Saturday, 13 July 2019

Free up your time for doing what really counts

There is a cure for stress. It is not a drug and it is not a fantasy. It won't cost you money, but it is not for free. Many people who try it out feel born again, others rejuvenated. The remedy is known under many different names. You may call it simplification or streamlining, reduction or selection, focus or elimination, logic or rationality.

An efficient approach to living is easier to name than to implement. Minimising stress requires you to concentrate your energies on the essential areas of life. This is a goal that you can achieve only by establishing priorities, but are you willing to do that?

Stress elimination is the outcome of clear choices, simplification and consistency. Is that easy to do? Not at all. Clarity, simplification and consistency require lots of efforts. Few people are willing to spend the time necessary to organise their ideas, discard unworkable plans, and develop a strong sense of direction. Even fewer are willing to abandon enjoyable activities that undermine their long-term goals.

It is hard to look ahead, think in terms of decades, and let go of today's little projects in order to pursue tomorrow's great ventures. It is hard to be consistent, day after day, month after month, year after year. Mentally, it requires enormous self-reliance and confidence. In terms of action, it demands courage, independence, the willingness to face social disapproval.

Running in circles

No wonder that so millions of people are reluctant to set priorities in their lives. Running in circles and going nowhere is much easier than pursuing difficult, long-term objectives. Indeed, getting rid of stress does not cost money, but requires determination, self-discipline and steadiness.

If you look around, you will easily see the pattern: Individuals who are severely affected by stress are precisely those who lack clear and consistent criteria to make decisions. Their lives are drifting. Their present and future are taking place randomly. Men and women who are living in anxiety are precisely those who fear standing still for a minute and questioning their own contradictions.

Beware that random activity is not a cure for stress. Overloading your days with senseless tasks is a defence mechanism against the fear of taking responsibility, a mechanism that does not work. If you lack a strong sense of direction, you will not acquire it magically by filling your hours with chores, hobbies and meaningless conversations.

Small talk with one hundred acquaintances cannot replace a deep conversation with one close friend. Excessive activity is a waste of time. You can only work and play so many hours a day. Make sure that you are not wasting the available time on worthless undertakings. Do not employ "having too much to do" as an excuse for not taking decisions.

Where happiness begins

Stress is to the human soul what indebtedness is for a business. Both are problems that will grow increasingly larger over time until they eventually wipe out the concerned person or enterprise. You cannot overcome stress and indebtedness by taking random actions. You need to develop a strong sense of direction, and adopt a workable strategy.

Your resources, in particular time, are limited. You cannot pursue endless goals. You cannot chase innumerable rabbits. Efficiency begins with clarity. Happiness begins with intelligent choices. Those will automatically lead to better results in your professional and private life.

You will minimise stress if you apply to your life the principles of selection, concentration and simplification. Make the best of what you have available, and you will see your resources and energies increase. Selection, concentration and simplification constitute the rational approach to eliminating anxiety, the proven method for a well-balanced life.

Why do you need to simplify? Because you will be able to think better and perform better in everything you do. Fruit growers will prune their trees once per year in order to reinforce the vigour of healthy branches. Lean trees are going to produce more fruit than those loaded with moribund branches. In the same way, you can minimise your stress by making rational choices, and discarding activities that consume lots of time but deliver little satisfaction.

Similarly, shepherds will cull herds regularly in order to prevent contagious sickness from spreading. By nurturing healthy sheep, they are ensuring optimal results. The benefits of concentration also apply to human activities. Minimising stress involves abandoning wasteful activities and focusing your time on prime areas, those that help you pursue your life's mission, those that reinforce your sense of direction.

Increased effectiveness

Selection is going to free up your time for doing what really counts. Your should aim at a future that is better than your present. Define your priorities, and reaffirm them at every opportunity. Follow the example of clever retailers and discard marginally profitable items, so that you can employ your resources optimally. In order to minimise stress, you need to make clear decisions, abandon unworthy goals, and pursue long-term ambitions.

You will succeed in reducing your stress once you embrace a rational approach to living. Anxiety will disappear from your life as soon as you start following logical, consistent principles. Thinking long-term is going to enable you to identify goals and priorities. Thoughtfulness is going to help you gain visibility and increase your effectiveness.

Productivity experts will advise workers to clear up their working area, so that they can see their own mistakes, and prevent them from reoccurring. It is only after removing misplaced tools and obsolete inventory that workers realise what they are doing wrong, and begin improve their ways. Without visibility, there can be no transformation. Without clear choices, there can be no progress.

Setting priorities by making rational decisions constitutes the best way to reduce stress. A cluttered but meaningless agenda is a cage full of paradise birds waiting to be released. Those birds are your best ideas, the ones that you have not yet formulated because you are trying to do too much. Simplify your life and sharpen your ambitions. The birds are ready to fly. It's high time to open the cage door and set them free.


Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2019.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

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Here are the links to two audio interviews recently published:

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

How to stop struggling and gain a strong sense of direction

Subjectivism, despite its cultural dominance, is the ultimate folly. People will tell you to do something because everyone else is doing it, but that's not a reason to take action. Why should you blindly imitate everybody else? Conversely, it also makes little sense to be contrarian just for the sake of it. Be yourself, you'll hear all the time. Go your own way. Choose the path least trodden. The stream of advice goes on forever, either telling you to fall in or out of line.

In both cases, you are hearing subjective advice, recommendations not based on facts, not based on objective reality, but on what someone else is doing or refraining from doing. One way or the other, the value of such indications is close to nil. In fact, it is mostly irrelevant what anyone else is doing, believing, discarding, or falling in love with. What you should really care about is reality, facts, objectivity. Your prosperity and happiness rest on your ability to make accurate judgements, on your determination to cut off the noise, and start looking at things as they are.

Culture and fashion are calls for conformity, manifestations of gregariousness, which is another name for subjectivism measured by numbers. Relinquishing your individual thinking and embracing majority opinions, fashions and lifestyles can bring you some advantages. I will not contest that point. Imitating what most people are doing will save you time when it comes to making decisions, even if those decisions are wrong. It will equally spare you the embarrassment of having everybody point fingers at you, laugh at you, or criticise you because you are deviating from the norm.

Snakes, mosquitoes and giant spiders

The opposite side of the spectrum is called "non-conformity," which is a general category for discontent people to join. Individuals who don't want to resemble everybody else will automatically do the opposite, so that they can feel special, remarkable or at least different. I am talking about men and women who will look down at those who spend their holidays on the beach (too commonplace, too easy, too predictable), and will instead opt for practising dangerous sports. Instead of owing a summer house, contrarian persons want to live in the tropical forest, surrounded by snakes, mosquitoes and giant spiders. You will recognise these "adventurers" by their ill-fitting, torn, dirty clothes, which are supposed to be heroic.

Neither conformity nor its opposite are recipes for happiness. They can make you look average or confused, congenial or abrupt, but in both cases, your choices will revolve around subjective impressions. Join the majority or swim against the current. Wear fashionable clothes or draw attention because of your shabbiness. Imitating someone else's paintings or drawing objects upside down are not valid methods for creating great art. Adopting generally accepted values or attacking them for the sake of it will not necessarily move you forward. Neither downtrodden paths nor solitary caves are associated to personal balance, sanity or effectiveness. For sure, those are not choices you want to make blindly.

There is an alternative

There is an alternative, one that has always worked. You will not need to spend your days wondering which fashion leads to the least dismay, or whether you should be wearing colours diametrically opposed to everybody else's. Wisdom does not relate to accepting or rejecting other people's views, but it does require comparing yours with reality, selecting those that work, and discarding the rest.

Individuality requires a good measure of quiet reflection. Sound choices demand a logical evaluation of events. Before you start composing your own songs, you will need to filter out the world's noise. These are my three suggestions for escaping the predominant, mindless subjectivism, and moving towards a consistent, effective lifestyle:

First, you should stop believing in ready-made answers. You cannot orient yourself by looking at what other people are doing or avoiding. Neither specific fashions, occupations or locations can guarantee happiness. Majority opinions can bestow credibility on arbitrary standards, but those standards will remain arbitrary nonetheless. You are not obliged to buy in. You also not obliged to contradict those answers because they are ready-made. Instead, you should shun subjective inputs, and start assessing the facts yourself.

Second, abandon contradictory goals. Subjectivism is synonymous with inconsistency. False ideas will conflict with reality and with each other, even if they are endorsed by millions of people, or opposed rabidly by a minority. Neither being average nor opinionated are signs of truthfulness. In both cases, people will engage in a thousand contradictions because they have not thought things through. Anxiety is the mark of individuals who orient their actions by looking at other people. Inevitably, those persons will end up moving at random, without destination. Animals do not need perspective, but human beings do. Drop ideas that do not make sense, and rebuild your thinking in a realistic, consistent manner.

A strong sense of direction

Third, gain a strong sense of direction. You will only be able to distill universal principles from rational observations. Logic and evidence will demand more efforts than blind imitation and wild opposition, but in exchange, they can deliver permanent advantages. While other people are worrying about conformity, you will be guiding your steps by the law of cause and effect. While other persons are debating and driving each other crazy, you will be benefiting from your unique skills and opportunities. No one can tell you how to lead your life best. You have to think for yourself, stay realistic, and gain a strong sense of identity. You have to establish your ambitions and priorities on the basis of facts, not by imitating or rejecting other people's views.

Happiness requires a strong sense of purpose, which can only be drawn from objective thinking. Subjectivism is unsustainable, irrespective of its majority or minority status. The short-term contentment you can draw from imitating or opposing other people will add little worth to your experience, and heavy burdens to your spirit. Shrug your shoulders the next time you hear someone urge you to conform or protest. Ignore invitations to grow emotionally attached to ready-made opinions. Happiness calls for reason, purpose and focused action. You will only obtain those from logical, serene thinking. Steer away from subjectivism. Choose the way of reason.


Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2019.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

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Here are the links to seven audio interviews recently published:

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Learning to use your weak points to your advantage

In the last six decades, management thinkers have reflected and debated on how to increase the effectiveness of organisations. Different theories have been put forward, argued, and often withdrawn. Even nowadays, only a couple of management precepts enjoy universal acceptance. The bottleneck principle is one of those few.

This principle predicts that you will achieve the strongest short-term benefits if you focus your efforts on removing a bottleneck that is slowing you down. For instance, when the production of furniture is being slowed down by assembly difficulties, such bottleneck can be removed by using simpler fastening procedures.

Although this formula has been applied successfully thousands of times to speed up manufacturing and service operations, its application has been rare in the fields of marketing and sales, let alone in the field of personal development. In general, entrepreneurs find it easier to create new products than convincing customers to purchase them. Similarly, people find it easier to complain about life in general than looking for specific steps to improve their situation.

Specific steps

Selling water to thirsty tourists in the desert would place you in the ideal marketing and sales position. In that context, you would be able to charge a high price and hardly hear complaints from customers. Everybody would be willing to buy what you are selling. You would not even need to advertise or make sales presentations. However, most businesses today find themselves in the opposite situation. They are encountering large number of competitors in their market, and have difficulties attracting new customers. They have difficulties identifying the precise steps to take.

In the area of personal development, you will see exactly the same problem that entrepreneurs are facing. People want to achieve higher goals. They want to make more money, live longer, have more friends, enjoy their work more, have more fun, visit more places, and do more of everything with the minimum of effort. Their ambitions are wide, but they are encountering obstacles and opposition across the board. Like entrepreneurs, those who want to improve themselves, have to deal with so many problems simultaneously that they have difficulties defining their priorities.

Whether you are trying to improve your marketing and sales, develop your career, make more friends, ameliorate your health and relationships, or pursuing any other goal, the answer is always the same. You will do better and attain faster results if you just focus on solving the critical problem. It's all about finding the bottleneck that is slowing you down. It's all about finding the rusty tab that is not letting the water through, so that you can repair it or replace it.

Invisible opposition

If you try to apply the bottleneck principle to sales, you are going to face, first of all, the question of identifying the critical problem. In the example of slow furniture manufacturing, you would be able to perceive the assembly difficulties right away. Problems you can see tend to be easier to solve. You can see a rusty tab that is not letting the water through, but can you see the element that is slowing down your sales?

When it comes to marketing, the primary obstacle will frequently remain invisible, but when you assess the situation in detail, you will see that, on many occasions, the hidden bottleneck consists of any of these three factors. First, you lack credibility in the marketplace. Solution: find a simple, fast way to increase your credibility. Second, potential customers are unaware that a solution exists to their problem. Solution: find people who are really hurting due to the problem for which you are offering a solution. Third, there is a high perceived risk of purchasing your product. Solution: figure out how to give free samples or make free demonstrations, so that potential customers can perceive the benefits and surmount their reticence to make a purchase.

In each case, the solution will appear blatantly easy once you have identified the bottleneck. It is not different in the area of personal development. Are you complaining that your are facing so many issues that you don't know where to start? Solution: write down all the issues, and study the list until you have identified which one is hurting you most, which problem you absolutely need to fix in the short term. Second typical difficulty: people tend to remain passive because they are sceptical about their ability to surmount obstacles. Solution: identify just one problem, even if it's a small one, a problem you can solve by taking short-term action. Do what it takes to get the problem fixed, and then you will see your confidence increase. Then turn your attention to the next problem.

The great advantage of the bottleneck principle is that it always works. It can deliver amazing results in manufacturing, marketing and sales. It can literally turn your life around if you apply it in the area of personal development. Once you start employing the bottleneck principle, you will change your mentality. You will acquire a new view of life's problems. Success breeds success, even if you start with small steps. Confidence breeds confidence, well-being and happiness. Learn the lesson from entrepreneurs and marketeers. Identify the most promising, the most urgent, or the easiest problem to solve. Then go for it enthusiastically. The results will benefit you in the short term, and motivate you to move forward day after day.


Image: Photograph of classical building. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to eight audio interviews just published:

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The essence of all progress and happiness

Individual courage to deviate from the norm when it makes sense is crucially important for progress and happiness. Opportunities are distributed without apparent order in the market and each of us possesses more knowledge than we are aware of, but knowledge and opportunities won't do much good if you are not willing to do what's needed.

In many cases, you are going to be first unable to name the reasons behind your intuitions, but after some reflection, you will come up with the real reason that is driving you to try something new, something outside the norm. Your experience, skills and alertness can detect subconsciously many chances that you will only succeed in verbalising after extensive reflection. That's perfectly normal. That's the key to improving your station in life and raising your level of happiness.

If you are used to thinking creatively, you are bound to be puzzled when you encounter people who are psychologically immobilised, unable to attempt anything new, incapable of learning, used to silencing their curiosity and suppressing their ambition.

Psychologically immobilised

Many of those people will feel unable to take risks because they have suffered losses in the past. "Why don't they take their losses and move on?" you may ask yourself. Are they not clever enough to see that immobility inevitably leads to failure and unhappiness?

The determining factor in pursuing progress and happiness steadily and courageously is not intelligence, education or age. If you look around, you will observe self-defeating behaviour in large segments of the population. Paralysing conformity is affecting both ignorant and educated people, both experienced and young individuals.

The key ingredient in the answer is that, before you can move forward, you have be willing to get unstuck, which is something that requires effort, dedication and patience. Before you can focus your vision on a better future, you have to be willing to open your eyes and recognise that the present is less than desirable. Before you can use your resources productively, you have to set your energies free. You have to set yourself free from what is keeping you stuck. Free from what? 
  • From tasks, chores, and activities that you don't like, and that you are doing out of an irrational respect for tradition, custom or conformity.
  • From people who don't appreciate you, ignore you, or waste your time, people with whom you are putting up out of excessive benevolence.
  • From challenges, goals and interests that are not really your own, that you have picked up somewhere along the way but that are now preventing you from doing what you know you should be doing, from what you know you need to do in order to move forward.
A crucial choice

A day will come in your life when you must choose between giving up your dreams and staying put, or dropping all dead weight so that you can move forward. When that time comes, you really need to make the right decision.

Make it easier for you to get out of the rut. Pick up a sheet of paper and make a list of people to ditch, things to dump, and races that you are no longer willing to run. Start discarding today everything that doesn't work, and you will soon be amazed at how resourceful you have become in pursuing the few things that count.


Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to three audio interviews just published:

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

How to turn a desperate situation into a resounding victory in five simple steps

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"We will all be dead soon," predicted centurion Millius, looking over the ramparts at the barbarian hordes surrounding Rome in the year 536 C.E. He had good reasons to feel discouraged, since Romans were outnumbered 30 to 1 by the attackers.

General Belisarius shook his head. "If we use our forces effectively, we will prevail," he replied. History proved Belisarius right: He succeeded in defending Rome with 5.000 veteran Roman legionnaires against an attack by 150.000 barbarians.

The heavy losses inflicted by Belisarius on the attackers made them give up their siege of Rome three weeks later. 90.000 barbarians lost their life during their failed attempt to conquer Rome. When they retreated, Belisarius pursued them across Italy, and finished them off. A crushing victory.

How did Belisarius manage to turn a desperate situation into a resounding victory? His strategy has been profusely studied by historians. The five steps taken by the Romans in 536 C.E. can be recommended to anyone facing a major crisis. Here is a summary of those five steps.


The first step consists of stabilising the problems you are facing. Belisarius took immediate measures to stabilise the situation. When he heard that attackers were approaching Rome, Belisarius had his troops work day and night at reinforcing the city battlements, and digging deep ditches to protect the ramparts base. In addition, Belisarius had a thick chain drawn across the river in order to prevent enemy ships from entering the city from the riverbanks.


The second step consists of dealing with the essential necessities. Belisarius then allocated minimum resources to cover the essential defensive necessities. To each crucial area of the ramparts, he assigned a lieutenant and a small group of legionnaires, giving the instruction that no man should ever leave his post under any circumstances. Belisarius knew that he had to maintain his outer line of defence intact. Otherwise, Rome would fall into the attackers' hands.


The third steps calls for focusing your resources on the most urgent issues. Hour after hour, Belisarius concentrated his forces on fighting the most urgent danger at each time. On each occasion, he used his soldiers to inflict maximum damage on attackers with the minimum possible risk. Once and again, he climbed the ramparts, picked up an arch himself, drew an arrow, and ordered the Romans to aim at the closest attackers. The rain of arrows decimated the barbarians, making them retreat and allowing Belisarius to focus on the next problem. He simply walked from one critical area to the next.


The fourth step consists of staying calm, no matter what. Belisarius maintained his serenity, shifting his resources from one pressing emergency to the next. He kept his presence of mind in the middle of dead and wounded soldiers, identifying the most urgent problem to be addressed at each moment. His mind was concentrated on the problem at hand. Belisarius had no time to grow stressed, anxious or depressed. He simply did what he had to do, hour after hour. By moving his forces quickly from one critical point to the next, he multiplied their effectiveness, and achieved a remarkable victory.


The fifth step calls for taking initiative. As soon as he perceived an opportunity, Belisarius took the initiative. Each time that Roman archers repelled an attack making their enemies flee, Belisarius ordered to open the gates, and had his cavalry pursue the barbarians, causing heavy losses amongst them. When your are facing a crisis, you will do much better if you move from a reactive mode to a proactive one.

For fifteen centuries, Belisarius' strategy has proven effective on innumerable occasions. Stabilising your situation, addressing your most pressing problems, keeping calm, shifting your resources as needed, and taking initiative are the key steps you need to take in order to turn around difficult situations. Belisarius' wisdom contains lessons that we all can apply in our own lives today in the twenty-first century.


Image: Photograph of classical building. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here is the link to an audio interview just published: