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How to Live and Not Merely Exist

How to Live and Not Merely Exist

Existence is confusing, but it’s pretty easy if you think about it. You don’t have to do anything—you already exist through circumstances outside of your control. Everything you do from this point forward is for your own benefit. With any luck, somebody along your path in life taught you to consider the benefit of others as well, but I’ve met enough people to understand that’s an optional feature in humans.

So if nobody knows why we’re here, how we got here, or anything else about life, why aren’t we all out there exploring and living it?

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fried-chicken

    What’s the Matter? Are Ya Chicken?

    It sounds unbelievable, but a lot of people float through life merely existing. It’s easy to dismiss these people as drug addicts or worse, but the fact of the matter is they’re human beings, and they’re everywhere. These people were made to feel small in their lives. They were told not to believe in themselves so often that they started to believe it; they slid through life until settling in a dead-end job as a cubicle monkey with neither status nor esteem attached to their name.

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    If you want to experience life for what it is, watch a movie: see how things aren’t going the way the main character wants them to? See how they’re scared or upset in some way and decide to stand in the face of fear to accomplish something? Why are you backing down from your boss if you truly believe you’re somebody special in life? Do you think Neo discovered The Matrix because he was too scared to take the right pill? Face reality: you’re going to die someday—we all do. You can either face it standing up, sitting down, bending over, or standing up. The choice is yours and yours alone.

    Do More Than You Say

    I hate repetition unless it’s something I truly enjoy. I could spend every day sipping cocktails and smoking bowls and blunts with my girlfriend. We could relax by the pool, kick it, and enjoy each other’s physical and spiritual presence every day without tire. Other than exceptions that are close to the heart, I hate having to repeat myself. It’s annoying when people don’t understand what you’re saying so you have to keep rewording it over and over until they get the idea. It’s so repetitive having to repeat myself because people weren’t paying attention the first time.

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    This goes with every situation in life: think about how much you start to loathe looking at someone’s Facebook page when all they do is complain about their lives or continuously talk about the same things over and over. If that’s the impression someone’s giving you, surely you’re giving that impression to someone else. If the world revolved around you, you’d have a lot more FB friends than you do, turbo, so slow down and think about this for a minute… if the internet is made of people, and social media is made of society, then maybe it’s possible nobody cares what I ate tonight for dinner or what species of parasite made a home in my woman’s uterus online any more than they are when I bring it up at a party.

    Take the hint: stop talking about what you’re going to do or what you did. Don’t fret about the past or future unless it’s with someone you care about (and even then, only during special times set up for such discussions). Other than that, focus on what’s happening in front of you right here and now. You don’t need to take a picture of your meal for it to taste good, and it’s not going to taste any better based on how many online “likes” it gets. Enjoy your dinner for yourself, and in the journey of doing so, you will have learned to live and not merely exist.

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    Want to learn more about life? Check out: Life Lessons From a Dying Man…

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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