5 Life-Affirming Lessons to Live an Optimal Life
With just a few months left of my 20’s, I’ve come to ponder on the many deep and meaningful lessons this rollercoaster of a decade has provided me.
From surviving ruthless bosses, personal tragedies, and picking myself up from the brink of depression, here are a few takeaways I’ve learned that have helped carved me into the person I am today.
1. Life is Reps
Without sounding like a cynical nihilist, life, on the whole, is a pretty simple, borderline underwhelming ride for the most part (particularly during quarantine!).
Social media, with all of its benefits, has also played a hand in warping the expectations of what happiness and the best life look like, and, by that standard, I don’t think I’m the only one who’s felt like an abject failure in comparison.
Regrettably, life is not those exceptional moments. In fact, those exceptional moments cease to be exceptional without their counterpart to give them meaning.
It’s the mundane middle ground. It’s the everyday, small, often overlooked part of our days that are the most important.
It may not end up in our life’s highlight reel when it’s all said and done, but it’s where most of our lives are spent and ultimately cultivated.
“Your life isn’t margaritas on a beach in Jamaica. That happens now and then. Those are exceptions. Your life is how your wife greets you at the door when you come home every day, cause that’s like 10 minutes a day. Your life is how you treat each other over the breakfast table, ’cause that’ an hour and a half or an hour every single day. You get those mundane things right, those things you do every day. You concentrate on them and make them pristine. It’s like you got 80% of your life together. These little things that are right in front of us, they aren’t so little…”
- Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and author of 12 Rules For Life.
It’s reps, it’s about making those ‘mundane’ moments the bedrock for greater relationships and greater foundations for a better life to enter.
These moments aren’t little, they’re everything!
2. Take Back Your Mind: Goggins’ 40% Rule
A former navy seal, decorated ultra-marathoner and freak athlete in his own right, Goggins claims that when we think we’re at our personal limits, when our mind tells us that we’ve had enough, we’re actually nowhere near it.
In fact, we’re only at 40% of our threshold.
According to Goggins when the wall of pain hits us, that’s when ‘‘the 40% kicks in’’.
In an interview with Impact Theory’s Tom Bilyeu, Goggins goes at great length in describing the 40% rule, likening it to a governor set on a car to control its speed limit.
The car wants to go all out 100mph/120mph, however, it’s factory enforced governor stops it from doing so.
That’s how our mind operates.
It’s a survival mechanism that served our ancestors in hunter-gatherer times, but nowadays it can also be the thing holding us back.
This has not been more evident for me than during my grueling sessions on the Stairmaster. When my 40% kicks in, and all the mental walls come up in droves, I now know that if I can get to 45%, or even 41%, I know that whatever preconceptions my mind has about my limits has just been surpassed and disproven and I can go further that I thought.
“There are no limitations to the mind except those that we acknowledge.”
— Napoleon Hill
So it’s made me wonder, what else have I been holding myself back on?
3. Letting Bad Things Happen
Sometimes we can become overwhelmed not only by the sheer volume of options we can take on for our lives, and yet still end up disappointing someone down the line, despite our best intentions.
My 20’s could easily be summarised by an endless pattern of perfectionist-burnout, and not surprisingly, it got quite exhausting.
To me, life isn’t always as black or white as we believe it to be, oftentimes presenting itself in a more greyish form.
In his blog post entitled The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (and Weapons of Mass Distraction), author Tim Ferriss detailed that sometimes in life we have to simply allow the cons to happen, however painful they may be, in order to fully reap the benefits (and enjoyment) of our pros.
‘‘It’s not that I go out of my way to irritate people — not at all — but I recognize one critical fact: oftentimes, in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate’’.
- Tim Ferriss
According to Ferriss, time without attention is completely useless and serves no one, therefore one should value attention more than time. Yes, it’ll undoubtedly cause upset, but I’ve done the people-pleasing gig in the past, and upon reflection, the payoff was not worth it.
Devote too much time to one person and another relationship will have soured before you turn your back. It’s physically impossible to please everyone all the time!
It’s left me exhausted and spreading myself so thin at times that I would end up sacrificing my own integrity for the sake of not upsetting others.
Of course, once in a while is fine, especially for the right people (family and loyal friends, etc.), but do it long enough, and you’ll soon realize that there are deeper repercussions at work where after a while, you are subconsciously telling yourself ‘Your needs come second’, if you do this too often.
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”
- Marcus Aurelius, ‘Meditations’.
4. Life is But The Shipwreck of Our Plans
I remember reading that on the screen when I saw Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017) and it instantly resonated with me.
I can plan, I can act, I can strategize, I can do everything in my power to try and influence the likelihood that the outcome will fall in my favor, but some higher force (call it God/fate/life) will ultimately have the final answer to my destiny.
After all, it wouldn’t be fun if life didn’t throw a few curveballs at us once in a while.
We can try our best to place the strongest anchors we have at our disposals but in the end, it’s what we make from the shipwreck scraps, that make our life, and if we’re lucky we may stumble across a different path that ends up being a blessing in disguise.
We may not have ultimate control of the outcome but we can at least control the trajectory of where we want our life to go and the scraps that come from it.
5. Release and Retrieve
“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place”
— Paulo Coelho
Life can often throw a few curve balls at us, and in trying to make sense of the scraps we have left, there are also times when we can get in our own way, carrying baggage and mounting pressures that we’re afraid to let go of because it ties in with our identity, but if anything it slows us down.
Like a hot air balloon ready to fly, it’s up to us to decide what baggage we want to take with us, but know that the heavier the baggage we carry the less we are able to truly soar.
Releasing the things that pull me down allows me to retrieve my true self in the process.
Meditation has allowed me to appreciate the true value of this more than anything else.
One of the biggest misconceptions of meditation is that you have to think your way into a better state of being. While visualization helps, the main focus should be on the feeling more than anything. From there, it’s easier to tackle life’s problems rather than confronting them in an overwhelmed state.
What’s good is that it doesn’t even take that much time to do!
Just sitting down, with my hands on my lap, I spend a few minutes focusing on slow deep breaths, imagining that each breath I breathe in is a small ball of light. I send the light to my eyes, my brain, and then all around my body from my fingertips to my toes. Once I feel I have completely relaxed, I beam the light up (beam me up Scotty!), and in the imagining, I can also feel a transcendence happening within me. Once I feel like I’ve beamed as high as I can, I let go into it and allow it to bathe all over my body.
For me, I find this best works after exercising, as I’ve already shaken off most resistance within me, so that I can beam, almost with ease.
Like the 40% rule, release and retrieve draw similarities because they are approaches that help us get out of our own way in order to reconnect with who we truly are.
We all have the ability to access greater things within us once we surrender and let go of the things that hold us down. I’m human and like you, I’ve had my fair share of bad days in the past, but that does not mean I have to stay there nor be defined by it.
The Thread That Ties It All Together
‘‘You live most of your life in your mind. Make sure it’s a nice place to be’’
None of the above lessons mean anything without having a quality relationship with myself first. If I didn’t establish my own metric for love or validation, then I’d be left at the mercy of others to do it for me.
For a long time, I’ve struggled with this one the most, and I’m still on a journey to loving myself better.
Quoting from my own article for a moment:
‘‘To be love is to recognize love. If you cannot recognize it in yourself, you will never to able to recognize nor access it in others’’.
That’s been a powerful lesson to learn.
The quality of your cup depends on what you put in it. If I don’t love myself enough, then there’ll always be something missing regardless of what relationships or experiences I have.
I’ll admit I’m not 100% there yet, but I’ve grown to accept myself a lot more in recent times.
I’m better at maximizing the quality of those little moments that make life.
I continue to push myself daily because when it's all said and done, I want the best for myself.
I don’t sweat the small stuff or mind disappointing people anywhere as much as I did because in the end, borrowing from Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***, there is only a certain amount of f***s one can give from your daily ‘f*** tank’, and I opt to make decisions that add to the quality of my life.
Fundamentally, the failures of my life will be my responsibility…but so will my successes.
I look forward to seeing what the future holds and learning new lessons to apply to my 30s and beyond.
Other articles by Sion:
Once More with Feeling: What I’ve Learned After Meditating for Over Half My Life
I first started meditating when I was 12 years old.