Three Step Success

Write. Get hurt. Be your own worst enemy.

I am not a successful man by any worldly standards. That doesn’t stop me from advising on success though, does it?

After all, in all probability, there are people who think that I am very successful. I was dwelling on the question then – what would I tell such a person if they asked me for tips to succeed? Pondering on such questions is part of my routine narcissistic metacognitive exercises.

So, reflecting on whatever modicum of success, by my own personal standards, that I have achieved led me to the analysis that I present in this post. Forewarning, I don’t make any claims of the actual utility of whatever I say here. I am not positing life altering suggestions here. I am merely recording what I believe at this point in time to be the reasons for my success.

If you want to be successful, you need to do three things -

  1. Write
  2. Get hurt
  3. Be your own worst enemy

And that’s in order of decreasing significance.

1. Write

Writing is the best gift you can give yourself. And it costs nothing. This isn’t the dark ages of 1990s where you had to find yourself a pen and paper to write. You’ve got a writing tool with seemingly unlimited storage capacity in front of you right now. You are looking at it. Just open a text file and start typing.

I don’t mean that you should write a blog, or poetry or flash fiction, or news reports or research articles. Sure, do that if you like. Explore all sorts of forms and genres.

What I mean when I urge you to write is to just write what’s in your head. Your thoughts. They need to get out of your head. And you can only do that by reflecting on them. You can’t put a haphazard, fleeting, unclear thought on paper. Even bad writing needs a thought structure. Writing forces you to reflect on your situations, your reactions, and your fleeting thoughts.

Inside your head, your thoughts have less content and a whole lot of emotion. This is why you keep jumping from one to the other faster than you can even keep track. Whether it’s obsessing over a situation anxiously or gleefully planning a life event, your mind seems to run a thousand processes in parallel. And you know what is not cool about it? The fact that you have very little information on which of these processes you are basing your mood on. You don’t actually know whether your anxiety or glee are the appropriate reactions to the thought, unless you reflect on it and detail it out – that’s where you need writing.

I find myself often feeling really excited about an idea for a new side project, only to realise that I can write literally just 5 random words in my notes app. But it felt like such a great idea! It was gonna be amazing! I had it all set in my head! Nah. You didn’t. You were just riding high on emotion.

Similarly, I tend to get really anxious about … something? Like, I can’t put my finger on it but I am just feeling anxious. Again, when I write my thoughts down, I find that either I have very few things happening in my life, none of which are really anxiety-inducing. Or that I seem to have all the things happening in my life under control. Then where the hell was the anxiety coming from? You guessed it. It was just me riding high on emotion.

It is only when you start to write your thoughts down do you truly unravel them.

So should you write a dear diary? Is that what this is about? No, not really. I suggest to use writing for two main purposes –

  1. As a therapeutic tool
  2. As a record keeping tool

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by any emotion, positive or negative, write.

When you have an idea that you think is brilliant, funny or useful, write.

Keep doing it enough times and you will figure out for yourself when you need to write.

Another way writing helps you is by maintaining an archive of your personal growth. Talking from personal experience here. Looking back on this is very important. You could’ve written something funny or deep and you come across it many months or years later and it fills you up with warmth. There’s also the chance of you looking at your old writing and recollecting what a mess you were when you wrote that. Or perhaps what a terrible writer you were then. And isn’t that the perfect reason to feel good about yourself in the present? Because you surmounted all of that in the past to be better now.

Should you write in a diary or a notebook? Should you maintain a WordPress blog or a series of Word documents? Should you type on a laptop or a typewriter? It doesn’t matter. Start with whatever is easiest for you. Once you’ve got the habit, start exploring different forms, genres and mediums. You might find that your writing style varies with the medium or that your emotion changes with the genre. These are beautiful realisations and I can’t urge you enough to experience them yourself.

The habit takes a while to develop though, so don’t forget to be your own worst enemy if you really want it to stick.

2. Get hurt.

Get hurt, it’ll lead to more writing.

You can only get hurt when you deeply care about someone or something. And witnessing that passionate emotion is an essential life experience. It’s you at the most you. Raw.

Getting hurt does not mean inflicting physical pain on yourself or someone else. It’s more of a metaphorical idea. You could get hurt when a relationship falls apart, or when you lose a job, or when your favourite restaurant shuts down.

There are countless ways to get hurt without getting into physical jeopardy. But all of them require you to be passionate. And all of them give you the opportunity to pull yourself by the bootstraps.

This doesn’t mean that you have to fall apart at the drop of a hat. Be reasonable about it. In fact, get your paper / app and write down all the things that you are actually passionate about. Here, I will give you a sneak peak into my own list –

  • Great technology1
  • Books / passages that make you stop reading and admire the cleverness or depth of the writer
  • Independent music artists
  • Building websites and web apps and writing scripts for side projects
  • My friends achieving their life goals

I am mostly dispassionate or blasé about most situations and things out of my own rationalism or objectivity. But even then I have learnt to identify when a certain experience moves me more than ordinary. That’s a good hint of an underlying passion.

3. Be your own worst enemy.

Be your own worst enemy. You want to eat chocolate all day? You won’t let yourself because you’re your enemy. You want to lie in bed all day because you’re depressed? You won’t let yourself. You want to quit writing this article and go to sleep? You won’t let yourself.

The idea is simple - get a handle on your impulses.

An infinite amount of resources have been dedicated to this objective. Entire religions and industries flourish around it. I am going to tell you how I came about it.

I don’t meditate, I am not a Buddhist, I have not studied human psychology. But I have spent a lot of my time talking to myself. At first, I thought it was a somewhat schizophrenic trait. I thought it was an alternate version of myself talking to myself - a better, more mature, more Zen version. And that idea seemed to work just fine. However, it turns out that psychology has studied it and it’s not really schizophrenia. Mark Manson calls it “The Two Minds” — the Thinking Mind and the Observing Mind. Read this –

Whatever you do, do NOT think about a pink elephant. Don’t think about a pink elephant holding a blue umbrella with his trunk. Don’t think about a pink elephant at all while reading the next two paragraphs.

OK, not only did you picture a big pink elephant with a blue umbrella, but you were watching yourself think about a pink elephant while you were reading the past two paragraphs.

Your Observing Mind was watching your Thinking Mind indulge in pink elephants repeatedly, despite the fact that it was telling your Thinking Mind NOT to indulge in said elephants.

Most of our psychological and emotional stress happens because our Thinking Mind and Observing Mind are “fused” and we don’t recognize the difference.

People ask me all the time, “How do I stop feeling so jealous?”or “How do I stop feeling so angry?” or “How do I not get nervous in this situation anymore?”

The answer: you don’t. You can’t control your Thinking Mind.

Those emotions pop up and will continue to pop up. The trick is to not fuse with those emotions when they arise.

You get the idea, I hope. You can read the full article here.

The intention is to master this to push yourself and get some more juice out of you. It’s about capitalising on that motivation wave™ and riding it just a little bit longer. It’s about doing those few extra push ups, running that extra few seconds, or writing those extra few words before you quit exercising, running or writing.

Now the reason why this is the least priority is because you are not supposed to devote all your energies to this. Or you’ll start hating yourself. You wouldn’t wish self-hatred and depression on your worst enemy, would you? So be moderate, be reasonable. Sometimes it is okay to indulge. It is okay to take a break. But if you see yourself doing that a bit much, next time, don’t do it.

Meta Note

How this article came about is a great example of all the things that I talked about in it.

A few nights ago I was feeling really happy and nearly gloating about how amazing I was because I had found an old piece of writing from years ago that helped me in the present moment tremendously. That’s when I thought about the whole “how writing helps” idea. Then I thought that this realisation could make for a great blog post. But I needed to elaborate on it. So I pushed myself to come up with a nice trifecta (because rule of threes and whatnot). Took me a short while but I did it. I decided to write this down and I had a sweet, short note in my app with just three bullet points and a couple of lines about writing.

Today, in the evening I decided to elaborate on this note and give it a bit more shape. While I did that I also did a couple of other things for work, I texted people, I watched some YouTube videos… I was trapped in the “average”. At some point I thought of going to sleep. I got up and was just about to turn my computer off. But then I didn’t. I decided to come back to this article and keep typing to belt some words out till I had a final draft ready.

That was 40 minutes ago. I wrote while standing up for nearly thirty minutes. And it was worth it. The article is done. I’ll give it an editorial rejig and boom. Done.

With this, I have successfully elevated my night from “average” to productive.

PS: If you’re wondering where the “getting hurt” comes in here, I have two answers. One, my wrists hurt from typing while standing up. Two, the Mark Manson article annoyed me a little because he elucidated so well on one of my core ideas.

  1. I get really excited when I discover great technology. A new iPhone SE with great specs and half the price? Oof. A FOSS project on GitHub that solves a niche problem? Double oof. Literally anything that could be described to work seamlessly? Oof oof oof. ↩︎