My lord. No, I’m not religious, but at times this week I prayed to unknown forces above to give me strength. It’s actually Thursday evening as I’m starting to write this piece. Breathing out a deep sigh of relief, as it feels like the worst part has passed. Even though I’m in the middle of my last little 24 hour fast challenge leading up to the finishing line. But honest to God, this week has been one of the worst, yet most insight full, weeks of my life. Going into this, I thought it would be a quite straight forward and an ‘easy’ challenge. But the flood wave of emotional junk it opened up to – I could never in my life have anticipated for. Disclaimer: I’m not proclaiming to have any right answers, I’m just sharing the insights I’ve gained after this one week.
First, let me just give you a brief reminder of why I sat out to have a week of suffer. As I spoke of in the introduction video/blogg, I’ve recently found myself fascinated by the ancient philosophy Stoicism.
“The goal of Stoicism is to attain inner peace by overcoming adversity, practicing self-control, being conscious of our impulses, realizing our ephemeral nature and the short time allotted—these were all meditative practices that helped them live with their nature and not against it. It’s important that we understand the obstacles that we face and not run from them; it’s vital that we learn to transmute them into fuel to feed our fire.” (source)
Stoicism comes with a lot of practical exercises, one of them being simulating misfortune and suffer. Which has been the aim of this week – suffer that is. So, what haven’t I been allowed to do this week? Well the list was long; no music, no internet, no social media, no phone, no mail, no tasty food (mainly focusing on no sweet stuff including fruit, or warm food), no beverages (no tea, herbs, lemon water or the like), no ginger (love it), no favourite clothes, no audiobooks, podcast, YouTube, no books, etc., putting myself through long cold bike rides to work (~10 hours over 4 days) a 24 hour fast. Basically, I’ve cut out all external sources that usually brings me pleasure.
So how did I do? It was F*** hard. So, so hard. I’ve never looked at my watch so much, and I’ve never craved for good food as much. Everything kind of went grey. My usual intense workouts lacked energy and motivation. Knowing that there wasn’t any tasty rewarding food waiting on the other side, totally made me lose my edge. Although, partly due to the bigger questions that has been given time and space to float around in my head -‘What’s the point of all this?’. With the exceptions of my cold bike rides – they did bring a ton of joy and value, despite freezing my as of. A sense of higher connection to nature.
The emotional turmoil going through my head thursday morning when my bike broke down 12 kilometers away from work was intense.
But perhaps above all, this feeling of pointlessness and emptiness fundamentally changed my relationship to work the most. As a starter, when I threw the music out the window the focus decided to tag a long – I haven’t been able to concentrate for shit this week. Now, it doesn’t help that I’m working in an open office environment. As soon as someone started speaking, I unintentionally eavesdropped. There was no way around it, my brains pick up on a conversation and just must listen. Although this have had its upside with me socializing more with colleagues, both intentionally and unintentionally. Which resulted in lots of connecting moments with laughter and nice conversations.
But besides that, when I took away all those things that usually spice up my days; music, good food, fruit, tea, ginger, audiobooks when the work task allows for it, I realized what was left – unsatisfying work. I’ve had to face the fact that my work just doesn’t stimulate me enough on its own. I doesn’t make me feel fulfilled. An incredibly heavy, but important realization of tremendous value, making this insight itself worth all the suffer I’ve been through this week. But it also awoke some heavy emotions to plague my mind. This led me to declining a very good work offer; shifting me from being a consultant to going fulltime at the place I’m assigned to.
You see, when there’s no external sources like music, podcasts, YouTube videos or audiobooks constantly occupying your mind, it opens space and time for you to dwell and be mindful about things that you otherwise wouldn’t. Never before have my thoughts been allowed to go so deep for such a long period of time. ‘What am I really doing here, how does this align with my dreams and goals in life?’ But this can also be dangerous if you’re properly set up for it. Handling what easily can turn to just unhelpful negative thoughts isn’t easy. Being a bit surprised by the whole work-realization state, it kind of put me in a negative thought spiral making me somewhat depressed. Not instantly being able to find any answer to my question for how to approach my newfound awareness left me lost.
Isn’t this sad that my work is built on external inputs? Yes and no. It’s what happens in the society we life in today when we’re not conscious and mindful enough. And it didn’t happen instantaneously, I’ve gained tons of value and joy from my work, but the time to move on has perhaps come. For change to happen, we need to get real with ourselves. That’s when motivation for real transformation is born. Because what’s been so awful about this week is not the lack of external sources of happiness, but the realisation of what I’m really missing. And how I covered that up with all the small things I enjoy.
When we do that, it makes our days good enough for us to not do something about the things that have the deepest impact. Doing something that fulfils us, which can be very simple and straight forward and is 100% individual. It’s just that I have a vision of what that should look like, and the way I’m currently living makes me be unfaithful to that vision. And that hurts within, which is the main reason for why I suffered so hard this week. But as long as we are being true to ourselves, enjoying life on a daily basis really doesn’t need to be hard!
This week has made me realize that if you hand me a nice cup of green tea, a piece of ginger, and some good music, and I can max out on the happy scale. Blowing it up if you serve me a nice dinner with some good company. Or heck, I can eat alone and be just as happy too! In theory, we don’t need much to be happy. Friends, family, food, music, these cheap sources that we take for granted gives us so much in return. I mean these things is hardly related to a high salary. I firmly believe that many of the poorer countries are the happiest. Not neglecting there problems.
I try to live by never letting money dictate my choice of career. Never. Sure, luxury things are nice, but it’s just an increasing standard you get used to. It’s fluff. Even if I would quit my job and pursue some longshot of a crazy idea, ending up going to pieces and losing everything – I could always move home to my family for a whole before getting back up on my feet again. And enjoying that experience too.
But so, after many hours of thinking this week, today at the gym training fasted and feeling really low, I finally came to realize that life can be simple and yet be enough. You decide what to make of it, and you decide what fills you with purpose and fulfilment. But it requires asking yourself the right – hard – questions, and then taking action in alignment with the answers you get out of that. And the small things in life do have so much to offer, so much value to give you, so cherish that, be grateful for the food you have on your plate, and the beautiful music vibrating on your ear drum. Everything in life won’t be that jolly fun, and it’s okay to spice things up with the small things. In fact, one has a responsibility to design life in a way that makes is as enjoyable as possible.
And to not leave you with too fluffy advices, let me introduce a very good tool to make you solve this life puzzle easier (which obviously I haven’t). It’s a model I used as a filter when reflecting upon my days when journaling. And I’ll start doing that again as I know it helped me a lot.
It’s Tony Robbins 6 human needs and it’s an incredibly powerful yet simple model for how to think about the things we do in life on a micro and micro level. It’s a model from his old tape-recorded audio program personal power, which is just the shit. I’ve already written too much, so instead I’ll link a video explaining it. Although it doesn’t make it total justice – find the audiotape!
Tony Robbins 6 Human Needs
- Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
- Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
- Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
- Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
- Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
- Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others
Below follows some of the other reflections and take away from this week of suffer
Another effect of this week was tiredness. Even though I’ve worked less than I usually do, I can’t remember when I last slept this much. I’ve been exhausted. All the heavy thinking? I don’t know. I’ve being going to bed around eight every day, haven’t been able to keep myself awake any longer. But also, the drive to stay up totally vanished when I wasn’t allowed to entertain myself with my usual information consumption or eating tasty food. Life just became boring and pointless. Trying to socialize with my brother wasn’t much help either – barley getting anything in return as he, as always, was deep into his gaming. Nor was I allowed to call any friends or even read a book. Better go to sleep and kick the day of early! As I’m writing this line right now, constantly nodding off, I’m realizing I can’t stay up any more. I have to go to bed. It’s 19.37…
9 hours of sleep later, and I’m continuing to write this text. It amazes me how deeply relaxed my sleep has been this week. It’s a totally new relationship to sleeping. Falling asleep like a little baby, but also sleeping long and hard. I theorise it has some to with the fact that I’ve have given myself so much time to think and process thoughts throughout the days, that I’m ‘done’ thinking when I hit the bed. Perhaps also the exclusion of all sorts of caffeine has some to do with it. Now I usually only drink green tea or herb tea, and it’s only some of the green tea’s that contains caffeine depending on when it’s harvested. However I do drink a lot, so I’m factoring this into a plausible scenario.
Future actions: Allocating daily time to think and process thoughts. Removing even small amount of caffeine no later than lunch.
Have I executed on this week perfectly? No. Doing all these things totally drained me on willpower, and by the end of the day I was just crushed with resisting all the temptations. It’s interesting how the brain does everything in its power to find loopholes to convince me it’s alright to do. So when I haven’t been allowed to eat sweet stuff or fruit, I’ve plunged rice cakes. I wasn’t allowed to use any spices, but I just couldn’t stand good food going to waste with at least using some pepper and salt. Nor was I allowed to eat any warm food, but as I ‘had’ to heat my frozen vegetables it may have got a little bit warm. And as I write this, I’m zipping on a glass of water with a splash of apple cider vinegar and some lemon juice – I said only plain water! Now is this the end of the world? No, but the reflection is that when you decide to cut out something, you need to replace it with something else. And decide before what that better alternative is, and you’ll free yourself of illogical decision fatigue making.
Avoiding information overload when banning external sources of inputs has opened up to process previous intel I’ve acquired, but also think and plan about life and how to go about it. Being intentionally about what to consume and actively saying no to things that may be interesting. There’s a pay of to choose specific things to go deeper on and apply, instead of directly move on to the next thing, and the next thing. Information junkie just consuming, not really learning.
Future actions: Again, allocate daily processing time. It’s your own protection mechanism to of railing – and practice mindfulness to be able to do this in an efficient way. Focus more on less, allocate specific time to consuming, or at least stop to questions yourself for why your about to go on a 2 hour YouTube rant ( as if you’d ever planned that – but perhaps the question will stop you from doing so)
I’ve been so relaxed this week and not stressed at all. I usually go overboard with wanting to consume so much, so much to learn, never leave a moment unused. Always be efficient. Now when that hasn’t been an option, I’ve had nothing to stress out about. But the payoff has been pointlessness. Never being stressed can also corelate to a boring life, we should have some of the good exciting stress – it’s key to a good life! For more on this, read The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal.
“People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, ora in the hills. There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind…So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.” – Marcus Aurelius
The internet, Mail & Social Media
This one was way simpler than I thought. Perhaps because it was black and white, no computer or phone made it all non-accessible. And it freed up so much time, which instead mostly was filled with thinking. But also relived me from a bunch of stress and uneasiness. Not having to feel bad about falling victim for the dopamine craving brain constantly checking mail or Facebook notifications. Or the whole social media game, making me feel anxious when unconsciously comparing myself to everyone’s perfect lives.
Future actions: Less of the shit