Most people think they have an above-average level of intelligence, even though that’s impossible.
You probably think you’re pretty smart, don’t you? It’s weird. On the one hand, you carry anxieties, doubts, and an awareness of your flaws, but you also have a big ego.
You think to yourself, if you could just piece things together and get some momentum, you’d accomplish your dreams.
Well, why haven’t you?
If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?
I stole this phrase from Naval Ravikant. He said something along the lines of “I judge intelligence based on your ability to get what you want.”
That hit me.
Can you consider yourself smart if you don’t know how to get the outcomes you want in your life? After all, it is your life. You spend a ton of time obsessing about yourself and your life.
And even though you put so much of the focus on yourself, you still can bring yourself to take the actions necessary to achieve your goals.
Why are you stuck in this constant loop where you feel that little jolt of motivation, either think about or actually attempt to get what you want, fail, and then start the process over and over again?
Should you be carrying this air of intelligence if you can’t follow through with your intentions?
There’s this strange phenomenon of people on the internet. They have so many opinions on every topic in the world, but can’t move the needle in their own life.
Maybe you should shift your perspective. To get what you want, to be happy, to actually be content instead of feigning contentment, you have to do the work.
A few years back I dove heavily into stoic philosophy. I discovered and insight that shifted the way I thought about life. I forget who said it, but they said something along the lines of:
You have to learn how to live
That statement had a profound impact on me because, while I knew about self-improvement logically, emotionally I always looked at life as something that just unfolds.
Most of us do that. We let these teachings go in one ear and out the other because we think we already know how to live when we don’t. Most of us share the false assumption that we know what we’re doing.
Shift that mindset and understand that you’re coming from a position of ignorance, first. If you knew what you were doing already, you wouldn’t need help and guidance You wouldn’t read self-help content because you’d already be living the life you want.
That teaching helped me come to understand that I’ll never stop learning how to live. I use practical philosophy. I learn, test, implement and update my understanding each time.
Many people can’t do this because they can’t let go of their ego. If there’s something you want that you haven’t been able to get, your ego is probably in the way.
Stephen Pressfield coined the term resistance — the pervasive self-doubt that gets in your way of achieving your goals. One form of resistance is quite effective because it maintains your ego and sense of self.
This form of resistance tells you that you should already know how to live. It tells you that admitting you have a lot to learn means you’re not intelligent. It tells you that intelligence is about what you already know instead of it being about the endless curiosity to know more.
You want to maintain your ego and sense of self no matter what, even if you’re unhappy. You want to cling to your story because you’re ‘smart’ and it hurts to admit you’ve been making dumb mistakes.
But until you’re fully open to the fact that you don’t have everything figured out, nothing will change. So get open to that fact and begin the process of transforming your identity and worldview.
If you have a worldview and an identity that’s keeping you from getting what you want, question it. Negative people tend to be the most certain about the world. They have to feel certain to cope with life.
You suffer from this to some degree. You tell yourself a story about the world that protects you from fully facing the circumstances of your life. It will hurt, but questioning these narratives and finding counterexamples to them can help you open your eyes so you start to change.
This isn’t easy because of the power confirmation bias has over you, but you have to try.
Maybe people aren’t out to get you and instead, you’re self-sabotaging by creating negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Perhaps the government and ‘the man’ isn’t out to get you personally.
Maybe there are more opportunities out there than you perceive and your perception of limited opportunities is keeping you from seeing them. Perhaps politics isn’t the solution to your woes and it’s better to focus on yourself no matter who’s in office. Maybe your happiness is on you and not other people.
That’s the biggest story you tell yourself above all others, that your happiness isn’t one hundred percent your responsibility. People will create the most elaborate set of rationalizations to avoid looking in the mirror. You have to understand the extent to which you’re doing that.
This is why I love writing. I get to share these thoughts with you and you can do what you want with them because you’re all alone. You don’t have to front for the world when you’re reading. So don’t. No one is around. Be honest with yourself.
How much are you getting in your own way? What stories are you telling yourself? What are you failing to see because this sense of certainty you’re using to cope?
When you question your narrative to death you can reach this point where you have an epiphany. You realize just how much you’ve been BSing yourself. You’re frustrated, fed up, and ready to finally work on yourself. And you know it’s all on you.
Once you reach that step, you focus on learning how to be happy.
Your path to happiness will depend on many different variables. You have tastes and preferences, strengths and weaknesses, deep meaningful needs, and petty desires.
When you learn how to live, you continue to reverse engineer the things you think will make you happy and analyze the results you get. Deep down, we all know the answer already. You should be happy regardless of what happens to you. Happiness is a state of mind that you technically could conjure up at any time.
But this Buddhist route just doesn’t tend to work for most people because we’re complex beings. We have biological needs. We’re wired to understand our social status and care about it. We do live in the physical and material world.
So this process of learning how to live involves ‘seeing for yourself.’
Don’t tell yourself money doesn’t matter. See for yourself. Make some real money then decide whether or not it’s the root of evil. Don’t do it for the money. Do it to rid yourself of your coping. Then try leaning the other way and be totally content with what you have at the moment right now and see how that works.
You’ll basically spend your life shifting up and down like you’re driving in a race. Sometimes, you’ll be in 4th gear working hard to achieve major goals and milestones. After that, you might downshift after realizing success doesn’t make you happy. You’ll keep working and creating, but from a place of joy instead of a place of needing validation.
Then maybe you’ll get the itch to try a new big goal because you love the challenge. You’ll shift up and down with times of productivity and times of quiet peace. You’ll keep track of this process over time and update your understanding of the world.
Really, the point is that you’re going above and beyond what most people do, which is live below their potential, cope, and feign contentment when they’re not happy at all, just to cling to their sense of certainty.
The ultimate point is that nobody owes you happiness. The world doesn’t owe you happiness. You earn your happiness by working to be happy. You can true intelligence and wisdom by taking an active role in learning how to live.
Are you really happy?
If not, maybe it’s time to reduce the ego and increase the work.