Some of the most important truths in life don’t make sense on the surface, but once you get beneath it, the world will never look the same.
I noticed this the first time I fell in love. There was a girl in my high school class I liked a lot. Shoulder-long, brown hair, beautiful face, a heart-melting laugh, and eyes I could’ve stared into forever, or at least until the bell announced the next algebra session.
Like most high school kids, I thought I just needed to be nice and loving for her to reciprocate my feelings. Spoiler: It didn’t work. My advances got rejected more often than Mike Tyson’s credit card in 2003.
After another few similar incidents, I had enough. I stopped being a nice guy and started giving fewer fucks. I teased. I said mean things. I rejected the girls. And all of a sudden, I was drowning in female attention.
At first, I didn’t understand it, but later realized dating isn’t the only part of life with an inherent paradoxical truth.
Unfortunately, these are often hard to uncover because if you don’t understand them, it’s like flipping your kitchen switch to see your bedroom lights turn on. But it only works every second Wednesday during a full moon.
Yet, there’s also some good beneath all the confusion.
Once you get behind the mechanisms, you’ll understand life a lot better and will be able to navigate it with confidence instead of wrecking your ship on a cliff every two weeks without knowing why and how.
Here’s what I’ve learned about the paradoxical truths of life — may they open your eyes as much as they did mine.
The More You Try to Impress, the Less Impressed Everyone Will Be
If you asked my girlfriend about the most impressive thing I ever did, the answer would be shockingly trivial.
We were cooking and one of my roommates had left a cold pack filled with gel on the counter. Without looking, I tossed it over my shoulder and straight onto a towel hook. My girlfriend stared at me with absolute disbelief.
The throw itself wasn’t impressive. But I made it look effortless — no-aim, no-look, just a casual toss.
Impressiveness = Result / Effort
This doesn’t only hold for throwing cold packs through your kitchen, but also job interviews, public speeches, first dates, and showing your boss you’re worth your money.
Nobody likes a tryhard. The more people see you struggle, the less fascinated they’ll be. If you want to be impressive, make it look effortless.
What You Hate Someone Else for Is Likely What You Avoid in Yourself
When I was a teenager, I was insecure about my body — big surprise.
I was tall but lanky and got teased for my scrawny appearance. I’ve always been sporty — swimming, running, soccer, tennis, skiing, you name it. But when one day I stepped foot into a gym, I knew I had found my athletic calling.
However, all the additional muscle mass didn’t do much in terms of body insecurity. I had deep, underlying issues that surfaced in very ugly ways: I talked shit about fat people.
Subconsciously, I projected my insecurities onto others, making fun of their bodies and how many burgers they had for breakfast. I was an idiot who was unaware of himself.
Carl Jung calls this reflection, Sigmund Freud projection, but the result is the same. You often avoid what you don’t like about yourself only to release the inner tension through another outlet.
You might not bitch about someone’s BMI, but about their lack of punctuality, bad presentation skills, or questionable taste in fashion.
Coming to terms with these requires you to drop your ego and be humble, but when you do, you can get to the root of the trouble and start working on yourself.
“The flaws you see in others are actually a reflection of yourself.”
— Eve Branson
People Who Don’t Trust Can’t Be Trusted
In line with the above, here’s what this often looks like in practice.
We’ve all heard at least one story about a super jealous boyfriend or girlfriend, going through their partner’s phone and accusing them of infidelity, only to be caught in someone else’s bed a few months later.
You see the world through your perspective, just as everyone else views it through theirs. People often form assumptions about others’ behavior based on their own. If they don’t trust others, chances are it’s because they know others can’t trust them.
You Succeed Not Despite Your Failures, but Because of Them
There’s a simple reason every successful person has failed hard before they became top dog. Without failure, success is impossible.
Jack Ma got rejected from KFC. Michael Jordan got kicked out of his high school basketball team. Elon Musk got ousted as CEO of his own company, had Paypal’s first product rated one of the ten worst ideas in business, and then promptly gout ousted again as CEO of Paypal while he was on honeymoon. Ouch.
Successful people aren’t successful because they failed so few times, but because they failed so many. Success comes from relentless improvement and failure is the best teacher.
Don’t be afraid to fail. The only bad thing about it is the narrative you still have in your head from school days when green checkmarks meant success and red crosses meant flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
The more you fail, the more you learn, and the more likely you are to succeed.
“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”
— Stephen McCranie
What Scares You Most Is Your Biggest Chance for a Better Life
Growth happens when you leave your comfort zone.
When I started dating, I was afraid of approaching women on the street since they could reject me. But once I did, my social skills and love life improved tremendously.
When I started my own coaching business, I was afraid to post on Instagram because people I knew from high school could judge me. But once I mustered the courage, I stopped worrying about what others thought of me and found a highly engaging community.
When I disagreed with others, I was afraid of apologizing and admitting mistakes because my ego didn’t take them well. But once I did, my relationships improved by a truckload.
I know this shit is hard. It took me more than 20 tries to first walk up to a woman and stammer a simple “Hi.” But growth is about leaving your comfort zone — and your fear is a great indicator for where it ends.
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
— Tim Ferriss
The More You Can Have It, the Less You’ll Want It
My girlfriend is into luxury goods. I can’t tell a Chanel handbag from an Aldi one, but I’m still flabbergasted every time she shows me something.
Some of the handbags and watches sell for as much as a few million Euro, the equivalent of a Malibu beach front villa. How in the world do they get people to pay these prizes? One word: Scarcity.
You value things more when they’re less available. Subconsciously, your brain tells you this must be something special, so you better get your piece of the cake before it’s gone. It’s why manufacturers like Prada rather burn their handbags instead of selling them at a discount — it keeps supply low and perceived value high.
Life becomes a lot easier when you know about this trick. Not only can you spot attempts to lure you with limited offers, but it also explains why being too available kills sexual attraction, and saying yes to every request devalues your time and work.
“Nowhere is water so beautiful as in the desert for nowhere else is it so scarce.”
— Edward Abbey
More Choices Mean Less Satisfaction
I love restaurants because they serve good food and I’m a little fat kid at heart. But there’s one thing I can’t stand.
Long menus confuse the hell out of me. I’m there to eat, not to read a book. In the end, I always pick a random dish and spend half my time wondering what no. 83 would’ve tasted like and if I shouldn’t have ordered it instead.
In psychology, this is known as overchoice. The more alternatives you have the less satisfied you are with your choice because there could’ve been something better.
Keep it simple. Be pragmatic. Don’t overthink. Yes, you could’ve swiped through another 200 people on Tinder, watched another ten movie trailers, or thought about another 50 ways to spend your evening.
But more choices don’t always bring more satisfaction — sometimes they only bring regret.
“The fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better.”
— Barry Schwartz
“The Only Constant in Life Is Change”
Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, was way ahead of his time when he said these famous words.
Nothing lasts forever. From the tiny cells in your body over the weather to the position of planets, everything changes all the time.
There are two lessons you should draw from that.
First, enjoy good situations while they last. The sun feels nice on your skin but clouds will soon cover it. The honeymoon phase feels amazing, but the wild emotions will calm down. Your investment does well, but after a bull market always comes a bearish one. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Second, bad situations aren’t forever as well — yay! Your long, boring workday will be over at one point. You won’t be heartbroken forever. Even your annoying neighbor will either move out or die at one point. Don’t despair — bad things aren’t here to stay either.
The only constant in life is change.
Problems Make You Happy
I’ll question the mental health of anybody who says “I’d like another serving of extra-large issues with a side of difficult challenges please.” Yet, problems are crucial to your happiness, albeit not directly.
What makes you happy isn’t the problem itself, but solving it.
Trying to lose weight means problems. Hitting the gym is hard and diets suck. But if you push past the pain, you feel great about yourself and the way you solved your problems. You’re happy.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t last forever. A six-pack today won’t keep your happiness levels high a year from now. You need a new problem to solve.
If you didn’t have any obstacles to overcome, life would quickly get dull. What would you do without challenges? You can only enjoy Mojitos in the sun for so long until it gets boring.
The next time you face a problem, don’t get angry or sad. See it as what it really is — another opportunity for happiness.
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