Breaking through information overwhelm with the problem, theory, action principle

Breaking through information overwhelm with the problem, theory, action principle

Once upon a time I had the problem of realizing I was overweight. The initial inspiration aside, the process was fairly simple. For a day or two, I spent a couple of hours researching solutions, and then I spent the next year and a half putting it into practice diligently.

I noticed there was an immediate problem that needs attending (problem), I discovered solutions and expertise that described how to do it (theory), and then I put it into practice and adjusted variables until I got the intended result (action). This basic system of problem -> theory -> action can work really well in this order. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t go so smoothly.

I. Books, courses and seminars, oh my!

There are seemingly infinite resources on every topic imaginable. Imagine you want to start a business. There are books on starting, marketing & advertising, hiring the right people, keeping your best talent, scaling, outsourcing, and likely quite a few books on why all of those books are wrong. It would seem miraculous that anyone ever manages to be successful! Unfortunately this can quickly become problem -> theory -> theory -> theory-> theory -> theory.

One book tells you how to advertise (theory), it refers to the principles of some advertising guru. Next, you go to read the book written by this guru (theory), and he says how simple his process is, and maybe even watch a few of his videos (theory). He mentions that he’s merely following the basics of psychology and how the mind works, and so you grab a book on introductory psychology (theory) to understand that better too. Obviously it’s not enough to read one school of thought, you’re clever, so you’ll read the opposing schools too (theory), so you can get a complete picture.

I’ve likely spent as much as an entire year of my life bouncing from subject to subject to subject, without ever taking time to put them into practice and see how valid they are for real life. Perhaps the next thing I read is the thing that will inspire me to take massive action! If only it worked that way.

II. Why Does It Happen?

There are a lot of possible answers for this, and it may vary greatly from person to person, but let’s take a look at some common ones. A problem typically has a negative association to it, it is something that cannot be immediately resolved with the available resources. Perhaps with enough trial and error it could be, though you may not have time for that.

The same way one may binge on a Netflix show to avoid a complicated problem with a partner, one may avoid returning to the initial problem by continuously exposing themselves to more and more theory. The real issue with the latter is that it certainly feels so productive. Look at me, I’m learning marketing and I can tell you how to scale your business 10X, yet I haven’t even started thinking about what kind of business I’d even create and certainly haven’t made $1 off of it yet. It feels so much better to be off learning about the psychology of how people make purchases, than to face the risky potential that kicking off a business may lead to failure.

You may also just be an incredibly curious person who loves to learn, this is of course alright, but a proper balance is still required to actually get something physically created in the real world. Scheduling time dedicated to studying and learning, and other time to putting it into practice is the simplest solution to this problem.

III. The Problem, Theory, Action Principle

The way out is relatively simple once you take a step back. It’s the same way I was able to make progress towards my weight loss and it’s the same way you’ve consciously or unconsciously accomplished anything you were unfamiliar with in the past.

If you’re trying to work on an assignment in university and you hit a wall (problem) then you’ll likely check around on the internet or ask your friends (theory) and once you find the answer, you try it out (action).

If you did your university assignments the way most people operate in personal development, you’d start by trying to solve a syntax problem in a script, and finish with knowing the morning routine of the man who created the first computer, having entirely forgotten what you were trying to solve in the first place.

IV. What Now?

If you are currently caught up in the midst of bouncing between seminars or books, the simple solution is to follow the thread back to the start. To find the problem you were trying to solve in the beginning.

If you got into spirituality because you suffered a great loss or wanted to better manage your day to day stress, perhaps have accumulated piles of books and hundreds of hours watching gurus on YouTube (guilty), without ever having actually established a meditation or yoga practice. The next step would be to move into setting aside some time daily to meditate (action), and break the endless theory -> theory -> theory cycle. You may find incredible relief and boundless additional free time in switching out dozens or even hundreds of hours of reading for a simple 10-20 minute daily practice.

If you’ve wanted to start a business, take new opportunities in your current job or find a new job, perhaps you’re reading about how to get more clients, how to network better, how to outsource, or anything in-between. Consider seriously what your problem is at the current moment. Return to the root of all of this searching, and see if you now have the skills and resources to solve the problem that initially triggered your search. If you do, work on solving that problem, and move onto the next one, with more awareness and while avoiding falling into a theory loop. If you do not, search specifically for the right resource, whether it be a mentor or a book, to solve that exact problem only.

I’ve met countless people who’ve gotten into learning and studying various subjects for reasons starting from I want to be learn to manage my anger better, to I want to increase my sales, or even as simple as, I want to be a better programmer. Whether soft skills or technical skills, I’ve never seen a bigger trap in my own life or those of others, than falling into an endless cycle of theory. One may hate their 9-5 job, but spend the entirety of their free time learning everything imaginable about how to start and manage their own business without ever taking a single action, dispassionately looking back on the last 10 years wondering where the years have gone.

Return to the root of the problem, find out where it all started, solve that problem, and move onto the next. Use your awareness to not fall into another theory trap. While you’re in a long bout of studying, constantly return to the forefront of your mind the problem you are working on solving and honestly determine whether you have what you need to at least make an attempt at solving it. Two people of equal talent and knowledge may have vastly different levels of success, simply because one decided to take action before having entirely mastered a subject, and allowed themselves to fail and adjust along the way, returning to theory only when they’ve hit a wall.

The choice of what to do next, is yours alone.

The Beauty of Rejection

Have you ever noticed in yourself or others, that a person who struggles at something such as job searching or perhaps a phase of dating after breaking up, eventually seems to give up, and in doing so, seems to naturally land what they had tried so hard to get by a lot of effort previously?

Perhaps you were frustrated by seeing a person who is effortlessly good at some skill you’re working really hard at, thinking it’s unfair. “If only I was naturally good with people, I’d have an easier life too!” the “victim” cries.

Often the act of many rejections and failures can lead to a person giving up, and another who had the same experiences, can have been rejected so many times they simply can’t be bothered to feel bad about each rejection anymore. The latter has accomplished a type of freedom.

I. Closer To Reality

What’s really going on when a person gets rejected? In the case of a job interview, it is the belief of the interviewer that the person would not have been a good fit for the job. There was an incompatibility between the position and the person. After a romantic date, it is fairly identical. There is not a compatibility between what each person was seeking out of their romantic notions.

The most common belief after such a rejection is “if only I had done x, y, z, it may have gone differently.” You may be right, but you didn’t do x, y, z, though in reality, for all you know, x, y, z may have made things even worse.

It’s ultimately a delusion, you can’t really know what influence that particular change of action would have had. You’re also entirely free to try it out next time you’re in that situation and see for yourself what really happens. This is naturally how humans accomplish things: you try something, it doesn’t go as you expected, you try something else, perhaps it’s a bit closer to your expected, and you repeat until you reach success.

II. A Mindset Based In Reality

When it comes to taking the most beneficial and most realistic look at these types of situations, it is to live through the experience from the point of view of “what is really going on?”.

If a man or woman rejects you after you took it as far as you could, be proud of yourself. It is actually far better for you to be direct and find out right away whether the other person is available in the way you want them to be, then to spend months pretending something else and finding out how much harsher a rejection is after six months. It is far riskier to wait then to be able to say “Ah, she wasn’t interested, I’m glad I found out!”. Not knowing is far more painful, and the rejection comes much more sharply when it is delayed.

There is no type of rejection that cannot be seen in this way. It can feel painful because you imagine yourself feeling “I am opening myself up, please accept me”, but this kind of validation seeking isn’t attractive to an interviewer or a potential partner. Instead, “I am going to find out if this job or this person and I are compatible” is a much better perspective, and much closer to reality.

III. It Is Already There

Regardless of where you’re at in whatever you’re trying to accomplish, there is a perfect fit somewhere. A company that is looking for a person just like you. A man or woman who would find the qualities you dislike about yourself as unimportant, or even attractive. The most important thing to be is genuinely honest with yourself. If you’re trying to put on an act in order to guarantee validation and avoid rejection, it creates an awkward atmosphere, and it is much more likely you’ll be rejected because others sense something disingenuous about you.

In knowing there is a perfect fit for the honest expression of yourself, you will instead see rejection for what it really is, an incompatibility. Successful steps in the process to finding the perfect fit. You’ll be able to smile and say “okay, what’s next?” to yourself each time it happens.

A Celebration In Each Moment

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out.”Thich Nhat Hanh

There are times when we feel inspired to behave in what is what we consider to be the right way, and other times this inspiration doesn’t come no matter how much we grasp at it. Is there a way to break out of the ebb and flow of life? There are two primary “opponents” that seem to prevent this. The imaginary one is the outside world. What people think of us, what they say about us, if a situation seems fair or unfair. The second is our inner world. The thoughts like “I am not good enough” or “I don’t deserve to be happy if others are suffering.” Let’s look at each obstacle individually.

The Outside World

The Stoic philosophers spoke a lot about knowing what you can and can’t control and not surprisingly, to not worry so much about what is outside of your control. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and follower of Stoic philosophies wrote in his journal “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” The outside world is subject to countless influences that we could not possibly control with all of the effort in the world. Friends or family may become ill, companies lose business, anything which seems convincingly predictable, can change at a moment’s notice.

In some regard that may make the world seem like a chaotic and unpredictable place which forces you to always be on the lookout for what tragedy might strike next. That’s certainly a valid way to see the world if you so choose, but it may not get you the peace of mind you so desire. There is actually no need to fight this opponent at all because there is nothing to fight. You recreate the outside world in your own psyche whenever you interpret something, and then color the experience based off your own expectations and interpretations. This outside world is a straw-man for the real culprit, which is your inner world.

Your Inner World

The good news is that since the interpretation of outside events matter more then outside events, you have far more control then you could have ever imagined to your personal state of mind and enjoyment. As the quote from Thich Nhat Hanh mentions in the opening of this article, freedom from these ebbs and flows of life can be cultivated through daily practice. Have you ever noticed when you’re terribly sick or upset, that a part of you notices that something is off balance? That a part of you is unmoved by the experience but continues to observe it as it occurs? If not, see this for yourself next time you are in such a situation. The only reason frustration gets out of hand, is because it is fully accepted and takes the driver seat of your entire being.

A simple shift of realizing this place from which you notice your frustration, allows you to much more easily return to a natural state of being. This is not done with effort, but with realizing, and allowing yourself to return to your natural state. This idea of effort is another delusion of the mind. We try to be somebody in the outside world by changing ourselves, but then you are trying to be somebody in the world that appears to be so chaotic and ever-changing. You are already somebody, you cannot not be somebody. Who are you when you aren’t somebody? How can you tell when you’ve become “somebody”? You cannot, this is a conflict with no end.

The Way Out is Through

The act of struggling and constant conscious effort to alter or control things is the very thing that prevents your success. You may believe that the moment you stop trying so hard everything will fall apart and you’ll lose whatever progress you’ve worked so hard towards. Yet too much conscious effort is exactly what prevents our natural spontaneous self from being expressed. Have you noticed how when one tries to do well at an interview or a date, they seem to have the exact opposite happen? Always trying to think of what to say or do next prevents your ability to be present and spontaneous. Have you noticed when an interview or date did go well, it came off as effortless? You weren’t concerned with the outcome, you simply enjoyed the process and kept a relaxed state.

The freedom which comes from trusting ourselves must be cultivated only because we have spent so long believing otherwise. Yet this practice is worth more then anything else, it is your ticket to be able to celebrate each moment of life, simply because you are present to it and trust you will be able to handle whatever comes up. It is to see the difficult parts of life as an obstacle to be overcome, not a tragedy which has happened to you. It is to see the world the way it really is, instead of through a filter of your personal biases based off past ineffective beliefs. Take great joy in this practice, as the more you see it through on a day to day basis, the more you can enjoy life in that way you’ve always wanted, not subject to each passing wind pulling you in every imaginable direction. It is to be still and centered even in the wildest of storms.

The way out is through daily practice. Through a daily awareness of what is actually happening and what is colored by your past experiences. It is to return to the present moment instead of fighting past or future demons in some attempt to deal with something that isn’t actually happening right now. The result is the ability to celebrate each moment of life, because each moment is worth celebration.



How To Effortlessly Lose 100 Pounds

I‘ve been working with self development advice for a large percentage of my life. I’ve come across a lot of concepts and ideas as well as invented quite a few of my own. But the following is one of the most important ideas I’ve stumbled across in my life:

“Action isn’t just the effect of motivation, but also the cause of it.” – Mark Manson

If you’re like most people, you’ve likely already given up on your new year’s resolution. Yes, it is indeed only the second Monday of the year, but that’s how these things usually go. More hype then anything else. An idea of big changes and success, which quickly fizzle when it comes time to take the first steps in the physical world.

For the sake of those who are more interested in significant changes, I will go over the exact techniques and mindsets that helped me lost 100 pounds within a year (385 lbs -> 285 lbs). Many of them have been spread out throughout very posts, but here I will do my best to encompass them all into one broader story.

To keep this exceedingly simple and practical, what I spent most of my life doing was eating as if on auto-pilot. As I would casually walk by the kitchen, I would make sure to grab a snack for the road, as frequently as every hour. A college experience filled nearly entirely of fast food certainly didn’t make the matter better. Yet, regardless of the cause or fault, or whatever else, it was still my responsibility to do something about it.

The actual trigger being a trivial bet with a co-worker, whether I could eat healthy longer, or whether he could quit smoking longer, led to a fairly lengthy journey, that still goes on until this day in one form or another. I went to gather my own information, reading other success stories and what others had done. It turned out, diet and exercise would be the answer. Using the communities of reddit’s r/loseit for inspiration and tracking calories in MyFitnessPal, I was off.

The first phase was lowering my calories by about 1000 daily, and eating the same foods as before. A light transition to prevent the body and mind from a harsh objection to what I was doing. The first few weeks relatively painful, it took conscious daily effort to not grab snacks, and to stay diligent with the calories counting. Living with my family at this time, made this a little extra difficult. Realizing that a latte and piece of loaf cake at a coffee shop could be in excess of 700 calories, be finished in 10 minutes, and not satisfy hunger at all, made me smarter in deciding how to consume my calories.

At this point, after only 3-4 weeks of very conscious effort, it became effortless. The habits were in, and I continued to introduce healthier foods, eat fewer calories, and started with 30 minutes of walking per day. For the majority of this year I was eating 1400 calories per day. The second half of the year I was doing 30 minutes of light cardio a few times a week.

After a lifetime of eating on auto-pilot, never quite sitting there and eating a whole bucket of ice-cream, but still frequent adventures into the kitchen, it was this same auto-pilot which helped make it effortless. It may be overwhelming to look at a year period and tell yourself you will do a behavior for that long, but telling yourself you’ll keep it up for one day, is much easier on the willpower.

This daily focus was a large part of the success, in addition to mid-term goals of changing my diet or exercise routine every couple of months, and the long-term goal of losing 100 pounds in a year.

Two other major factors were vital for this success. First, was planning for failure. Looking at obstacles, such as being invited out by friends, and planning for it. This would mean potentially eating some food at home before I go out, and then having a smaller appetizer, or a salad, if I was going to be going out anyways. Alcohol is a large factor in quick and empty calories, if you’re comfortable just saying no, that’s for the best. If you feel out of place, have a glass or pint of beer, and sip at it throughout the night. Either way, if your friends do judge you, get better friends.

Second, forgiveness is key. If you do have a night of a big juicy cheeseburger, three or four pints of beer and a lovely strawberry cheese cake to finish the night (guilty as charged), it’s not the end of the world. If you beat yourself up for being a failure, you’ll likely find ways to make yourself feel better, like eating poorly. If instead, you can have compassion for yourself, and say “yeah, last night wasn’t the best idea, but today is a new day”, you will still be doing your new year’s resolution six months from now, twelve months from now, or maybe even, for life.

Awareness of your poor habits (and of how many calories are in a damn PSL), short and long-term goals, planning for obstacles and self-compassion are the qualities and techniques that came to me over time in various ways throughout my year of losing 100 pounds. After roughly 15 years of poor eating habits, it’s clear I had no special talent for willpower or staying focused throughout this journey.

Whether you want to lose weight, learn a musical instrument, change careers, or anything in-between, I am certain these qualities will help you in your journey as well. And as a bonus final lesson, just start. I didn’t wait until I had all the research done on calories, or all the motivation to eat healthy. I just started eating less, and then once I was starting to go down a new path, I adjusted the direction as required. There will never be a right moment to start, you will never have all the information you need, there’s no point in waiting for flow. If you start with the smallest action you can take, you’ve already put your life in a new direction, from there, after a time, it will develop effortlessly.

Additionally, you may check out this article my story was featured in as well.

The Pursuit of Permission

“If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.” – Grace Hopper

It can be difficult to live any sort of non-standard lifestyle. It feels as if everyone around you is judging you for it. In a very likely truth, they are far more likely masking their own insecurities towards change, then actually judging you, but it sure feels real at the time. Another branch off the same tree as taking responsibility, is asking permission.

In fact, this can be a very subtle way of avoiding responsibility. Let’s start with an example to get an idea of how this can happen. Imagine a man who lacks empathy, he pursues women and sex because he gets a kick out of it, and don’t care about telling them the truth, or the harm he does to himself or others. On the other side, imagine a “New Age Man” who believes how we’re “all one” and “the universe is love”, and sleeps around without taking responsibility and getting his permission from these seemingly “obvious” principles. “How can I cheat on you, when we’re all one, everything is love baby”. There’s no difference between either of the men mentioned above.

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing what you’re driven to, whether that’s in sex, life, career or anything. You still need to take responsibility for what you’re doing. To get permission from a spiritual book that says nothing has meaning and the universe is objective, and then using that to harm others, would, as is common sense, make you an asshole.

Don’t seek permission in learning psychology and seeing how the brain works, and giving yourself permission to be flawed. Don’t seek permission from philosophies which dictate that the world is deterministic, and anything you’re driven to do must already be written in stone, it’s not your fault! Don’t seek permission from a spiritual book that tells you you’re one with the love of the universe, and can do no wrong as your higher self.

Taking responsibility for your actions and pursuits is empowering, no matter what they are. Trying to avoid responsibility through your cleverness and higher understanding of the self and the universe only alienates you from your true power.

Spirituality is primarily a pursuit of wakefulness, of awareness. For your inner self this is to be aware of where your thoughts and ideas come from, where your motivation comes from, where your frustration and anger come from. Externally this is how you interact with others and the world. How is your sense of humor understood by others, do they seem comfortable around you, are you always slightly too close to the car in front of you while driving? This seems like a simple idea, but it’s in the “oh, I already know all of those things”, that demonstrates a lack of awareness more then anything else. Awareness is a daily pursuit, or more like, a moment by moment observation. All of the above changes at all times, and therefore, relying on knowing yourself just because you knew you from a year ago, is insufficient.

With awareness, you can more easily notice when you refuse to take responsibility, with awareness you can see if you’re using excuses or a spiritual pursuit or “higher understanding” to justify behaviors you don’t want to own. When you own it, and take responsibility for it, the possibilities in life are that much more endless. With clear intention, and right understanding, life unfolds effortlessly.

Take Responsibility

“If we wish to free ourselves from enslavement, we must choose freedom and the responsibility this entails.” – Leo Buscaglia

I’ve just woken up from a dream where I got into a text debate with an old acquaintance, and I felt the immediate need to write about the exchange. Last night I recorded a podcast with a friend, and at one point we discussed the idea of empowering yourself through responsibility. That most people would rather blame their childhood, their parents, their partner, their city, the recurring illness they may have, a traumatic experience from their past, as the reason that they “can’t have” something. That something being happiness, success, love, or well, anything.

In this text conversation in my dream, this person was trying to blame me for the negative circumstances for their life, and make me feel bad for what I had achieved. I am fully aware that some years ago, an idea like this would have made me crumble and I would have accepted both ideas fully.

Fault and responsibility are not best friends who go everywhere together. If something is someone else’s fault, your environment’s fault, the neighbor’s dog’s fault, it’s always still your responsibility to deal with if it. “What!? But I didn’t do anything!”, correct! The thing is, if something that wasn’t your fault is effecting you, you basically have two choices. You can deal with it inside yourself and be okay with it, ultimately coming to a solution, or you can spend the rest of your life giving away your power to some person or circumstance who “ruined your life”.

This isn’t just for large, dramatic things either. You can take responsibility on a daily basis. If you lose your patience to everyone who walks slowly down the street, who doesn’t behave exactly the way you want them to, you’re literally handing out your power of responsibility to EVERYONE. You’re actively dis-empowering yourself on a daily basis.

Worry not dear reader, awareness is the first and nearly only step. You’ve got all you need now to immediately shift the perspective. Next time you think “wow, what a jerk that guy is, how dare he cut me off / say that to me / not see how amazing I am”, let the fault go where it wants to, but take responsibility to not let it get to you. Like anything worth doing, it’ll take practice, but it might be one of the most important things you’ve ever done.

Standing Up For Something

“If you stand for nothing, you will fall for everything.” – No one actually knows. 

I’m certain most people have heard this idea or a similar one at some point in their lives, so let’s jump right into why it’s of benefit instead.

Do you know that person who seems to get swept up by every passing tide? Perhaps you see some of it in yourself. (I certainly have) They may be talking about the wiki-leaks one day, oil spills the next, government corruption another day, their big business idea, how they could never do 9 to 5 life because they’ve read the four hour work week. This is a person who gets pulled along for each ebb and flow of the passing tides.

On the surface it may seem like a good thing. Look at this person who really cares about themselves and the world! Wow, look at all this stuff they know a lot about! Of course, the events of our world, and the direction of our lives are all very important subjects, but once you take a step back and look at a person like the one mentioned above objectively, the illusion vanishes.

Tyler Durden: Oh, I get it. It’s very clever.
Narrator: Thank you.
Tyler Durden: How’s that working out for you?
Narrator: What?
Tyler Durden: Being clever.
Narrator: … Great.
Tyler Durden: Keep it up, then. Right up.

Here’s a fun thought experiment, if you saw “no one actually knows” in the quote and said “no, you’re wrong, someone knows, I’m going to spend the next 45 minutes of life researching this quote” – you might be more susceptible to the ebbs and flows of things that don’t matter, then you might suspect!

Unfortunately for this week’s problem, while awareness is still a big piece, the solution comes more slowly. Instead, all I’d like you to do is consider where your attention goes. Do you try to show everyone how clever you are with all the secret conspiracy theories going on in the world? I’m looking at you flat earthers! Are you pulled in every imaginable direction with each time a video game, movie, or TV show comes out?

Allow me to leave a special mention for the one that effected me the most, and I find may be far more common then I’d like to believe. Spirituality systems. While there are beautiful things about chakras, yoga, meditation, tapping, reiki, duality, oneness, etc. There is certainly a benefit to dipping your toes in lots of systems to see what may resonate with you, at least early on. Yet, if after a time you’re still going half way into each one, you’re still standing for nothing. You don’t need to prove or disprove the level of determinism in the universe, or connect your soul to universal oneness to have a generally good time in life.

You may be thinking “Nope! You’re wrong! Wikileaks / government corruption / entrepreneurship / yoga / determinism are really important to me and the world!”. Wonderful! You get it then! You stand for something. None of the things above are wrong in themselves (except maybe flat earthers), but it’s your divided attention that makes you suffer.

I’d like to leave you simply with, how many things do you care about, and how many things do you really care about?