Sam Holstein

4 Quotes That Will Inspire You to Change the Way You Live

4 Quotes That Will Inspire You to Change the Way You Live

We are taught a lot of clichés about life while we are young. Well-meaning adults who don’t exactly have it together themselves pass on “lessons” to their young children while they themselves are still young. Waves of foolishness pass from generation to generation. By the time anyone is old enough to know any better, it’s too late.

Even worse, learning life lessons is difficult in the first place. In Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, writer David Epstein explains why most problems in life are what’s called “wicked problems,” challenges that have more than one right answer and many false positives.

As Epstein explains, it’s extraordinarily difficult to learn from experience when it comes to a wicked problem. Unforeseen variables and misleading results throw off the learning process. As a result, most of the accumulated “wisdom” about life available isn’t actually very wise at all.

When I was a child, I decided one of the great purposes of my life was to become as wise as possible. To learn everything there is to know about leading a good, moral life, and become the best example I could be. Since then, I’ve devoted many hours to reading and learning about life.

I’m still young, I’m not very wise, and I’m not exactly leading that life of example for which I aimed. One of the hard lessons the last few years has taught me is growing wise isn’t only about learning new things, it’s about unlearning things you thought you knew.

These four quotes remind me of lessons I had to unlearn through painful experiences. Maybe they can save you some time and pain.

There Is No Right Way to Live

“Wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking.”

— Antonio Machado

You can probably look back on your life and identify a few moments when you could have made a different choice, and your entire life would have been different.

But this notion of “key changes” you could have made is a lie you tell yourself to make sense of your life.

Life isn’t a storybook. Our choices aren’t part of the plot. Our minds make sense of the mess of life by constructing a narrative about our lives based on our choices, but that is a post-hoc mental process, not a reflection of reality.

The reality is that all of us, every minute of every day, make an uncountable amount of choices. For every one thing we choose, there are many dozens of hundreds of things we are choosing not to do. Those add up to an infinite amount of alternate choices we could have made.

One of the reasons education is invaluable is that education brings these alternate choices into your awareness. Education opens your mind to the choices you could be making right, now if only you knew better.

Imagine if you had…

  1. More skills to cope with the situations life throws at you
  2. More knowledge of how the world works so you could navigate it
  3. More awareness of yourself so you could steer better toward happiness

If you had these things, you would have more choices. If you had more choices, you would make choices that make you happier more often. If you had a better education, you would, quite literally, have a better life.

There is no narrative to the events of your life other than the narrative you construct for yourself. There is no path to follow other than the choices you make.

Have a better life story by making better choices. Watch the story of your life improve.

You Primarily Operate on Unconscious Biases

“I should be suspicious of what I want.”

— Rumi

Unless you’ve spent several hard years unpacking your personal baggage, you are unknowingly running your life based on unconscious psychological hangups. You think you make sensible and rational choices, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

We all have psychological hangups from childhood. It’s a natural consequence of having imperfect parents. If we address those psychological hangups early, we can develop emotional maturity and deal with the suffering life offers us with grace and dignity. If we don’t address those psychological hangups, they fester. They become vicious, self-defeating cycles.

Here are a few common ones:

Wise people recognize it’s human nature to fall into self-defeating cycles like these. Wise people understand the only way for us to avoid self-defeating cycles is to remain mindful of what we do and where it is taking us.

Don’t take what you want at face value. Question why you want what you want. Interrogate your emotions. Ask yourself what the short-term and long-term results of that desire are.

Ask yourself if there are any hidden benefits or costs. The hidden benefit of being too sick to work is you never have to find out if you have the chops for your dream job or not. These hidden benefits are often the real reason we do something, even if we’re totally unaware of it.

Getting Older and Watching Time Pass Changes Nothing

“The future is made of the same stuff as the present.”

— Simone Weil

When I was a kid, I had this silly idea that I would be “different” when I was an adult.

I was a weird kid. I wore long cargo shorts and died my hair funny colors and listened to heavy metal. While girls were learning to dress up and date, I was tromping through the forest and longboarding before it was cool. Basically, if society expected something of me, I hated it.

Adults around me all said the same thing: “That’s OK. Enjoy it while it lasts. You’ll grow out of it.”

I trusted the adults around me, so I didn’t make any permanent decisions about my life. I picked a practical college major and didn’t get any funky tattoos. I did what I was advised to do, even though it didn’t excite me, because I was investing in an “adult” future.

Except, that “adulthood change” never came.

Late in college, I wondered where this supposed adulthood mentality was. It never showed up for me. I’d gotten a bob, started shopping in the Macy’s petite section, and started consulting, but it was a charade. I was serving a responsible adult woman, but inside, I was still me.

I wasted several years on this charade, wearing polyester blouses and chunky jewelry with my black low-rise heels, wondering when it would all start to feel natural.

As my mid-twenties arrived, I finally realized adulthood is never coming.

The future was made of the same stuff as the present. All along, I was still me, and I was never going to become not me. No age-induced change was coming for me. Age brings wisdom, but it doesn’t bring a personality transplant.

I spent the first twenty years of my life anticipating a future that was never going to arrive.

Weil’s quote reminds us the future is no different from the present. If you are living your life as if some kind of transformation in the future will change everything, forget it.

The future is made of the same stuff as the present. You will keep getting what you are getting now.

The only way to change your future is to change the choices you make today.

Much More Is Possible Than You Realize

“Don’t fear failure. Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.”

 Bruce Lee

This hot take won’t be popular with everyone.

I think most mentally ill people set goals for themselves that are far too small.

Most mentally ill people I’ve met set seriously small goals for themselves. The anxious people simply want to live with less anxiety, the depressed people want to be depressed less, the people with bipolar want to simply have fewer mood episodes, the people with OCD want to tic less, the people with personality disorders simply want to be less involved with life, you get the picture.

There’s no reason to aim this small. If you google “[insert diagnosis here] cure” on Amazon, you will get several hundred Kindle books, each a story by someone who managed not only to find less suffering but complete recovery from their mental illness. Yes, some of those books are full of weird pseudoscientific shit, but most aren’t.

Psychology is a young science. Worse than that, it’s a dreadfully biased science. Research dollars are allocated to pharmaceutical giants so they can research brain-altering chemicals even though evidence indicates behavioral and social treatments are orders of magnitude more effective. There is no reason to believe there are not many effective lifestyle interventions out there for all kinds of conditions.

Even worse, it seems like mental health practitioners encourage this defeatist attitude. Instead of understanding psychology is a young science and its practice is biased, mental health practitioners let pessimism cloud their judgment.

Years ago, when I had panic disorder, my family doctor gave me a life sentence. He said I should expect to struggle with panic attacks and be on medication for the rest of my life. I achieved complete recovery less than two years later.

I can’t share other stories I’ve heard because they are not my stories to share, but my story is sadly very common.

The only difference is, many people aren’t as stubborn and “unrealistic” as me, so they take their doctor/therapist’s pessimistic projection at face value and don’t even try to find another way. It’s one of the most tragic things about modern mental health care.

In Conclusion

“Wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking.” — Antonio Machado

“I should be suspicious of what I want.” — Rumi

“The future is made of the same stuff as the present.” — Simone Weil

“Don’t fear failure. Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail.” — Bruce Lee

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