Your New Year’s resolutions don’t need to be trade-offs. Learn to pay attention and succeed where self-restraint fails.

Before you dive into that new exercise regime or throw out all of that booze or sugary food, step back and take another look at what lead to this. Why set these goals at all? Why resolve to change these habits? It’s easy to run with a simple, superficial understanding of what you’re ‘meant to do’ and it’s even easier to pursue what you feel instinctively will make you happier or better off.

Those two things are woven together — our culture and societal norms play a big part in determining our understanding of what’s acceptable, desirable, admirable, and so on. And modern western culture has a way of trapping us in this impossible position of wanting and depending on a bunch of stuff that undermines our wellbeing, whilst drip-feeding us information about all the damage that it’s doing. And so come January each year, we set new targets and pick out those bad habits for correction. And by the summer (or by February) we’re back in the same old routine, drinking too much, gorging on sugar, skipping workouts, and trying to forget we ever made those dumb resolutions. …

COVID-19 should be a wake-up call to embrace a preventative, holistic approach to health.

2020 will go down as a famously terrible year. As the virus spread, the prospect of healthcare workers having to choose who to save and who to let die was so intolerable that the sacrifice of lockdowns became the best of several bad options. Governments around the world had to resort to unprecedented social restrictions at a humongous cost to the global economy and the livelihoods of millions. If we couldn’t control the virus, we’d have to control the population. No more face-to-face business. No more gatherings. No more hugs.

When a person or institution is disconnected from the reality and meaning of something, we describe them as ‘out of touch’. To touch is to feel the reality of the world, to connect with it on a level that proposition alone can’t deliver. Reading about an event on Wikipedia doesn’t come close to the significance of being there. A hug has a very real impact on our physiology. In 2020, we were forced out of touch with each other, and with intimacy and connection. As social animals, the trauma of that runs deep. Depression and anxiety were already on the rise in the developed world and a sudden stop to social interaction, combined with a sharp rise in financial strain, has sent rates soaring further (Rates of depression have likely tripled in the US and doubled in the UK). Some governments made efforts to fend off an overflow of misery but in the stew of terrible options, sacrifices have to be made. …

Zero-sum tactics won’t cure the root cause. Systemic change demands a new system of anti-rivalry.

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Photo by Levi Jones on Unsplash

It’s not hard to understand the emergence of an idea like ‘cultural appropriation’ in the context of a rivalrous system. It makes perfect sense.

We live in a system driven by scarcity — there’s only so much to go around and each of us has to do what we can to get our share. Rivalrous dynamics run the show in a reflection of Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ principles. Naturally, that produces winners and losers. As we’re seeing lately, it produces a few big winners and a whole lot of losers.

These are the dynamics that create conflict and the marginalisation of populations. Take the history of America as an example. Europeans arrived and discovered a vast, fertile, and beautiful land that could allow them to thrive. But indigenous people were already there, living in deep connection with the land, as they had been for eons. When it comes to conflict, those with wealth, industry, and military strength tend to win out, so the Europeans, in keeping with ‘survival of the fittest’ dynamics, beat indigenous populations into submission and had their way the land. …

How I learned to stop aspiring to be happy and be happy now.

Badge of Honour

I’ve always been a dreamer. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have the ambition to emigrate — I wanted to escape the confines of my hometown and home country and forge a new life in the bright, optimistic, and adventure-filled American west. And from the first moments that I can recall considering what I wanted to do with my life, beyond the few days or weeks ahead, I knew that I wanted to sidestep the world of corporate nine-to-fives. …

How to choose resilience over fragility, and why it’s so important for happiness.

The idea that everyone has a right not to be offended has risen to prominence in recent years but does it serve our wellbeing? The knee-jerk reaction to this question may be to fight back, to perceive it as an excuse to let offensive behavior slide and betray victims. But in an attempt to rid the world of all possible offenses, we risk cultivating a damaging intolerance for difference. And despite our best intentions, rather than saving ourselves and each other from hardship, we open ourselves up to misery we need not endure.

We live in diverse societies where conflicting interests constantly rub against one another. Each rub creates friction, which can erupt into flame. Sometimes those flames are justified, in the case of serious injustice that can’t be overcome quietly. But in the day-to-day, we come up against frictions that needn’t be allowed to combust. But they do, and the cost is rarely beneficial to anyone. Think about the kind of bitter arguments that arise with friends and family over trivial issues, road rage incidents, or social media spats over differences of opinion. What’s the outcome in these situations? Anger, bitterness, misery, often for hours, days, or weeks, consuming our time and mental energy. Beyond the inner turmoil, they taint our interactions with others and force us into bad decisions. We often, by nature, believe these situations to be inflicted upon us by others and justify our emotional turmoil. In adopting a victim mindset we place the responsibility for remedy on the other — it’s up to them to apologize, to fix their views, to undo our hardship. Research suggests this mindset turns us toward vengeance over reconciliation and closes us off to nuance and opposing ideas. In placing all responsibility with the other, the ‘system’, or the universe, we surrender ourselves to misery for as long as it naturally persists. …

A friend of mine has been in poor health for a while and recently made the decision, with advice from medical professionals to lose some weight and improve their fitness. Their first goal was to shed some pounds and they came to me to explain their plan to do it. They decided to use a combination of an unproven, untested weight loss pill and eating only once every 3 days. I was naturally shocked by this and I strongly suggested they reconsider. I recommended a daily exercise regime instead, along with a healthy, reduced-calorie diet. In recommending a different approach, I wasn’t undermining the entire enterprise of improving their health, losing weight, or getting fitter. …

In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, we’re getting a real-time demonstration of the how division is fuelled at the expense of progress in contemporary western society. With huge numbers coming out in protest, the news cycle predominantly focusses on rioting and looting, the most explosive and controversial parts of the picture. Battles rage in the comments sections, where one liners and hashtags carry more weight than considered thought. Alienating ideologies flood the public conversation and retribution takes centre stage.

The environment of constant controversy and censoriousness appeals to our most basic instincts — our tendency to adopt a blinkered view, close out the nuance and form opinions based on simple snapshots. Those to the right have a tendency to zone in on the violence, theft and wanton recklessness and recoil in anger. Those on the left have a tendency to see heavy handed police reactions against peaceful protesters and recoil in a similar way. One side closes off any consideration of peaceful protest and leaps to a condemnation of the entire movement. Others allow anger to become justification for anything, no matter how savage or harmful. When we allow our first look to shape our opinions on the entire movement, we’re pushed into binary positions with no room for nuance — we reduce ourselves from human to animal, complex to basic. …


We all know the issue — climate change is one of humanity’s most pressing challenges. Unpredictable and dangerous shifts in weather patterns and rising sea levels are a growing threat to life, prosperity and peace around the globe. Prosperous nations like the US are responsible for outsized carbon footprints, both in total and per capita. China and India, the world’s manufacturing hubs, emit huge amounts of CO2 annually. We’re constantly hearing that we need drastic action to prevent the kind of unpredictable, widespread damage that rapid climate change will cause. …

At 3:30pm on July 14th 1938, a four-man team of Austrian and German climbers reached the summit of the Eiger after more than three days on the infamous, deadly and previously unclimbed north face. The ‘Mordwand’ (murder wall) had turned away or killed every climber before them but Anderl Heckmair, Ludwig Vörg, Heinrich Harrer and Fritz Kasparek negotiated notorious rockfall, avalanches and blizzards to pass the ultimate test. …

Carl Jung once wrote:

“It is not I who create myself, rather I happen to myself.”

(The Collected Works of Carl Jung, Vol. 11, Para 391)

It’s a strange sentence to digest but it’s a succinct summary of an important universal truth — we do not create or choose all of our behaviours and thought processes, just as we do not choose our height or eye colour. …


AJ Abbey

Thinking, reading and writing about ego, awareness and the road to better people and better politics.

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