Discover more from The Knowledge Toolkit
Your life is the product of your thoughts and your reality
Quality of life = How it actually is X How you think it is
The quality of your life is determined by your reality AND your thoughts
quality of life = how it actually is X how you think it is
Imagine 2 axes — thoughts and reality
Reality can range from terrible (dead) to pretty good. Thoughts can range from pessimistic (negative) to optimistic (positive)
We get four quadrants for life.
Quadrant 1: Land of Happiness (Positive thoughts and Great Reality)
you are wealthy, free, and at peace
Quadrant 2: Imaginary Paradise (Positive thoughts and Bad Reality)
you think you will ace the entrance exam in-spite of not having prepared for it
Quadrant 3: Bottomless pit (Negative thoughts and Bad Reality)
your girlfriend left you, you lost your job and you've lost hope
Quadrant 4: Mental Prison (Negative thoughts and Great Reality)
you worry that you will fail the exam, even though you have prepared quite well for it
Everyone spends time in all four quadrants during their lives, and all four are part of the human condition.
But everyone wants to maximize the time they spend in the Land of Happiness
Depending on which quadrant you are currently in, your strategy for moving to the Land of happiness will change.
If you are already in the Land of Happiness, congratulations, you have won at life. If not, read on
If you’re in a Bottomless Pit, worry not. Any step you take towards improving your mental well being or improving your reality (e.g., exercise) will move you towards the Land of Happiness by moving you to one of the two quadrants — Imaginary Paradise or Mental Prison
It's these two quadrants where people can get stuck and pursue wrong strategies to move into the Land of Happiness
You are in an Imaginary Paradise when reality does not reflect your optimism.
This is actually a preferable place to be when you are trying something new or risky. It would otherwise be very difficult to pursue new ideas.
You necessarily have to be in this quadrant when you are trying to bend reality to your will, or when the reality in your mind does not exist
The modern world would not exist if people did not live in this quadrant. Aircraft, cell-phones, space-crafts, the internet — all of these things were unthinkable a couple of hundred years ago. They were made possible by people who believed in themselves at a time few others did
But for any other scenario, apart from risk-taking and challenging consensus, being in an Imaginary Paradise is a ‘suckers’ quadrant.
“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
Imagine a college student spending 2 months skipping college and hoping to pass the test with flying colors by studying 2 days before the exam. Or the woman who believes that her boyfriend, who ‘accidentally hit her once or twice’ will finally mend his way after they get married.
Could it happen? Maybe. Is it likely to happen? Not unless something changes
Moving from Imaginary Paradise to the Land of Happiness
The best strategy to move from Imaginary Paradise to Land of Happiness is to change things — iterate or quit.
Every iteration will ideally tell you one of two things — what works or more importantly what does not work. Each iteration brings you closer to bending reality to your will
If the idea you are pursuing is unsustainable — Quit, because once you know what does not work, you can spend your time figuring out what does work by pursuing something else
While Imaginary Paradise has its upsides, there are almost no upsides to living in Mental Prisons
Let me repeat — there are NO upsides to living in a Mental Prison
My guess is that a large part of the populace lives in this quadrant without knowing it
The co-worker who complains about the cafeteria food, while ignoring the comfortable cocoon that ensures her near-effortless survival.
The friend who makes fun of people posting videos on the internet, without ever having the courage to create something of his own.
The teacher who tells her student to ‘be realistic’, because he himself chose to be realistic about his dreams
The experienced executive who tells his employee that ‘that’s just how the world works’ because that’s how he got to the top
How do you know if you’re in a Mental Prison?
Mental Prisons by their very nature are amorphous and hard to grasp. Unlike real metal bars, we can’t see the steel beams that cage our minds. The best we can do is use some heuristics to check for the existence of mental metal bars
What is your first response to any discussion?
Negative or positive
Complain or solve
Criticize or support
How do you respond to views that go against your own?
Anger or intrigue
Argue or discuss
Emotional or rational
The problem with heuristics of course is that you need a certain amount of self-awareness to detect the hidden mental dialogue and deploy the heuristics at the right time.
A simple baseline: If your thoughts are always complaining, negative, pessimistic, or outraged, you might be in a mental prison
What about reality?
We experience reality with our mind, so we can never quite be sure if what we’re seeing, is as it is or if it’s been warped by our thoughts and emotions.
Our minds trick us, and this happens more often than you might believe.
The mind is a master of warping thoughts to meet the reality it wants
Don’t believe me? Think of all the times when you’ve wanted something, got it, and then wished for something better. The best example is income and the accompanying lifestyle inflation.
Once you get what you want, the mind moves the goalpost to want more
The price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted
— Samyak Pandya
The best way to measure reality and be objective about it might be to just write down what you consider to be a ‘good’ standard of living. When the time comes and your mind wants to move the goalpost, you will have undeniable proof of your prior wants
A simple baseline: If you have food to eat, warm shelter to stay in, and a fair bit of freedom to say and do what you want, I would say that your reality is on the ‘good’ side of things
How do you escape mental prisons?
I don’t think there is any quick or easy answer.
Mental Prisons are built around us one bar at a time over decades. You can’t unravel them in a few weeks or even months.
But there are a few things you can do to start
Read Books: Specifically, books that challenge your beliefs on how the world works. A few books to get you started
- Loserthink by Scott Adams
- Incerto series by Nassim Taleb
- Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Talk to different people: Most mental prisons are built because of the people around you. Their thoughts become your thoughts. To uproot the bars, expose your mind to perspectives from people outside your inner circle of friends and family. Twitter is great for this
Meditate / Journal: Self-awareness comes from watching your own thoughts. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Meditation and journaling both force you to spend time alone with your thoughts and deal with them. This invariably leads to identifying beneficial as well as harmful patterns
Thoughts are more important than reality
Lets revisit the formula again
Quality of Life = Quality of reality x Quality of thoughts
Quality of Life = Objective reality x Subjective Reality
While both factors contribute to the quality of your life, they are not equally weighted. The quality of thoughts i.e subjective reality is the primary factor
People spend their lives trying to improve their reality — working, saving, investing yet spend little time improving the quality of their thoughts.
The fact that rich, famous people with all the material comforts can end up depressed, unhappy, and addicted is proof that the objective reality of your life is not the most critical factor in driving happiness. You only need to look up ‘celebrity’ and ‘rehab’ to find a list of the world’s rich and famous
That being said, lack of money may be the most critical factor in driving unhappiness. Having too much money may not make you happier, but having too little will without-a-doubt make you un-happy
“Money won’t solve all your problems, but it will solve all your money problems” - Naval
The Range Problem with thoughts
Reality has a lower base - Death. It can’t get worse than that. After you’re dead you can’t know of anything worse
But Life can feel worse than that
If Objective reality ranges from 0 to 100, subjective reality ranges from -∞ to +∞. The mind has no limits on its imagination
The diagram below explains it better: when thoughts are positive (upper half in Green), the overall quality of life is better, regardless of reality
Counterintuitively, the best way to improve the quality of your thoughts may be to improve the quality of your life first. I will cover that in another edition
To move to the Land of Happiness, you need to focus on not just improving your reality (making more money etc.) but also on improving the quality of your thoughts
Life = Reality X Thoughts
Which quadrant are you on?
I use drawings and frameworks to explain the hidden parts of life. If you like these kinds of posts, subscribe to avoid missing out on new posts