Features, Psychology

Time Management Isn’t The Solution To A Stressful Schedule, Time Valuation Is

time valuation
Is time valuation more important than time management?

In the chaos of modern, fast-paced living, it often feels we don’t have enough time for… well, anything. Time is of the essence, time can be well spent or wasted, time is money, time is valuable, time is ticking, and above all else — time flies. If only we could manage our time efficiently, we’ll have all the time in the world and achieve all it is we desire time after time. Modern convention says time management is absolutely essential to keep track, to help achieve our goals. Not so fast, though; I’m going to argue time management is secondary to something more important — time valuation.

This approach is less focused on the physical act of scheduling in a journal or diary. Instead, the focus is the abstract, mental visualisation of how each of us perceive future time. Entries in a diary within themselves aren’t stressful, but the way we perceive our timeline of upcoming events often leads to stress or anxiety. Let me begin by explaining my distinction between time management and time valuation.

What Is Time Management And How Can It Cause Stress?

Time management is a way of managing and arranging the things we need to do into the time we have. I visualise this process as a calendar in our mind’s eye. The things we need to do are entities we attempt to fit into this mental calendar, from the important (go to work, pay bills) to the not-so-important (take the bins out, shower, tidy room, organise internet bookmarks) — and everything in between.

These are usually a mixture of physical entries in a diary and mental notes floating around in the recesses of the mind. However they are stored, stress arises when the things we need to do don’t comfortably synchronise with the time we have.

It can drain a lot of energy, and make us incredibly frustrated, when we mentally pluck tasks out of the air and try to squish them into an apparently restrictive amount of time. Let’s call this squishing process the square peg, round hole approach. For example, I may have a number of things to do floating around my mind’s eye for an upcoming week. They may or may not be entries in a diary:

  • Coach
  • Write
  • Exercise
  • Food shop
  • Call parents
  • Reply to Whatsapp messages
  • Meditate
  • Make time for reading
  • That errand I’ve been putting off for too long

When I attempt to manage my time, I float each of these entities to fill the vacant space in the calendar of my mind’s eye. This may be accompanied by a visualisation or prophecy of each event, playing like a movie in the mind — along with a perception of how much time it will take. As is frequently the case, during this process I may feel there’s no way I’ll fit the things I need to do into the time I have. I feel stressed, I feel powerless, I sometimes feel paralysed. This leaves me despairing: “How am I going to get all of this done?”

The square peg, round hole approach is a recipe for stress due to a number of problems with the process of assigning the things we need to do to the time we have. It can apply to any time period: the next hour, day, week, month, year, or even lifetime. Fortunately we can train our brains and take control of this process, making it serve us effectively in both pragmatic planning and emotional ease. Before understanding how to take control, I’ll highlight the problems with the square peg, round hole approach. Becoming aware is the first step in making change.

Problem #1: Most Of Us Don’t Accurately Perceive Time

“Temporality temporalizes as a future which makes present in the process of having been.” ― Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

Humans are notoriously bad at mentally perceiving time. Not so much the rationalisation of “it’ll take me 30 minutes to exercise,” but more the experience of time. Time’s nature is one of life’s greatest mysteries; it’s heavily subjective, illusionary and is influenced by the context of events. This is understandable as our brains lack the pathways to process temporal information.

Unreliable future-projection certainly has a big influence on my life. When I visualise the things I need to do, I struggle to visualise accurately how much time they will take. Let’s say a smouldering passion of mine is to write a book. Write a book becomes an entity in my mind’s eye, floating around in an abstract manner, waiting to be assigned to the time I have. Writing a book is a long, drawn out process and I might have formed the following mistaken belief:

“Writing a book takes a long time. I’ll need to dedicate a number of hours each week to writing, even when I don’t feel like it.”

Eager to get going and excited by the prospect of structuring time for writing, I say to myself — the most important thing is time management. Write a book becomes another mental entity on the list of things I need to do. The trouble is, even before attempting to write a book, the things I need to do don’t fit the time I have — at least from my perception. I may have formed an additional mistaken belief:

“In the past I’ve never had time to sit down and write, because the things I need to do always outweigh the time I have. The only way to write a book, which will take a number of hours per week, for a year or more, is to get more time so the time I have fits the time it takes.”

Now the process of time management has a few deceptive layers. I have an attempt to synchronise the things I need to do into the time I have, with an erroneous belief of how much time it takes. This leads to another mistaken belief — the only way to do what I want to do is get more time. Yet time isn’t a commodity, something to gain or throw away, so I have tricked myself into believing there simply isn’t time to write a book, and consequently writing a book is a fanciful, impossible dream.

Interestingly a 2009 study led by Dr. Zauberman, a professor of marketing at Wharton School of Business, explored the subjective feeling of elapsed time. “For many people, we think about our [past] goals, and if nothing much has happened with those then suddenly it seems like it was just yesterday that we set them,” he told The New York Times. This perception can change “depending on what you think about, and how.”

perception future
Erroneous beliefs can lead us to think the only way to perform certain tasks is to have more time.

Zauberman’s study could be significant in understanding how the above limiting belief of not having enough time is formed by memory and perception of past attempts at achieving goals. If we live our lives taking the square peg, round hole approach and not pursuing our passions or desires, we can become stuck in self-fulfilling cycle of lack of time. We perceive time as flying by, as limited. We project this erroneous belief into our mental calendar and can’t find space. Writing a book becomes a write off.

Problem #2: We Value Certain Tasks By Productivity

“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed.” — Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

On top of erroneously perceiving how much time it takes, there’s another key mistaken belief in modern culture:

“I can’t afford to waste my time, because it is valuable.”

What this common mistaken belief is really saying is: “If I’m not being productive, my time is wasted.” As Tolle points out in the above quote, this is a fallacy. Time isn’t precious, but each waking moment is. Yet we’ve been taught to value the concept of time, the idea of a blissful future where all our materialistic dreams are fulfilled.

This is an important element of time management and our perception of time — we live in an economically-driven, materialistic society that deems “productivity” as valuable, because it contributes to economy, and thus its agenda. Society does not value being because being is the antithesis of this agenda.

There are a number of forces at play here. Culturally, we assimilate the idea that a) time is valuable and it cannot be wasted and b) there is a hierarchy of productivity (thus value) framed by economically-driven principles. The number one principle for productivity is spending our time in a way that makes money. Other values closely linked include achievement, framed within itself to essentially mean career success, and material gain (get the house, get the car, get the iPhone X). You could argue escapism, and hedonism, cunningly weave their way into this value system as a means of “switching off” from incessant productivity.

I’ll let the words of Bill Hicks illustrate this particular point. The provocative stand-up comedian believed the key to understanding a society was to look at the drugs it permissed. In his typically astute, cynical view:

“Except for pharmaceutical poison, there are essentially only two drugs that Western civilization tolerates: Caffeine from Monday to Friday to energize you enough to make you a productive member of society, and alcohol from Friday to Monday to keep you too stupid to figure out the prison that you are living in.”

Problem #3: Productivity Is Based On Values Driven By Economic Agenda

There are many more layers and this order isn’t an exact science, but in a nutshell, our economically-driven, materialistic society frames what productivity is, and the best way to spend our time is to be productive. I’d argue:

Productivity has become an addiction.

We strive to be more productive, with the aid of modern technology. We strive for motivation, the elixir or productivity. We’re productive at the cost of our mental health and wellness. We’re even transforming mindfulness into a tool to make employees more productive at the workplace. All this leads to most of us feeling a noticeable twinge of guilt any time we aren’t productive. But it’s important to remember it’s all a matter of perspective.

Time spent “not being productive” is framed that way because of societies hierarchy of values. When we abide by the value society gives time, and money-centered productivity, it means we value other pursuits as less than. Doing nothing is a cardinal sin, the epitome of not being productive. Taking time to reflect. Doing for the sake of doing. Being for the sake of being. Writing. Painting. Walking. Playing. Resting. These are noble pursuits that nourish the soul — yet they do not hold much value in the hierarchy of productivity.

Problem #4: Time Management Is Subconsciously Filtered By Values

Mentally the entities in our mind’s eye — the things we need to do — are arranged in accordance to values assimilated by society’s hierarchy of productivity. We can further break the things we need to do into the following:

  • Core needs: eat, sleep, pay bills, shelter. These are essential to survival and are naturally high value.
  • Hierarchy of productivity: entities linked to the hierarchy of productivity are a close second. Making money, striving for success, moving forwards, career progression. These are future-based and attainment-based, thus making the future more valuable than the present (Tolle rightly refers to this notion as insanity).
  • Escapism: we are social animals — socialisation is a core need. But there’s emphasis in modern times to always be seen as having fun, escaping, creating Instagram, Facebook ready “moments.” During alone-time, escapism may include binge-watching Netflix or digesting social media. This form of escapism encourages a lack of self-reflection, self-insight and consequently self-actualisation.
  • Doing stuff or “busyness”: doing nothing is low value, so many of us fill our time rushing from one thing to the next, doing stuff to avoid doing nothing.

Again, these categories are far from exact science, but they hopefully provide an idea of how the motivating factors behind the mental process of assigning the things we need to do into the time we have. Let’s return to the book example to clarify. I start the process of time management by attempting to assign the entity write a book into the time I have in my mind’s eye. This process encompasses a flawed perception of how much time it takes.

During this process, conflicting values will fight it out to see where write a book can fit. The values I assign to write a book may include fulfilment, satisfaction, creative expression, and so on. However, in a value system based on society’s values, these rank poorly. In a Top Trumps standoff, fulfilment, satisfaction, and creativity can’t match making money, doing stuff, and even plays second fiddle to fun or escapism. I’ve lost count of moments in the past where I’ve planned to get up early and write, only to choose to get drunk the evening before and sleep in.

The Solution: Conscious Time Valuation

Time valuation is more important than time management and here’s why:

If we don’t consciously apply value to the things we need to do, those values are set for us.

If we simply attempt time management, the process is dictated by the hierarchy of productivity and external values fitting the agenda of an economically-driven society. Once aware of this process, the antidote is to empower ourselves by setting our own values. This transforms the process in a way that serves us. Back to the book example; if I consciously set this at high value and understand the process of time management, the process of assigning the things I need to do to the time I have changes.

Instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, I trim the edges and make the square a circle. Write a book becomes high-value, beating other categories such as doing stuff, escapism, and even the hierarchy of productivity. The process of assigning the things I need to do into the time I have becomes a conscious, creative, and fluid activity.

square peg round hole
The square peg round hole approach to time management.

Other things I need to do are automatically ranked lower, and therefore will not take precedent when attempting to fill the time I have. Identifying write a book as high value allows for more flexibility; perhaps I acknowledge even 30 minutes of writing per day is valuable, and actively schedule the time, turning the abstract notion into a concrete reality. Maybe I go to bed early so I can wake earlier to write. This is the process of trimming the edges, making the square peg circle:

“Writing a book is high-value. I will assign two hours to write on Wednesday evening and rearrange the things I need to do if necessary.”

I’m not advocating irresponsibility. Meeting core needs and gaining financial income to provide security and shelter are necessities. Socialisation is a necessity to the extent of keeping our relationships, sense of connection and intimacy healthy. Escapism is necessary at times, as long it doesn’t become a habitual avoidance technique. Balance is key.

But if we can incorporate the conscious time valuation, imagine the difference when assigning the things we need to do into the time we have. Writing a book has transformed from a task that takes lots of time and doesn’t fit the time we have, to becoming a concrete addition to the mental calendar, immovable, valuable.

The Higher The Value, The More Likely You’ll Stick To Completing The Task

An additional bonus is that high-value entries become solid entries in the mind’s eye, not featherweight entries easily blown by the wind of outside influence. Let’s use exercise as an example. Take three people: Person A regularly works out multiple times per week. Person B enjoys exercise and understands how important it is for health, yet never gets more time to go to the gym or run. Person C doesn’t value exercise.

For argument’s sake, let’s say they are both contracted the same amount of hours per week, at the same company, and have the same level of social invites, same core needs, and same day-to-day responsibilities. In this scenario:

  • Person A has consciously placed high-value on exercise, so exercise becomes a solid entry in the calendar of their mind’s eye. When undertaking the process of assigning the things they need to do to the time they have, exercise ranks highly. When looking at the time they have, Person A sets solid entry for exercise, three times per week, and always manages to “make time” for it.
  • Person B, though clear on the value of exercise, hasn’t consciously assigned it higher value than external values. They may be unaware they are influenced by the perceived value of busyness, escapism, the hierarchy of productivity. They take the square peg, round hole approach and always struggle to get more time for exercise. When exercise is successfully scheduled, it is low value, and easily replaced by other events.
  • Person C doesn’t assign value to exercise. It’s not even an entry on the things I need to do. But what happens if Person C develops diabetes or suffers a heart attack? Exercise enters the things I need to do. Depending on the person’s desire to improve their health, they may then end up in the same situation as Person A or Person C. They either consciously place high-value on staying well, or struggle to get more time as exercise plays second fiddle to external values.

These examples aren’t clear cut. There are many areas in our life we subconsciously assign value and manage our time accordingly. The main point to take home is this:

Consciously assigning value can transform the way you assign the things you need to do to the time you have.

This transformation leads then to a more fulfilling, relaxed, rounded and balanced use of the most precious thing you have — not time, but the present moment.


You Don’t Have To Be Anything For Anyone

you don't have to be anything for anyone
In removing facades, we can blossom.

During the midst of agonising depression, I was an expert at facades. Years ago, I remember lying in bed with my then-girlfriend, riddled with anxiety and despair before a social event. She was one of my sole confidents, one of the only people I’d managed to sidestep the shame and stigma of mental illness. Feeling free to express my emotions, I’d explain the unbearable sense of being unable to cope; “I can’t do this,” I’d tell her, as my world trembled on the brink collapse. She’d respond in love and support, gently urging me to be open and honest with my friends. I’d give her a look. “I can’t do that.”

She’d be amazed as, when it was time, I’d transform. I’d stand up, walk to the wardrobe, and slip on my deliberately sewn cloak of illusion. I’d walk out of my room, smile on face, bounce in step, and the stage was set — it was time for me to act carefree, not a worry in the world, the joker, confident, sociable. During interactions, I’d expel great energy to hide any loose stitching in the illusion, any signs of anxiety or sadness would be covered up by a joke or a deflection or more shots or a cheeky line.

Our Personas Hide Who We Truly Are

For anyone experience mental illness, this carefree, happy garment will be familiar. We’re so afraid of sharing our true selves to the world, a self we truly believe is flawed, damaged and unwelcome, we’d rather act out a persona. It’s win-win, right? If the persona is rejected, you can bask in the glory of a job well done. “Muahaha, my persona has been rejected, but little do they know it isn’t the real me.”  Carl Jung identified the persona as follows:

“A kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.”

To varying degrees, we all hide behind personas. Though it’s more evident for those trying to “hide” mental illness or a perceived imperfect self, we all chop and change the way we act depending on environment or the people we are surrounded by. Though Jung highlights the importance of a flexible persona in adapting to society, for most of us, our personas lead to use acting in ways that aren’t true to ourselves.

A huge step for me was becoming aware (during therapy) of how my carefree persona was making things worse. Stepping into the carefree garment was an attempt to protect myself against the emotions I was feeling. This barrier between myself and my emotions turned into denial of those emotions. This lack of acceptance added inner-tension — and a heap extra suffering.

It affected my behaviour, too. If feeling in a low mood or low on energy, instead of thinking: “It’s okay, I won’t be anything I’m not and that’s fine,” I’d stress about how challenging it’d be to appear energetic, friendly, carefree. That’d convince me often to avoid social events. Curiously, I’ve also noticed that embracing these so-called “negative” states actually leads me to entering social situations and having a much better time; I don’t waste energy hiding myself, so I can connect with people in whichever way is relevant at the time.

The Importance Of Congruence And Self-Actualisation

Humanistic psychologist and all-round hero Carl Rogers notes the importance of congruence and self-actualisation. In a nutshell, Rogers believes our main purpose is to become the person we are truly meant to be. In his words:

“The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualise, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism.”

The experiencing organism is who we truly are in any given moment, not who we feel we need to be, or should be, in any given moment. During my own personal and spiritual growth my personas have begun to melt away. Of course, they are still there, but I’m getting closer and closer to being at ease, and in tune, with who I am. If I feel low on energy, I accept it. I don’t try and be the life and soul if my life and soul are in need of some downtime. I don’t try to please others by being upbeat if in doing so, I overextend myself.

Most of us tend to have an idea of how we should act. The beliefs of how we should act are formed during our upbringing. Generally speaking, they don’t serve us as they encourage us to act in a way incongruent to our inner world. Maybe it’s the belief you should always appear happy as you don’t want to bring others down. Or the belief you should always be nice.

A significant belief I had exacerbating depression and anxiety was closely linked to the concept of masculinity. Big boys don’t cry, and strength is always remaining emotionally “stable.” Thus, the facade attempted to mould my emotions to fit this concept. I was then judging myself based on how accurately I lived up to this concept. Obviously, I never did.

You Don’t Have To Be Anything For Anyone

As I’ve moved from a facade which was essentially a survival tactic, I’ve noticed the multitude of facades I’ve easily slipped into in many situations. They’ve caused my anxiety, stress, and depleted my energy. As per Rogers belief all humans have immense potential to blossom and be in our own individual ways, having the courage to remove the mask doesn’t make you selfish, or uncaring. It enable us to channel our humanistic traits, authentically. It allows us to connect with others. It allows us to embrace part of the contract of being human is being flawed, imperfect.

Remember: You don’t have to be funny. You don’t have to be happy all of the time. You don’t have to be full of energy. You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to always get things right. You don’t have to always be nice. You don’t have to know what you want. You don’t have to always have the courage to seek the things you do want. You don’t have to always be thinking of others. You don’t have to always say yes. You don’t have to spend time with people who bring you down. You don’t need to always be loving. You don’t have to do what your parents want. You don’t have to do what your peers expect of you. You don’t have to do what culture expects of you. You don’t always have to be strong. You don’t have to “man up.” You don’t have to “stop being so sensitive.” You don’t have to be perfect.

As Don Miguel Ruiz writes in The Four Agreements:

“Just do your best — in any circumstance in your life. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or tired, if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don’t judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame, and self-punishment.”

Removing facades take immense courage. But in doing so, you self-actualise. You live in congruence with who it is you really are. In taking this courageous step, you’ll realise instead of unveiling something hideous and undeserving, you’ll blossom.


Is World Cup Fervour Frivolous Or Fruitful?

World Cup fever gripped England, and the world, once again.

They say familiarity breeds contempt. But as the net ripples and those celebrating wear the wrong colours, there’s a lack of animosity. I’m sat in the middle of a disused airport in Berlin, on an evening that promised storms but had yet to deliver. A cloak of darkness covers Templhofer Feld, pierced only by the occasional chant of “It’s Coming Home” and the illumination of a giant screen. As I lift my head for the final few minutes, luminous pixels form an inescapable reality, lighting the sky in an unforgiving and familiar reminder of the harshness of football. Croatia 2-1 England.

Then the storm. The response was a collective groan, louder than the response to Mario Mandzukic’s 109th minute strike. Plastic cups diluted and refilled as clouds turn mixologists. Many run for cover. Me and my mates stay put, brave it out, embracing the rain’s impeccable, mood-matching arrival. Sod’s law in action.

We’d dared to dream of history made and immortality and bank holidays and restored pride. Now, back to reality. I’ve got to cycle home and it’s pissing down. The sun’s gone, international tournament football has disappeared for another two years and my football fix will consist of the Bristol Rovers fan’s forum and Whatsapp exchanges with my dad and my mum or watching Match of the Day if I remember I have a VPN.

As the dust settles and waistcoat sells return to normal, the daydreams piercing bus journeys or queues at Lidl will be full of what could have been. What if England won the World Cup? Well, everything would be okay then, wouldn’t it? Penalty shootout demons will’ve been exercised, Brexit forgotten, pride restored. Shankly said football isn’t a matter of life and death but it’s much more serious than that. Not quite. But still, reflecting on the past month’s gorge at the buffet of football’s finest, there’s no escaping it — World Cup fever was palpable. It got us talking. And it got me thinking.

You Gave Us Something To Believe In

Ultimately, football is a few blokes kicking a bit of plastic around a field. One of these blokes, Cristiano Ronaldo, has completed a move from Real Madrid to Juventus in a deal worth close to 105 million euros. He’s 33-years-old. Taking my love of Rovers and entire childhood and adolescence out of the picture, the level of emotional involvement in said kicking-a-ball-about is ludicrous. There’s no escaping it. Attempting to justify this to non-football-adoring friends usually results in a shrug of the shoulders, a knowing smile, and a response of “well, it’s football, isn’t it?” A justified response.

Streaming the Beeb, I accidentally tuned-in to the post-match news for the first time in yonks, bemused by the format: death, death, political deception, death, football, the weather. Football’s a part of our culture, a welcome distraction. “You gave us something to believe in,” Tweeted Prince William, and therein lies the answer — it’s not about football at all. One hundred yards and the 4-4-fucking-2 provide the canvas for us to project, to emote, to dream, to decry, to believe. It might not be life or death but football, in its simplistic, chaotic brilliance, epitomises the fundamental narratives of humanity.

As Trippier curls it in the top right or Lovren elbows Kane in the sternum, heroes and villains are made. The just and unjust. Storytelling, our imagination’s most intoxicating outlet, unfolds at lightening speed as stats are read and omens recited. Individually we prey, collectively we build narratives as our mind’s eye transcends the beer soaked bars and outdoor screens, rising to form a collective community of hope, built in the hive mind of hopeful expectations. This process, too, breaks down barriers. Blokes kicking balls brings us together. The “come on’s!” and the backslaps and the “what did you think of the match?” unifying us, one VAR decision at a time.

The Green Canvas Projects Our Human Needs

And yes, it gives us something to believe in, an outlet for a society that does its best to make us feel disconnected. Nationalism and tribalism are on display and have negative connotations, but there’s good and bad. For every drunken Brit invading IKEA there’s a sense of community built, a meeting ground for expats in Berlin, a reason to reach out and message and ask and share. Football is the area chosen, the object of unbridled passion, a unifying force bringing people together. It’s better than nothing, of course, but what lies beneath?

We all want something to believe in. We all want connection. Tribalism as exclusion is deplorable but as social animals, we build our own tribes and our own communities throughout our attempt to navigate life. It might not be coming home, maybe it never will, but the World Cup fervour proves football is far from fruitless. It’s a reflection of our deepest needs. A reminder that, if we dare to believe, we’re better together than we are apart.

Now, onto the third-place playoff.

Features, Fitness, Psychology, Social Media

Improving Body Image: How Perception Of The Body Is A Reflection Of The Mind

negative body image
Body image issues arise in the mind, not the body.

Let’s begin with a simple truth: the mainstream media, particularly the advertising industry, defines beauty standards. These definitions are deliberately unattainable and perfect, because they fit an agenda. Making us feel bad about how we look works in the favour of profit-making corporations. With multiple billions at stake, it’s unlikely we’ll witness diverse, attainable and imperfect definitions of beauty in the mainstream media, at least in our lifetime.

If power structures won’t change, there’s no choice; the onus is on us to reshape and redefine beauty, by our realistic standards, improving negative body image in the process. But how do we redefine and change our mindsets? How do we reverse and unlearn conditioning that has been drilled into us, our entire lives?

Ideas presented here include: reframing ideas of beauty; becoming aware of (and accepting) ways we instinctively judge others and compare; body shaming vigilance; understanding body image psychology; accepting impermanence; and understanding the illusion of fixed concepts, such as appearance.

This article contains anonymous quotes from friends, male (M) and female (F), who have shared their experiences on body image.

Redefining Beauty And Celebrating Individuality

The cultural concept of beauty is forcefully promoted billboards, TV screens, webpages, beauty products and everywhere since forever, like a cynical, slow-dripping serum of deceit, disguising itself as truth. But it isn’t truth, and the more we actively and consciously reject these images, the more we redefine beauty. A key principle behind this approach is redefining from aesthetic perfection to individuality.

How? We retrain our minds to look at others, and ourselves, the way we look at nature. Because as much as we may see ourselves as separate entities, cut off from the world around us, we are nature, too. Instinctively we embrace the untamed uniqueness of a landscape, sunset, forest, mountain, whatever it may be, and we see beauty. Imagine if we did the same with people? Discussing self-judgement, spiritual guru Ram Dass writes:

“When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is.

“The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You’re too this, or I’m too this.’ That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

Ram Dass references the totality of a person, but his words are easily applied to body image. Just as every tree in the forest is beautiful in its own way, so is every person. Training our eyes to discover beauty — away from a narrow template of physical traits and towards appreciation of uniqueness — is a powerful shift. Once we see non-discriminatory beauty in others, the next step is seeing it in ourselves. But first, we must move away from the mindset of judgement and comparison.

Stop Judging Others, Stop Judging Ourselves

Judgement is comparison with a gavel (that’s a judge’s mallet, by the way — yeah, I Googled it). Evaluating others with a discriminatory eye is the opposite of appreciate the beauty of uniqueness. There’s a reason non-judgement is at the core of spiritual philosophy; the way we perceive the world is reflected in the way we perceive ourselves. Evaluating and judging others frames the human body as an object to be observed. As explained in Instagram’s Influence on Negative Body Image, objectification leads to self-objectification. It’s a vicious cycle.

Judgement reflects right back at us.

This isn’t specific to conscious, mean-hearted judgement, either. It applies to the habitual, instantaneous thoughts arising when encountering the rich variety of bodies throughout each day. Think you’re immune? I promise you, we all have this inner-judge to some extent. Living in this world, it’s impossible to avoid it completely. Unless you’ve spent your life under a rock, or living in the Big Brother house, you’ll likely have internalised a number of these biases, probably without consciously registering this process.

The next step is a difficult one — it’s time to put your ego aside and dig deep into yourself to discover these unfriendly thought-processes. I’ll go first…

I’m A Judgemental Body-Shamer

I like to think I’m a non-judgemental, caring-kinda-guy. But when actively tuning in to my inner-dialogue, I notice how quickly I react to bodies around me — too fat, not muscular enough, too hairy, too hairless. Noticing this unsavoury thinking loop is disconcerting, because let’s be honest, it comes across as mean and not very pleasant, and I don’t like to think of myself as a mean person.

However, to overcome the dark crevices of a conditioned brain, we must actively accept them by applying a mindful approach — let thoughts arise without indulgence (“Maybe these thoughts are the truth, after all, that person doesn’t fit the definition of beauty I have in mind”) resistance (“I don’t want these thoughts!”) or judgement (“I’m a horrible person”).

Such thoughts spring into our minds, outside of our control. Where do they come from? Jungian psychology suggests the “shadow,” an unconscious dark side of the psyche. I’d argue the shadow is the source of unsavoury, judgemental thoughts. Word of caution on practicing this step: having these thoughts does not make you a bad person. They are your thoughts, they aren’t you. We may not control the thoughts entering our minds, be we can control our reaction.

“We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are,” the brilliant psychologist, Carl Rogers, writes in On Becoming A Person. “Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.” In my experience, this is absolutely true. Accepting dark thoughts with compassion and non-judgement allows them to be processed adequately.

Imagine your subconscious as water in a saucepan, below the conscious mind. Difficult thoughts and emotions occasionally bubble to the surface. Repressing or rejecting this process is the equivalent of placing a lid on top the saucepan. What happens? The water boils quicker, the bubbles increase. In acceptance we surrender and allow the water to evaporate. The temperature lowers, the bubbles calm.

The Importance Of Creating Communities

“It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.” — Fabienne, Pulp Fiction

Call me a deluded optimist, but I have a vision of self-aware utopia where we support each other’s wellness, and frame our own definitions of worth, beauty and success. Imagine how incredible it would be if we formed communities that actively promote equality, kindness and universal acceptance. Community, in this sense, doesn’t have to be a city, or even a district. We all have spheres of influence.

A challenging aspect of taking steps towards this utopia is calling out body shaming or objectification, when we can. Screaming obscenities won’t help, but attempting to educate the oblivious or ignorant will. This includes rejecting established structures and damaging stereotypes, including gender stereotypes, racial stereotypes and hetero-centric stereotypes.

There are actions we can take, today, to forming such communities. In terms of body image issues, it’s imperative we are open and honest in discussing its significance. It’s imperative we take the challenging step of sharing vulnerability. Scary it may be, but in doing so, we can connect with others and create spaces where we can each thrive.

“In the last year or two I’ve accepted my body more and feel more comfortable about it — mainly owing to the people I spend time with, my friends and partner, and also just knowing myself better as I get older.” — M

In a world where more and more of us are connected in cyberspace but crave real connection, I urge you to have an open, honest and challenging conversation with those close to you about your feelings on this subject. You’ll be surprised how universal these issues are, as I was when asking friends to share their experiences.

The Way We Feel About Our Bodies Is A Reflection Of The Mind

“Our perceptions of outer appearances are profoundly affected by the inner conditioning of our minds.”  — Master Hsing Yun, Lotus in a Stream: Essays in Basic Buddhism.

Psychologist Elizabeth Halsted advocates increasing self-esteem as a catalyst in improving body image. Frequently, negative body images form due to low self-esteem. As Halstead writes on Psychology Today, someone experiencing low self-esteem has self-critical perception of their personality. Consequently, someone may believe people don’t like them, or they have nothing to contribute in social situations. This lead to over-reliance physical appearance “to create a positive effect on others.”

redefining beauty
The onus is on us to redefine beauty.

Halstead identifies the importance of acceptance, instead of self-criticism. In particular, there are three thinking processes commonly associated with body image issues: perfectionism, comparison, and judgement. When I experience a bout of depression and self-critical thoughts swirl around my head in a mind-storm of self-loathing, my appearance gets caught in the crossfire and I begin to pay more attention to it. Increasing concern over my appearance is often the first warning sign for an oncoming bout of low-mood.

“When I decided to stop fighting how my body naturally looks, I managed to let go of a lot of stress.” — F

There’s no question body image is a mental health issue, yet often the first attempt at a solution is changing the way or bodies look, in an outward-in attempt at fixing perception. Which leads on to…

Exercise, Impermanence And Body Composition

“This body, too: Such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate.” — Kāyagatāsati Sutta

Many people who have a negative body image will attempt to change their body composition, whether through diet, exercise, or even surgery — it’s the reason I initially started to lift weights. Attempting to overcome negative body image purely by changing the body, without an attempt to confront issues of self-esteem, comparison and judgement, is often the precursor to eating disorders, steroid use and body dysmorphia. This comes from the mistaken belief:

“I am unhappy with my body, so I will change it. I want to fit beauty standards I see in the media. Once I reach this standard, I will be worthy. My self-esteem will increase, my body image will be positive, I will be happy.”

Moulding our bodies to fit idealised perfection is near impossible, because all bodies are different. If not genetically predisposed, it’s incredibly difficult to shape our bodies a certain way, whether dramatically slimming down or bulking up. Changing body composition for this reason has the opposite affect by strengthening self-objectification.

Even if “aesthetic perfection” is reached, you’ll be no better off. Why? Because the external is the ego’s playground, and the ego is never satisfied. Don’t believe me? Check out this quote:

“When I look in the mirror, I throw up. I was already so critical of myself, even when I was in top physical shape. I’d look in the mirror after I won one Mr. Olympia after another and think, ‘How did this pile of (bleep) win?’ I never saw perfection. There was always something lacking.”

Those words are from Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is idolised by the bodybuilding community to this day, a beacon of physical “perfection” in his prime, validated by seven Mr. Olympia titles. But he’s never been happy with his body, and at 70-years-old, hates his reflection so much it makes him physically sick.

Ego, Craving And “I’ll Be Happy When… I’m Ripped”

If we identify the body as a source of worth and social status or crave desirability by becoming more “attractive,” the act of sculpting the perfect physique becomes another “I’ll be happy when.” Not that I’m going to psychoanalyse the Terminator, but… if I were going to speculate on his thinking process during his peak years, it’d go like this:

“I have reached physical perfection in the eyes of others, the promised land. But I am still unhappy. I don’t feel worthy of praise. There’s more I can change before I’m fully happy, I will keep striving.”

This is an important point: if you don’t address low self-esteem, changing the way your body looks won’t make one iota of difference to your body image. It’s the ego’s nature to constantly seek and crave. It will always perceive itself lacking. Conversely, the ego takes hold and identifies with physical appearance, undesired changes will cause significant stress, as Arnie discovered. This ranges from the mundane (bad hair days, pimples) to the unavoidable yet significant (ageing, illness).

Improving Body Image With Buddhism And The Middle Way

I’d initially planned one article on body image, related to Instagram. But the topic has taken on a life of its own. The more I explore, research and talk to others, the more I’m convinced this a key issue facing this generation — male and female. So, I’m not done yet. I want to guide you along a path I find never fails to offer insight and solace. I’ll apply the time-tested Buddhist philosophy of the Middle Way to body image, in a bid to find a balanced approach to our relationship with our bodies. Until then, I hope this article contains meaningful, applicable solutions for you to try.

< Instagram’s Influence On Negative Body ImageA Buddhist Approach To Improving Body Image >


How To Prioritise Goals

prioritise goals
Understand how to prioritise goals.

This article is part of the goal setting theme for January. See also: The Liberating Distinction Between Hopes And Dreams and Find Your Life’s Purpose, Follow Your Heart’s Desire.

The aim of January’s theme is to shift the mental perspective on goal setting. First by highlighting the importance of separating fulfilment from the attainment of goals. Second, by highlighting the distinction between inner purpose and outer purpose.

Understanding the difference between being and doing is crucial in helping to prioritise goals, to set goals that follow your heart’s desire and focus your attention on each step, not just the end of the journey.

If you need a refresher, follow the links above. But now, on to the nitty gritty. How do you prioritise goals? There are a few factors to explore: making sure your goals are in sync with your inner purpose, working on self-compassion as you follow your goals, and understanding the most important priority of all — you.

Two Horizons And The Ultimate Goal

I mention Martin Amor’s and Alex Pellew’s Two Horizons model in The Liberating Distinction Between Hopes And Dreams. When used in the right way, this model can become a valuable tool in goal setting.

The concept of the near horizon and far-off horizon is fundamental in prioritising goals. As well as helping keep a clear understanding of what your ultimate dream is, it also helps bring your immediate goals into focus. This, in turn, is great for motivation.

Two Horizons
The Two Horizons model for goal setting.

The beauty is, the Two Horizons model can be transformed, turning far-off dreams into manageable tasks that you can begin, today. This transformation is straightforward. Start by dreaming. Then boil the essence of the dream into multiple goals. Finally, break those goals into smaller, manageable tasks.

This way of organising goals can be represented by the “pyramid of goals.”

The Pyramid Of Goals

Your dream is the ultimate goal. It’s the top of the “pyramid of goals.” Working back requires looking at the structure of the pyramid. At the top, the dream is a combination mid-term goals. Each mid-term goals is a combination of short-term goals. Each short-term goal is a combination of tasks that can be acted upon directly.

Applying this on a basic level to Mind That Ego looks like:

  • Top of the pyramid (ultimate goal): My own Life Coaching business.
  • Middle of the pyramid (mid-term goals): Establish Mind That Ego as a brand, fronted by yours truly, consisting of written and video-based content. Learn coaching practices.
  • Bottom of the pyramid (short-term goals): Complete Life Coaching courses. Work on video editing skills. Improve writing. Read. Think of ideas for blog posts and videos. Produce content.

All levels of the pyramid need each other. You can’t achieve the ultimate goal without mid-term and short-term goals. At the same time, short-term goals are dictated by mid-term and ultimate goals.

The different levels of the pyramid also help goals remain manageable. Setting one goal (start a Life Coaching business) with a deadline is a recipe for stress and lack of direction. But by fragmenting the ultimate goal into mid-term and short-term goals, day-to-day priorities begin to order themselves. These small steps can have realistic deadlines attached to them.

For example: this articles belongs to January’s theme and it’s the 31st of January today, so I MUST FINISH THIS BLOG POST TODAY!!

But if I gave myself the task of building a brand in a few months time, the size of the goal would seem daunting, I’d struggle knowing where to start, and I’d struggle to set realistic deadlines. Writing a blog post today wouldn’t necessarily appear to be a priority.

Prioritise Goals In Different Life Categories

This ultimate goal example above is linked to career, but the Two Horizons model applies to all area of your life. So dream big.

By having dreams in different areas — such as financial, self-improvement, relationships, fitness, hobbies, and so on — you’ll eventually have multiple pyramids, each with their own ultimate goal, mid-term goals and short-term goals.

This where prioritising day-to-day tasks is required. Sometimes this is self-explanatory; if I receive a bill in the post that requires immediate payment, this financial goal takes priority over a blog post that can be written another day (career goal). Other times there may be multiple goals that appear to have the same urgency and the same importance. What then?

This is where you can take a step back and look at the bigger picture. How long will the goal take? Are there areas of your life that currently feel neglected? Does the goal include other people? Is there a goal playing on your mind more than others, causing you to procrastinate? Which goal will be most fulfilling to begin? Which goal are you putting off the most, and why?

Psst: Once you’ve established your ultimate dream and whittled down the short-term goals, use Mind That Ego’s motivation model to keep you moving ahead on days where motivation is sparse.

Self-Care, Self-Compassion, And Prioritising You

It can be easy to get swept up in our goals, of feeling we aren’t good enough, or that achieving goals and improving ourselves is the only way we’ll find happiness.

Self-care and self-compassion are vital while pursuing our dreams. If we see our goals as something we simply have to get done, then we’ll end up feeling stressed as we desperately try to achieve them, despondent if we aren’t, or hopeless if mid-term goals appear too daunting.

To combat this, make self-care an important aspect of your goal setting. Set yourself a goal of taking more time to relax. Set goals from a place of self-compassion. Make sure you put enough time aside to follow your passions, to do things you enjoy or help you relax. Which leads me on to my final point…

If you can’t make yourself a priority, you’re going to struggle to prioritise goals. Why? Because if you see yourself as secondary to those around you, why would put your goals ahead of other’s needs and desires?

Prioritising yourself requires self-care, self-compassion, and a healthy dose of discipline. It’ll mean saying no, sometimes more than yes. But this is far from selfish. In fact, it has the opposite effect; by investing in yourself, you’ll be in a much better place to offer yourself to others. And you’ll be working towards your dream in the process.