Jan 02, 2021
2 mins read
The first days of the new year bring with them a refreshing feeling of new beginnings, a very familiar theme for me. I love to start a new year/quarter/month/week, with the mindset of infinite possibilities! I have become used to reviewing the previous block of time and adjusting my plans and hopes for the next.
I honestly don't know how useful this habit has been in my life. When evaluating our lives, the scientific method, in general, cannot be fully used, for the simple reason that there is no control group: you cannot tell how your life would have turned out if you had made different decisions, acquired different habits, pursued different projects, chosen other life priorities.
And, in a sense, this can lead to the realization that, at its deepest level, life has no “answer key.” There is no gold standard, perfect GPA, straight A's, flawless performance, or anything like that. What we have instead is a potentially messy, chaotic, extremely short, and severely limited (in time, space, resources, sensorial perceptions, etc.) opportunity to feel alive, to play this fantastic role of feeling like we inhabit this body, conform to certain standards conventions and limitations, and play the role of a human being – a finite manifestation of what we might hope is bigger, longer lasting, more meaningful, and more satisfying than this ephemeral existence.
Yes! we can live vibrant, meaningful, joyful lives under the assumptions that life has no answer key, no beginning, no end, and, at the deepest level, that life has no meaning (by itself, that is!). We are the ones who attribute meaning to life, by doing what we do; caring about the people, projects, and life roles that we choose to make our priorities; investing time, resources, and efforts into what we deem worthwhile; enjoying the overall experience of being human, of being alive!
This can be liberating!
So, I'll say it again in slightly different form: life has no answer key, no final judgment, no scorecard. If we find ways to let go of this artificial pressure to perform, measure, compare, evaluate, and scrutinize everything we do we might live better lives with less pressure, stress, or anxiety.
Granted, metrics are useful in some restricted contexts and so are other “productivity tricks” (habit streaks, for example) that we can use to reach goals, stay focused, get fit, build a safety net, a financial cushion, etc. But... extending these performance-driven goals and habits to every aspect of our lives can end up causing more harm than good.
The fundamental virtues and qualities that we want to demonstrate in our everyday lives cannot be measured or quantified. If you want to emphasize kindness, be kind! Not to X number of people, for Y minutes at a time, or Z days in a row: it doesn't even make sense! Be kind for kindness sake! Be compassionate, generous, present, patient, deliberate, focused, calm, courteous, helpful, respectful... for their own sake. These qualities are self-sufficient! Focus on letting them come to the surface through you, practice them mindfully, and avoid the trap of subjecting them to unsuitable measures.
Happy New Year!
“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig
One of my favorite books of 2020: a fascinating fictional account of the many lives of Nora Seed and an exploration of the question of what would have happened if we’d made different choices at certain key moments of our lives.