The Truth About Your Personal Philosophy
Why it doesn’t make sense to make sense
There is a truth that is hard to understand, it’s counter-intuative, it seems all wrong.
It has taken me years to realise this. Years of reading self-improvement, years of being pulled in one direction then another, years of beating myself up and feeling confused. But the truth is this:
Your mental model of the world and who you are within it must be contradictory.
Life is full of contradiction, and so, to exist in harmony with it, we too must embrace contradiction.
You wot mate? How is life contradictory you ask? Well its found in everything.
There are some inate truths you already know: To love someone you must set them free. To be kind to your child you must be strict. To have freedom in your life you must be disciplined. To avoid conflict you have to tackle conflict. To make money you have to spend money. To create you must first destroy, even if you destroy only the opportunity to create something else. To help others you must first help yourself.
It goes on. These aren’t just clever words, they’re universal truisms.
I struggled with this for the longest time.
With self-improvement, I’d spend weeks motivating myself to earn more money, to be more ambitious, to invest and save. Then I’d boomerang back around and berate myself for needing money and being concerned with shallow, material gain.
Other times I’d focus on being loving and forgiving myself. I’d accept my flaws and try to feel comfortable in my own skin. But then I’d be in the gym all the time trying to improve my body, gain muscle, gain strength. I’d be beating myself up for not tapping into my physical potential but then also beating myself up for my vanity and lack of self-acceptance.
Each time I berated myself, I’d then berate myself for berating myself until I was in one-man berating cycle. Over and over it would go. I could not square the circle on how to think. My belief system was all over the place.
Then I read an email on Tom Bilyeu’s mailing list that broke this cycle.
He wrote about how he holds two contradictory ideas in his head. He said he loves himself and hates himself equally. He said he accepts his flaws but also kicks his own lazy behind, daily.
This stopped me in my tracks. Wait, so I can think both things and it’s not incorrect? That’s ok is it?
And this got me thinking.
Then I watched an interview with motivational businessman Peter Sage after he came out of jail. He was bizarrely upbeat about it all. I thought he was a fraud but the more I listened, the more I found what he was saying to be somewhat staggering.
He said we create all our opportunities ourselves but he also believed the universe helps us. He actually said he’s a “reverse conspiracy theorist” and believes the universe is conspiring to work for him to have a great life. But in the same breath he emphasised the importance of taking action and embracing personal responsibility as our only salvation.
This is what Tom said, now he was saying it; he holds two different, conflicting messages in his head, and More importantly, it works.
Some days later, I was listening to Tony Robbins talk about human needs. He was explaining that human needs override everything else, that we will literally give up on our goals to meet our needs.
The first human need he called the “need for certainty”. Then the second need was “the need for uncertainty”. He explained we have these two conflicting needs. Too much certainty and we’re bored and depressed. Too much uncertainty and we’re scared and anxious. As human beings we need both.
And there is was again. Two contradictory thoughts, ideas, needs.
Suddenly contradiction didn’t seem like a dirty concept. In fact, the more I heard people talk about it, the more it made sense. It was a genuine solution to the cyclical self-berating I had been caught up in.
You know when you buy a new car and suddenly you see that same model car everywhere? Well a similar thing happened to me with this idea of contradictory thoughts. I started seeing it everywhere. A few days after the Tony Robbins speech I saw Neil Strauss write this on Twitter:
That was it. The penny dropped. This is what I was missing. Every time I heard or watched something, this same concept came up. The concept of contradictory thoughts, the concept of ‘doublethink’.
Now, the word doublethink has a bad rap. Mainly because of Geroge Orwell’s excellent book ‘1984’ about totalitarianism. In it, he writes “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
Yet in his book, this concept was used by an abusive police state to get people to believe things that were evidently not true. He even argued with enough social conditioning and brute force, citizens could actually believe without doubt that one plus one equals three.
So the word doublethink has become synonymous with deception.
But I’m here to take it back. I’m here to say that in real life, doublethink, rather that deception, is the truth. It’s the very opposite of deception. It shines a light on how the world really works, because life is contradictory so your thoughts need to be too.
This isn’t about being in perpetual cognitive dissonance, it’s about resolving that dissonance so two contradictory ideas can live side by side. Why? Because they do in life. Because it will serve you. Because truth is subjective.
Here are some other contradictions I’ve heard or read recently:
- Develop a sense of urgency but have a sense of patience.
- Enjoy the daily work grind but also be better than it and look for more.
- If you choose only the easy path then your life will be hard.
- The better you love yourself and the more comfortable you are with being alone the healthier your relationships are likely to be.
- The more you try to control situations or people the more they will slip out of your control.
- The harder you try to be liked, be approved of, be popular, the further away these things will get.
- If you worship beauty you will only feel ugly.
Absolutes are naive and dangerous. The world doesn’t work in absolutes and when it has, it’s caused disaster, war, guilt, shame, oppression and genocide.
We need a middle way — to love and to loathe, to be kind and be tough, to be grateful and be demanding, to tolerate and to be intolerant, to punish and to forgive.
A workable model of how to live we must embrace a middle way. I’m no Buddhist but it something that Buddha himself has been saying for over 1000 years. Buddhism is founded upon the middle way, between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification.
The middle way has been sold to us for a millenium. We just didn’t spot it. Well, I didn’t spot it. It seems too easy and convienient.
As humans we oddly like to make things complex and sacrifical. Saying we can believe in two contradictory things at once seems dishonest, lazy or greedy. But for me it has been an epiphany of truth. Of reality.
Ok, so you may not feel the same. This might not feel like the revolution of thought that I found it to be. But it has allowed me to quietly accept the conflict of ideology in my head. It has provided me clarity and acceptance of my mental models, my belief structure.
It has, as Neil Strauss pointed out, granted me some wisdom. And I hope it does the same for you also.