Throughout my years of cycling I’ve met and talked to an incredible amount of people of all ages from many different cultures and with many different backgrounds and stories. My around-the-world-on-a-bicycle story sometimes leads the conversation unto a track of some more philosophical subjects on how to approach, understand and live your life. These are subjects that I’ve thought of a fair amount myself, and at one point a friend of mine asked for some guidance. That inspired me to try to compile a bunch of “values and principles” that I find useful. I am not a “life-coach” and am also guilty of violating these principles myself. I try to keep them in mind in times of decision or doubt: to not succumb to destructive thought-patterns, to get me down “the right path” and let positive and productive principles dominate.
Yup, it is also the results of too many hours of cycling with lots of time to let my thoughts drift away, analyzing conversations, personalities and theories in search for answers and solutions. Anyways, here are some core-principles that I find useful.
Be completely honest with yourself
A very important principle, several of the follow principles are related to this “cornerstone”.
You need to be able to trust yourself and get a totally honest answer to your own questions, doubts and thoughts. Don’t blind yourself with an answer that you would like to hear, if you know deep inside that it is incorrect. Don’t make up strange explanations to yourself when you know what the real explanation is. The truth can hurt, especially when it comes from yourself, but you need to face certain things in life and sometimes also your own mistakes or limitations. Be your own advisor, an honest advisor.
Don’t play the blame-game
Ok, so things went wrong and you somehow failed. Sure, there might be many external factors that contributed to your failure, e.g. a stupid boss who wouldn’t listen to your ideas or a heavy rain-fall that ruined your marathon-attempt. But first and foremost, start looking at yourself and think about what you could or should have done to avoid the failure, and then think of ways to improve or avoid this. Next time you run into a similar situation, you might handle it a little better, as you’ve learned from your past experiences and didn’t just angrily blame someone else.
It is not suggested that you be harsh or angry at yourself, contrary you should face the aspects that you could have controlled and start to improve them in a positive manner and you’ll exit the tunnel as a wiser person. Being angry and blaming others are not productive; to honestly and positively acknowledge your own mistakes and work with them can be very productive.
Don’t be a hater
Your friend or co-worker are doing brilliant in a discipline that you would love to be really good at. And no matter how hard you try, they are always two steps better, faster and funnier. A natural defense mechanism is to be annoyed at them and start bad-mouthing them to others, criticizing their accomplishments, putting them down, spreading rumors and showing disdain for their achievements. That is super destructive, for them and for you.
Instead, be happy on their behalf! Accept that they were somehow born with a talent in that discipline, and that you likely have some other talents that they lack; we were all “dealt different cards”. And start learning from them: ask for advice, watch how they go about their things and show them that you respect their achievements (but be cool; never creepy or brown-nosing)
Don’t compete and compare yourself against others, but compete against yourself
At first glance, you might reflexively disagree with this principle as you believe that “competition always makes me work harder and fight more”. Re-think that.
Often it doesn’t make a lot of sense to compete against others, as they were “dealt different cards” than you. Instead, it is much more productive to understand yourself and your own forces and weaknesses and start to work with these: use your talents to the fullest and keep advancing and developing them; accept your weaknesses and work to understand and improve them. Learn from others in case they do better than you, don’t secretly compete against them.
Once you start to compete against yourself and work positively with your own forces and weaknesses, you can “play the cards you were dealt” in a much more productive way.
Look inside yourself, don’t glance jealously at others.
Face it: Life is a trade-off. When you make a choice, you are also un-choosing something else. Try to analyze your options with the good and the bad before making a choice, then choose and accept your path. You can’t have everything in life and if you try, it’ll probably not even be worth it.
Even if you in hindsight realize that you made the wrong choice, don’t be mad at yourself as you had analyzed the options beforehand and made a calculated decision (but learn from your mis-choice of course, in a positive, honest and reflective manner).
Be brave and courageous but accept your limitations
Don’t be afraid of challenges even if you haven’t tried it before and are not 100% sure that you’ll succeed. Even if you fail, you might learn some valuable lessons in the process (depending on the consequences of a failure).
But don’t be too proud to accept that some tasks or challenges simply are too much for you to handle and that you might need more experience and strength before you attempt them. This is especially true if failure comes with huge consequences, for an example your own death or damaging your future career because you accepted a huge responsibility that you couldn’t handle. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew”, they say.
Be very careful of the easy option
“If you see a beautiful path and a difficult path, always take the difficult one” an Indian man once said. I don’t know if I fully agree, because I really like beauty, it makes for good photos!
But what his proverb was trying to illustrate, was that the difficult path will teach you something. When you exit from the difficult path, you’ll be wiser, stronger, prouder, more courageous and with more experience. You will learn something on the difficult path, so be careful with taking the easy option, which will lull you into a static, non-productive mental state.
Persistence, persistence, persistence
Straight-forward and obvious: Don’t give up, keep working hard and you’ll reach your goals, whether it is a marathon, a difficult education, a job promotion or that cute girl you’re trying to impress. This relates strongly to the “easy-option” principle, as the easy option often would be to simply quit. Instead stick to it and fight your way through the hard times, there is light at the end of the tunnel and you’ll exit as a stronger, wiser person. If you want to succeed, don’t give up unless you seriously have to.
Pick your fights carefully
You constantly meet people who disagree with you: In your work, in your relationship, a store-owner, your kids, your friends and when you travel. Many times it really isn’t that important who’s right or not, so be ready to compromise and let other people have their way. And when the really important case arises, then fight for your viewpoint. If you fight hard on every little disagreement, the people around you will grow annoyed and will not want to compromise when your important case arises. So don’t waste your aces in non-important situations, save them for the important battles.
Dare to dream
– and work for them: dreams don’t work unless you do. If you never even try to make the dream come try, it for sure will not come true. So be fair to your dream, and at least give it a shot. If it fails, at least you tried. “You’ll miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take”, a famous ice-hockey player once said.
And be a little realistic with your dreams: If you’ve played football for 15 years and still are playing for your local amateur-club, face it: you probably won’t make it to Real Madrid. But if you are dreaming of learning how to paint, to sail across the Pacific Ocean, to run a marathon, to open a bakery in Barcelona, to visit every National Park in the USA or to walk the length of Japan: all these dreams are entirely doable and possible to achieve if you “put your back into it”. Dare to dream, work for it and one day it happens!
I will have to point out, sadly, that this principle might not apply to everybody on our Planet, as a lot of people in developing countries have limited access to finance the first steps of their dream. For me, that makes this principle even more relevant for people in 1st world countries: 1st world citizens are born with so many options and so much control of their life that a lot of dreams are within their reach. What a shame to waste this opportunity when people in the developing world are fighting to put bread on the table for their family.
Annoying people are mirroring your own bad sides
I am sure a psychologist can talk about this phenomenon in great details, but here is my shortened version: When other people are annoying you, there is a good chance that they are doing something that you are prone to doing yourself. In other words, you recognize a bad side of yourself in them and defensively get annoyed with them for “reminding you” of parts of your own personality that you aren’t proud of.
Keep that in mind. And try to work actively to get rid of your own “bad sides”, instead of building hate towards others. Instead, thank them silently inside yourself, for reminding you of how you DON’T want to be.
Understand your fears
Let’s start by differentiating two forms of fears: The rational fear and the irrational fear. Irrational fears are destructive and likely to obstruct your life and your options: Examples could be fear of flying, fear of a terrorist attack or fear of harmless spiders.
I respect irrational fears and are not trying to belittle you, I still carry some irrational fears around myself which I slowly, day by day, are trying to exterminate. But I really think that you at least should try to get rid of the obstacle that irrational fear represents, work to understand the details of the fear and, if serious and necessary, seek professional help from a therapist. Because you KNOW that the risk of dying in a terrorist attack is practically speaking zero, you KNOW that a spider in Denmark is not dangerous and you KNOW that flying actually is one of the safest forms of transportation, so fight those fears, don’t let them control you.
Then there is the concept of rational fear: Things that actually are dangerous, say being in traffic, walking a shortcut alone through the ghetto of Buenos Aires at night or rock-climbing solo without safety equipment such as rope and harness. I also respect these decisions, but will insist that you at least analyze the risks and benefits, before you engage in activities that, factually, are dangerous. And be honest to yourself in this process, don’t fool yourself by insisting that “I am the greatest motorcycle rider in the world, of course I’ll never crash”, because there is a fair risk that you actually will crash. If you have analyzed the risk and benefit of a dangerous activity in an honest manner, then the choice is yours. You could view it as “calculated fear”, as you have acknowledged the risk and yet accepted it.
There is a more profound and widespread fear that I find interesting to discuss as well: The Fear of Change. This is the fear that, by making some changes to your life, you will risk your stability and security: Personal, social, economic, cultural, health etc.
Fear of change is natural, but can be destructive. Think about it: Is it really that dangerous to travel to Malaysia? Is it really that dangerous to quit your job and attempt to open your own business? Is it really that dangerous to move to Tokyo? You will likely face challenges if you introduce changes in your life, but you will very likely also overcome these challenges and learn something in the process. Plus, your dream might come true and you’ll “feel alive” while navigating through the changes. Give it a chance, live life!
When pride gets destructive
To take pride in your achievements, your football team or your cultural heritage is a beautiful thing, I would never criticize this form of pride.
But there is another form of pride that can be destructive: when people are too proud to accept that they might be wrong. They refuse to acknowledge another person’s viewpoint, even after it becomes obvious that they are wrong. They cling to weak reasoning and false postulates, when the other person has a strong line-up of factual arguments. Relax, there is nothing wrong with accepting good reasoning and facing the fact that you are wrong.
Do not enter a discussion with another person in order to win the discussion. Contrary, enter the discussion in an objective manner: to widen your horizon, gain insight and deepen your knowledge and be prepared to accept that your discussion-partner might be right, at least on some aspects.
I think many politicians really should start following this principle: to focus on understanding and solving the problems instead of winning a useless discussion for the sake of pride.