Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities – for success, for happiness, for really living – are waiting.
The effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable.
Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.
Resisting a task is usually a sign that it’s meaningful-which is why it’s awakening your fears and stimulating procrastination. You could adopt “Do whatever you’re resisting the most” as a philosophy of life.
Reassurance can actually exacerbate anxiety: when you reassure your friend that the worst-case scenario he fears probably won’t occur, you inadvertently reinforce his belief that it would be catastrophic if it did. You are tightening the coil of his anxiety, not loosening it. All to often, the Stoics point out, things will not turn out for the best.
…It’s more important than ever that we find new ways to cultivate curiosity – because our careers, our happiness, and our children’s flourishing all depend upon it.
The effort to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable. And that it is out constant efforts to eliminate the negative – insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness – that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy.
True security lies in the unrestrained embrace of insecurity – in the recognition that we never really stand on solid ground, and never can.
The routines of almost all famous writers, from Charles Darwin to John Grisham, similarly emphasise specific starting times, or number of hours worked, or words written. Such rituals provide a structure to work in, whether or not the feeling of motivation or inspiration happens to be present. They let people work alongside negative or positive emotions, instead of getting distracted by the effort of cultivating only positive ones. ‘Inspiration is for amateurs,’ the artist Chuck Close once memorably observed. ‘The rest of us just show up and get to work.
Confronting the worst-case scenario saps it of much of its anxiety-inducing power. Happiness reached via positive thinking can be fleeting and brittle, negative visualization generates a vastly more dependable calm.
The real trick to producing great work isn’t to find ways to eliminate the edgy, nervous feeling that you might be swimming out of your depth. Instead, it’s to remember that everyone else is feeling it, too. We’re all in deep water. Which is fine: it’s by far the most exciting place to be.
Who says you need to wait until you ‘feel like’ doing something in order to start doing it? The problem, from this perspective, isn’t that you don’t feel motivated; it’s that you imagine you need to feel motivated. If you can regard your thoughts and emotions about whatever you’re procrastinating on as passing weather, you’ll realise that your reluctance about working isn’t something that needs to be eradicated or transformed into positivity. You can coexist with it. You can note the procrastinatory feelings and act anyway.
Through positive thinking and related approaches, we seek the safety and solid ground of certainty, of knowing how the future will turn out, of a time in the future when we’ll be ceaselessly happy and never have to fear negative emotions again. But in chasing all that, we close down the very faculties that permit the happiness we crave.
Ask yourself whether you are happy’, observed the philosopher John Stuart Mill, ‘and you cease to be so.’ At best, it would appear, happiness can only be glimpsed out of the corner of an eye, not stared at directly.
What made Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein such creative geniuses? It wasn’t reading books or watching YouTube talks about How To Be More Creative, that’s for sure… If startling insights could be systematically arrived at, they wouldn’t be startling. The best you can do is to create a conducive environment: put in the hours; take time to daydream; avoid mind-corroding substances.
It is illuminating to note, here, how the daily rituals and working routines of prolific authors and artists – people who really do get a lot done – very rarely include techniques for ‘getting motivated’ or ‘feeling inspired’. Quite the opposite: they tend to emphasise the mechanics of the working process, focusing not on generating the right mood, but on accomplishing certain physical actions, regardless of mood.