is nested in the words and pages of the text. But the text is also nested in its relation to everything else around it. The dominating thoughts of the times determine which ideas are presented and in what manner.
If the text is slightly outdated, it may fail to take into account new and precedent-breaking research. Questioning the text also key in testing understanding. Here are some questions you can start with:
Why are these ideas being presented in this order?
Is there anything included in the text that may have overlooked?
Questioning things naturally gives us deeper understandings. Shallow answers provide an opportunity to breed suffering and should rarely be accepted.
Summarize to Teach
This is a bite off the Feynman Technique. The idea is to summarize the material so a 5 year old can understand it. Try not to use any specialized jargon and address any questions that a 5 year old may ask when presented with the summary you write. When we teach, we put ourselves in the role of expert and our identity gets tied up with knowing the information thoroughly.
Explaining something at the level a 5 year old can understand is not a demonstration of simplified knowledge, but masterful understanding. True masters know what information to leave out so their pupil can best understand with their current frameworks of the world.
Practice Active Reading Over Passive Reading
I’m sure it seems like I’ve beaten this dead horse plenty, but I can’t stress this enough. Active Recall and Spaced Repetition are the two biggest pillars of studying less while learning more, and we would be foolish to not integrate that into how we read.
Instead of just reading line after line, we can engage with the text through the different methods of scanning outlined earlier or practicing these Methods to Test Comprehension. Keeping our brain active in the process, not only makes the learning more efficient, but keeps us interested and happy.
A good study session can be like being engaged in an enlightening conversation, it doesn’t have to be dull.
Determine the Focus
When you are reading it is important to know what kind of reading you will be doing. There are two main types of reading in this case, reading for main concepts or reading for details.
Are you reading to understand main concepts or details?
I recommend treating the main concepts like a framework for the big picture and the details as things we hang on the frame. Learn main concepts first, then fill in the blanks with the details.
Other Techniques for Effective Reading
A majority of these tips came from the notes I took while watching Marty Lobdell’s famous lecture on studying smart. You can watch the video for yourself here – but keep in mind, it’s an hour long.
If you don’t have time to check it out, don’t fret, I tried to include most of the value from this video in this blog post.
Do a Pomodoro Session, then Do Something Fun or Go Away
I talk about breaking up our work into smaller chunks all the time. Working for 25-30 minutes on a task, then walking away makes the task much easier to initiate. The reward makes us more likely to do it again! I go more in depth about the pomodoro technique and its modifications in this post. The main idea is to just break up the work into manageable time intervals. This is how I get all my blog posts done!
Reward Yourself After Finishing Your Entire Day
Do this not only because the reward is so much sweeter after finishing a day of work, but because it makes it easier for us to start again next time. If we know that we’re going to get a reward at the end, we can’t wait to get it done! Rewarding ourselves also solidifies all the newer neural pathways created in that session. Additionally, it prevents burnout and we ought to treat ourselves as people we are responsible for. If we committed a dog to a whole day of work, we would want to reward it afterwards for doing so well. We should give ourselves the same encouragement. We’ll die without it.
Study Concepts First, then Study Facts
I talk about this in my Strategies for Better Studying (Part 3) post and touched upon it earlier too. Studying just pure facts is impossibly difficult and we will never retain any information without tremendous effort. If we learn the concepts and understand how the facts fit into the bigger picture, then it is much easier to remember more facts with less effort. Create a framework of understanding, then hang the facts on the framework.
Highlight the Important Terms, but with Caution
I try not to highlight if possible. I layout some of the disadvantages to highlighting in [this post]. Highlighting triples our workload and increases the likelihood of focusing on lower yield information. If you find yourself in a situation where you must absolutely highlight, keep it at a minimum. Whatever is highlighted is considered important. When we highlight too much, we destroy prioritization. Not all information was made equal.
Our Brain is Better at Recognizing than Recalling
This is why Active Recall is such a powerful method of learning. The heightened difficulty of recalling information trains our brain more powerfully than simple recognition.
This is also why I suggest we scan our textbooks in the method laid out above. When we scan, we create points of recognition that allow us to hang the facts and intricate details of the information.
Flesh Out Notes to Solidify New Concepts
Right when we finish reading or get out of a lecture, we have an unstable understanding of the new concepts we’ve just learned. This is partly because we have very limited access to the information in terms of neural connections. With more neural connections, recalling specific information gets easier and easier.
Fleshing out our notes helps solidifies concepts in our mind, especially if they are a little fuzzy. The expansion gives us multiple neural points of connection, which allows for easier recall in the future. If fleshing the concepts out on your own is beyond your ZPD, I recommend comparing notes with a friend or discussing the topic with the professor in office hours.
Use Mnemonics to Memorize
Memorizing sucks and it’s nearly impossible to memorize random facts without connecting them to something else that we already understand. One of the best ways to memorize is to use mnemonics, little devices designed to help with remembering patterns or associations.
One version of a mnemonics are acronyms. Not to be confused with initialisms (which can be great mnemonics too), acronyms are words or names formed from the initial parts of a bigger name. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is pronounced like a word, but stands for a larger name.
One of my favorite acronyms are used for remembering the colors of a rainbow – ROY G. BIV. It sounds like the name of a man, but it stands for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indego, and violet.
Another type of mnemonic devices are coined sayings. These are crazy phrases used similarly to acronyms. One of my favorite coined sayings is for memorizing the Krebs Cycle intermediates is “Can I Keep Selling Sex for Money Officer?”
C – citrate I – isocitrate K – a-ketoglutarate S – succinyl CoA S – succinate F – fumarate M – malate O – oxaloacetate
It’s easy to remember because it’s about sex. The more sexual, vulgar, and ridiculous are, the easier they are to remember. So don’t be afraid to get a little crazy.
The last type of mnemonic that I’m going to talk about here are image associations. Some people also refer to this as the “Mental Mind Palace” or the “method of loci.” The main idea is to picture a place that we are extremely familiar with, like our home for example, and place the different bits of information in places across your house.
This sounds a little woowoo, but the core of this method is to connect our familiar environment as triggers of recognition to the information that we want to memorize. This works wonders for some people and not so well for others. I wouldn’t recommend this method over the other ones, but what is powerful is knowing that we can associate any information we want with images.
Using images to solidify a concept in our minds is powerful because the human brain is mainly designed to function around sight. We are relatively visual creatures and using visualization to enhance memory is like a cheat code. Similar to coin sayings, the more sexual, vulgar, and ridiculous the image is, the easier is will be to remember.
Reading is like working out. It takes time to get better at it. Reading a textbook is like learning how to work out a specific part of your body. Stick with it. All principles regarding skill building also apply here too, so things like The Valley of Disappointment, The Transition Curve, and The 20 Hour Rule are also at play. See each reading session as a practice in developing the “textbook reading” skill.
“The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites – day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail over the other, that good will overcome evil, or job defeat pain. Life is a battleground. It always has been, and always will be.”
Carl Jung (Approaching the Unconscious)
The Gestalt Reality
The incredibly intelligent and renown Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, urged that people strive for wholeness rather than perfection. The path to wholeness is through integrating the sides of ourselves which are rejected, ignored, and avoided. When we combine the sides of ourselves which are responsible for creation with the sides which are capable of destruction, we create something bigger than the sum of those parts.
I talk a little bit about the uglier sides of ourselves in my post The Relationship with Ourselves (Part 2). Harnessing the power of and willingly confronting these less than perfect sides of ourselves gives us the ability to deal with chaos when it comes. These ugly sides of ourselves are what Jung referred to as the shadow side.
This shadow side within ourselves that are rejected, ignored, and avoided are usually deemed “bad” or “immoral” by the rest of society. This widespread belief comes from people being constantly ridiculed by friends and family if they were to express these traits. We may live in an illusion of harmony, but this harmony is at the expense of our psychological integrity.
“And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.”
Jordan B. Peterson (12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos)
When we’re children, we’re afraid of monsters and wished they didn’t exist. As we get older, we see that the monsters are real and aren’t going anywhere. This knowledge makes us cynical. We believe the world must be an evil, unforgiving, and cold place to have monsters everywhere. However, we can learn to contend with the monsters if we learn how to be at one with ourselves.
The shadow sides contain a monster capable of immense destruction. If we ignore and repress this monster, it will come out in ways we don’t intend. If we let it go completely, we create heinous suffering and destroy the good around us. We must learn to wrestle with the monster within, integrate it into our personality, and use it when necessary. When we combine all these sides of ourselves, we come more than just the combination of all those sides. We become something much stronger and more formidable.
I talk more about this in the context of children who always try to be good in this post. Good children tend to repress their own thoughts and feelings in order to please other people. This repression creates a world of problems for them in the adult world as well as their personal psyche.
Getting a hold of this side of ourselves is a difficult task. In order to grapple with our shadow, we first have to see it in ourselves. When we first look for the shadow we will find ourselves in a moral dilemma.
It’s hard to see the parts of ourselves which conflict with society and our loved ones. We discover the alarming amounts of hypocrisy, complacency, and fear which our moral scaffoldings and state are founded on.
Integrating the shadow is not trying to become “evil“, but it is detaching ourselves from the evil within us, so we can be free to find the parts of ourselves lost in the shadow. This creates an undeniable authenticity that others can intuitively pick up on.
True freedom, and a healthy relationship with ourselves, starts with questioning the codes of socialization and morality that we’ve been indoctrinated into. Questioning codes of conduct does not make us deviant, but strengthens compliance of codes if an answer can be found. Refusing to question codes risks propagating conduct which breed pathology.
Whenever I’m working with students, I notice that many of the students let their guard down and let go of their resistance to learning when they understand why they must sacrifice. Senselessness is painful for anyone at any age. Understanding why we need to sacrifice gives our pain meaning which can pull us through any challenge.
“If it can be destroyed by truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.”
Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
Pretending that we don’t have a shadow is a futile. Dichotomy of this nature is built right into the structures of reality. Refer to the quote at the beginning of this blog post again.
We have sides to our existence which we don’t like, but denying them only makes them stronger. Pretending they don’t exists brings them out more than we’d like, and it ways that we won’t even notice.
“By not being aware of having a shadow, you declare a part of your personality to be non-existent. Then it enters the kingdom of the non-existent, which swells up and takes on enormous proportions…If you get rid of qualities you don’t like by denying them, you become more and more unaware of what you are, you declare yourself more and more non-existent, and your devils will grow fatter and fatter.”
Carl Jung (Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1928-1930)
The Shadow of Aggression
We can see this in children who exhibit aggression at an early age. Aggression is a part of human nature and there is nothing inherently wrong with it, although to modern people, it has a rough connotation. Aggression is simply an assertive pursuit in one’s desires. Sometimes this can be violent and terrible, but most of the time it isn’t.
When an infant is crying for food, they are being aggressive. When we ask someone if we could use their restroom, we are being aggressive. Aggression can appear in countless ways.
As a result, many children who are aggressive at an early age (which is almost all of them) are met with disapproval and punishment. As they get older, they learn to repress that side of themselves. They seek to avoid conflict and not push their own agenda.
The aggression moves into the shadow and transforms into anger, rage, and hate.
If the child had learned to use their aggression when appropriate, rather than ignore it altogether, they could use their aggression to move themselves and their community forward in a meaningful way. The child could have recognized the aggression within themselves, integrated it so they can use it by their own volition, and released it when they needed to be aggressive. They would have an easier time in the adult world and more control over their internal states.
Aggression is necessary in adult life and people who cannot utilize it will be damned to a life of mediocrity and people pleasing. People who won’t recognize the aggression within themselves will always be the stepping stone and not the one who steps on the stone. This way of living will drive them mad, mostly because they’re aware of their powerlessness, and the adult who has not integrated their aggression will uncontrollably release their shadow in a fit of unregulated emotions.
“This longing to commit a madness stays with us throughout our lives. Who has not, when standing with someone by an abyss or high up on a tower, had a sudden impulse to push the other over? And how is it that we hurt those we love although we know that remorse will follow? Our whole being is nothing but a fight against the dark forces within ourselves. To live is to war with trolls in the heart and soul. To write is to sit in judgement on oneself”
Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)
Common Signs of Shadow Release
Lack of shadow integration leads to uncontrolled actions where the shadow releases itself in ways that we can barely recognize. It’s so easy to be blind to our shadow and how it shows itself. However, in Robert Greene’s fantastic book, The Laws of Human Nature, which is on My Must-Read Book List, he lays out common signs of shadow release and personas which the shadow displays itself through. We can use his guidelines to recognize the shadow within ourselves.
Repression can leads to a disconnect between our thoughts and actions. We think and want one thing, but act differently. Eventually, we will lapse in our performance and start to act how we truly think resulting in contradictory behavior.
This can also be seen in the people who preach high morality, but secretly and deliberately wrongs others. Another example can be found in extremely animus and typically tough men. They seem so strong and stoic on the outside, but really they yearn for sensitivity and security.
People carefully construct their images, sometimes without consulting all sides of themselves. These constructions are simply exoskeletons which people use to keep their uglier sides in the dark.
This is when the shadow simply can’t handle the repression any longer and must be released. They might say something cruel or expression their deeply embarrassing emotions. Either way, the person will claim that some external circumstance has brought out something different than them. Typically, the shadow is more honest than who we think we are.
Intense denials are typically expressions of what the shadow truly desires. Now, I’m not saying that everything that everyone denies is secretly desired. According to Freud, people understand the uncomfortable parts of their unconscious mind through denial in their unconscious mind. In other words, we understand the ugly parts of our unconscious through denying them. It’s easy to see this in men who claim they “have never cried” or “don’t feel any emotion.”
We can deny things, but passionate denial may be a form of acceptance.
This is the one I think is the funniest. We see people engaging in destructive behavior and the reason for their conduct is simply an “accident”. Someone will drink too much alcohol and say inappropriate things. “It’s not me talking, it’s the alcohol.” They will say defending their insolence, but it’s their shadow. The truth is that person has never been more honest. Typically, alcohol inebriates our cerebral cortex which is our emotional brake pedal, so to speak. If that loses its power, it gives an opportunity for our amygdala to act as wild as possible.
We love to look for a great excuse to let our shadow go and what’s better than an accident?
This isn’t just with alcohol, people use all kinds of accidents as an excuse to indulge in their dark sides. When we stop accepting these explanations as excuses, we can see the shadow clearly.
People have a need to believe in something bigger than them. Conventional religion works for some people, but in this day and age, I’ve seen more and more people create their own belief systems. No matter the system, people will always put an ideal at the top, a clear example of right and wrong, a goal to strive for.
This can be in the form of a god, or in a personally relevant example, a motorcycle club (I’m rewatching Sons of Anarchy at the moment). People need an ideal to strive towards or we are left in true chaos.
Nothing is inherently wrong with this, but over-dealization can leave people a fantastic excuse to release their shadow. When we over-idealize something it’s easy to ignore all the imperfections and believe that any action that does not benefit the ideal is wrong. Once this happens, we will commit every sin in the book in the name of our god.
This is where the phrase “the ends don’t justify the means” is really useful. Over-idealization is saying the ends do justify the means and we will achieve the end by any means necessary.
We are constantly looking for ways to release our shadow, if we don’t do it consciously, we will convince ourselves that we are doing it for the right reasons.
“Projection is of the the commonest psychic phenomena…everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbor, and we treat him accordingly.”
Carl Jung (Archaic Man)
Ever heard the phrase “game recognize game”? This is the same idea. We have to have it in us to see it in other people. However, we love to tell ourselves that only other people have these disgusting traits and not us.
This is the most common way people deal with their shadow because it offers an opportunity for release every day. Whenever we see someone with unfavorable qualities, we can condemn them. Judge them unfairly and satisfy ourselves with justification that we are not like them.
I had a student whose parent was completely convinced that Hispanic students were the reason why California’s math scores are so low. He told me that it’s such a shame that Hispanic students don’t care about education and just want to get by. He explained to me, with great detail, about how he believes they are going to be the downfall of his beloved country. What he didn’t realize was his children, and himself, are the real perpetrators. Not because what he believes is racist and ignorant, but because his own children and himself don’t care about education and do everything they can just to get by. I worked with two of his kids and him long enough to know that they have those common attitudes, but I didn’t wrong him for it. I know that he was using projection as a form of shadow release.
What we hate in other people, we usually hate in ourselves.
Personas of the Unintegrated Shadow
Another way to recognize the shadow within ourselves is by paying attention to the personas which the shadow uses to show itself.
The Tough Guy
We all know the guy who’s too tough for life. These characters express hyper masculine roughness to signal that they’re the alpha dog. This guy likes to brag about all the women he’s slept with, fights he’s won, or deals he’s negotiated. This doesn’t just apply to men, this persona can be adopted by women who’ve accessed deep levels of their animus.
It’s easy to be intimidated by these types but they are like The Repressed Good Child. Unable to accept their sensitive and emotionally vulnerable sides, they only allow themselves to be “strong.”
Without acceptance of emotional vulnerability, The Tough Guy is susceptible to losing control when met with something that challenges or upsets them. We can recognize The Tough Guy within ourselves and learn to accept emotional vulnerability. We can also recognize it in others so we can be mindful of stirring insecurities or understand potential over reactions.
The Tough Guy pretends to be tough because really he is sensitive.
These types are the shining examples of who we ought to be. They emanate goodness and purity as well as have seemingly endless compassion for the dispossessed. If malevolence and deceit surround them, they stand uncorrupted and above it all.
However, as we know if these sides of ourselves are not intentionally developed then they are masquerades for the opposite. The Saint has a secret thirst for power, attention, and all things sensual. The Saint acts as a pillar of benevolence, but once in power the shadow takes over and turns the progressive merciful angel into an intolerant punishing monster.
The Saint desires sex, money, and attention even though we may expect to believe otherwise. The Saint typically has a low tolerance for temptation and will use their power inappropriately if given the slightest opportunity. These types seem like incredible people to the public, but their family would testify otherwise.
We can seperate the true saints from the fakes through observing their actions and particular characteristics of their lives. How much do they enjoy power when they have it? How many goomahs do they have? Do they have a flavor of self-absorption that underlies their behavior?
Keeping a safe distance from these Shadow Saints is the best way to handle them. They’re after power and nothing else. Don’t be fooled by their show.
The Passive-Aggressive Charmer
These characters are difficult to deal with because they are so damn nice. When you first meet, they’re accommodating and smile a lot. They seem like a giant ball of positive energy and are surprisingly helpful too! Everything is fantastic until we see some action that seems so out of character – they explode on someone, talk shit behind your back, or sabotage you in some way.
These types probably learned at a young age that their innate aggression is bad. Maybe they had slightly more aggressive tendencies than other kids and had difficulty controlling them. Over time, they push that aggression deeper and deeper down into the depths of the shadow. They project auras of kindness and accomodation, but with a hint of aggression. They hate playing this role and will seek to break character whenever they’re tired or stressed.
Extreme niceness is not natural behavior and people with excessive accomodating behavior are likely trying to cover up the opposite.
Frantics can be pretty intense people. They are firm in their beliefs, speak with vigor, don’t compromise, clean often, and emit confidence. People love to flock to them because they are so compelling and reliable.
As we know, if someone is trying to hard to project an image then they must be unconsciously compensating for the opposite trait that lurks within them. Frantics are secretly terrified that they aren’t enough. Maybe from an early age they learned to doubt their self-worth. They don’t believe in themselves, so they project an image of conviction and stability to prevent other people from discovering who they truly are.
The Rigid Rationalist
These types tend to reject all the irrational tendencies humans have. The things that interest people aren’t always in line with pure reason. People love their myths, superstitions, woowoo explainations, and the supernatural. Being rational is exhausting and the majority of the biggest decisions made in our lives are rarely based in reason. Reason is still bound by our general myopia and can only extend as far as we know.
Repressing our irrational tendencies pushes them deeper into the shadow, allowing the irrationality to brew in the darkness. Once all irrationality is seemingly dealt with, the rigid rationalist only has room for science and analytics. Disregarding all other forms of thinking, these types will worship at the altar of science and take communion in the scientific method. If they are confronted with an argument, they will present their rational ideals with a heavy hand and maybe even a hint of anger. Their irrational tendencies lines the edges of their rational arguments making them seem almost more primitive than the archaic people who came before them.
True rationality is stoic and sober. It questions itself and does not fall in love with it’s own creations. It does not seek publicity, but truth.
Snobs are the people who feel like they need to be better than everyone else. In Adlerian terms, they must assert their superiority over the masses. They have extremely refined tastes and knowledge in music, art, fine dining, or anything reffered to as “Classic“. They do what they can to stand out, so they’ll have unique tattoos and play into the “alternative” scene. They usually have extraordinary backgrounds too because every damn thing about them just seems so much better than the average.
We can imagine their lives being free of the mundane, but the reality is the boring and vapid as well as the exciting and lively. The Snob projects an image of extraordinary flair because they are more sensitive about their banality than the average person. The Snob secretly desires to be boring and ordinary, but carefully builds a shell of specialized knowledge and extraordinary aesthetics.
The Extreme Entrepreneur
These types seem like they have a slew of positive traits, especially for entrepreneurial work. They pay serious attention to detail and have incredibly high standards. They’ll usually do the work themselves because they want the work to be done “correctly.”
While these traits do brings a certain level of success, they create a cancer deep inside. The Extreme Entrepreneur tends to have a difficult time listening to people and rarely takes advice. They pride themselves of their limited understanding of self-reliance and usually mistrust others who don’t share their high standards.
This increased desire for self-reliance will push our desire to rely on others down into the shadow. When the shadow shows itself it’s usually in the form of medical or financial ruin. Suddenly, the independent business owner becomes dependent on doctors and financial advisors. These types never want to admit their desire for dependency. So in order to release themselves from this prison, they subconsciously a drawn to creating enough chaos to force them into dependency. These types tend to be successful in early life, but later tend to cause a lot of collateral damage.
“There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
If we don’t accept these sides of ourselves, they will come out and make themselves known in a much uglier way. The best way to deal with the shadow is not to ignore it, but to integrate it into our personalities.
Integrating the Shadow
Shadow integration can be completed in just 4 difficult steps:
1. Identify Our Own Shadow – the most difficult step in the process because we like to reject, ignore, and avoid this side of ourselves.
The best way to see it is to pay attention to if we are acting out The Common Signs of Shadow Release.
We can also pay attention to any one-sided traits in ourselves and assume that the opposite trait is buried deep within us. They usually are.
Sometimes we say we hate certain kinds of behavior or people because we reject those qualities in ourselves.
An example could be when someone is saying “I hate when people are late,” they are really covering up for their secret proclivity to be late themselves.
Or “I hate when people cause drama” is covering up for a secret desire to surround themselves with drama.
Sensitivity to certain remarks is another fantastic indicator of shadowed areas of ourselves.
There are tons of ways to examine ourselves, the key is not to judge what we find but to accept it. It is part of us. It’s not evil.
2. Embrace Our Shadow – When we see our shadow for the first time it will be uncomfortable and the natural reaction will be to repress it.
Embracing our shadow and making it a goal to integrate it, rather than repress it, will help us give off a more authentic presentation. Seeking to integrate the shadow will make it easier to embrace it.
3. Explore Our Shadow – The shadow has depths further than our imagination. When exploring these depths we will find our darkest (even criminalistic) desires and animalistic impulses. It will be shocking, but we will have tapped into new power. The world’s greatest art dives deep into these depths and shows them to us, that is why we are so enamored by them.
4. Consciously Release Our Shadow – releasing our shadow is like an exorcism of sorts, we release the demons and enhance our presence as human beings. Releasing the shadow frees us from the jail of endless social codes. It’s more expensive to be nice and differential than consciously showing our shadow – the niceness is good at first but if gone without shadow integration, niceness becomes timidity, lack of confidence, and indecision.
“Unfortunately there is no doubt about the fact that man is, as a whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”