Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Say goobye to insomnia: The rational approach to sound sleep every night of the week

Sleeping pills have become an everyday accessory in modern society. In Europe or America, Asia or the Middle East, rare is the bathroom closet that does not contain some pharmaceutical product to induce slumber. The solution has become so commonplace that few dare to question it any more.

How did we arrive at such widespread social acceptance of chemical dependence? Certainly not because sleeping pills are providing a fully satisfactory solution to the problem. If given a choice, the great majority of insomniacs would prefer to address their condition without chemical substances.

Sleep difficulties, like any other problem, can be treated by addressing its cause or its symptoms. Herbs and pharmaceuticals are focusing on the symptoms of insomnia. Their goal is to replace the natural process of falling asleep by chemically-induced slumber that will last a few hours.

Addressing the cause of insomnia is a much more demanding undertaking, since it is going to require introspection and commitment to personal growth.

The most common causes of insomnia

Contrary to what you might have heard, most people have little trouble figuring out why they cannot sleep well. Leaving aside environmental aspects such as noise or an uncomfortable bed, these are the four most common causes of insomnia:
  1. An unpleasant job: An occupation that is too boring or too demanding, that demands long hours, involves high risk of redundancy, excessive fatigue, continuous travel, aggressive supervisors, nasty colleagues, a low salary, poor prospects for the future, and so on.
  2. Financial worries: Excessive debt, investment losses, imminent mortgage foreclosure, risk of bankruptcy, difficulties to collect from debtors, negative cash flow, being involved in litigation, or simply being poor.
  3. Family or personal conflicts: Those could arise from a spouse with antagonistic interests, betrayal, exploitation or abandonment, dealing with hostility or discrimination, social isolation, or lack of friends who share the same values.
  4. Health problems: No wonder that people will encounter sleep difficulties if they are facing heart surgery, awaiting results of critical tests, getting weak as they grow old, suffering from debilitating illness or invalidity, being extreme overweight or underweight, and any other serious medical condition.

At any given time, you might be going through one or several of the above-mentioned situations. Since problems tend to compound with amazing speed, you will never lack excuses to resort to sleeping pills. Nevertheless, in each case, you will be better off by using philosophy to achieve serenity.

Is there a remedy for insomnia?

The antidote to insomnia is peace of mind. No other alternative can address successfully the cause of sleep difficulties. All other options have failed. Serenity is the only one that works. What is the process of acquiring and maintaining peace of mind? Which steps should you take?

Eliminating anxiety and stress permanently is equivalent to modifying the structure of a house. You can only carry out such fundamental change if you proceed carefully and little by little. If done properly, the change should not weaken the building. After the change, the resulting edifice will offer a safer environment to live and rest.

Dozens of self-help books are proposing auto-suggestion as the key to achieving success in life, but if you try it out, you will see that it does not work for long. Self-delusion is unsustainable and will not put an end to insomnia. Sleeping well is a direct consequence of achieving peace of mind, which must come from truthful thinking and consistent action.

The best way to attain serenity

For this reason, I submit that the best way to attain serenity and have a sound sleep at night comprises five elements:
  • Identify your most important problem and write it down.
  • Find out who has solved a similar problem satisfactorily and how he did it.
  • Study the solution, adapt it to your life, and make a detailed plan.
  • Start implementing the plan right away by taking the first step.
  • Keep walking the path, and remind yourself daily that you are on the right track to a better life.
Let me illustrate the process with an example. Imagine an individual who has been recently diagnosed with cancer. Doctors have told him that his illness is still at an early stage. He has sufficient time to explore different treatments, and good prospects of recovery. Nonetheless, upon hearing the news, his anxiety mounts and he has difficulties to sleep at night.

For the concerned person, the situation leaves little doubt about what the most important problem is. Taking sleeping pills, assuming that they are not contraindicated for cancer, may help him get a few hours of rest, but will not reduce his preoccupation during the time he is awake.

A rational approach to peace of mind

The rational approach starts with gathering information about available treatments, reading success stories, and if at all possible, talking to some people who have recovered. As soon as a troubled person has chosen a path of action with reasonable chances of success, he will begin to turn his worry into hope.

As he learns more details about possible treatments, he will shape a plan to recover his health. After gathering the necessary information, he will know what to do, for how long, and the results he can expect. He will envisage real improvement and his mood will improve. His positive anticipations (based on a feasible plan) will increase his self-confidence.

The formula against insomnia is crystal clear: Make a solid plan, implement it day after day, track your results, and make adjustments as necessary. You will be equipped with higher levels of self-reliance, with self-confidence benefiting all areas of your life. The feeling of certainty, of knowing where you are going, will reduce your stress, and naturally help you rest better at night without any sleeping pills.

Does it sound difficult? No wonder, because few endeavours are as demanding as changing the fundamental patterns of your life. If you want to achieve victory over insomnia without resorting to sleeping pills, I am afraid you will have to face effectively the key problems in your life, whether those are of medical, financial, or other nature. May your success be quick and uncontested so that, after a while, you will recall your temporary insomnia as just another milestone in your personal growth.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

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

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to several audio interviews just published:
  1. John Vespasian interviewed by Brian Price, Jennifer Gligoric and Tammy Geerling on "Leafy Podcast" about how highly-effective pople deal with disruptions.
  2. John Vespasian interviewed by Mike Wagner on "The Mike Wagner Show" about rational living.
  3. John Vespasian interviewed by Anthony Smith on "Changing World" about rational living.
  4. John Vespasian interviewed by Asyraaf Fero on "Focus on Winning" about becoming extraordinarily self-confident. Part 1 of 3.
  5. John Vespasian interviewed by Asyraaf Fero on "Focus on Winning" about becoming extraordinarily self-confident. Part 2 of 3.
  6. John Vespasian interviewed by Asyraaf Fero on "Focus on Winning" about becoming extraordinarily self-confident. Part 3 of 3. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

There is no way to improve your life. Change is impossible. Or maybe not.

Millions of people spend their days trying to convince themselves that change is impossible. They feel trapped in their profession, job, spouse, friendships, and financial obligations. The feel constrained to the extent that any attempt at improving their situation seems doomed to fail. While they remain passive, life is passing them by. Eventually, they give up all hope of amelioration.

There are many reasons that explain why someone will experience the feeling of being totally driven by external events, but those reasons are not going to hold water for long. Pressures will come and go, but you can keep moving forward if you possess a strong sense of direction. You will change for the better if you know what you want. You will get things done if you keep pursuing your objectives persistently and realistically.

If you look around, you can find a million justifications for doing nothing. A million justifications for defeatism and immobility. However, those justifications will not resist a close scrutiny. Once you start taking steps in the right direction, you will see those justifications fall apart quickly and irreversibly. Do not let them make you feel powerless.

Thirteen examples from real life

The truth is that, every year, thousands of people are undertaking to change their lives profoundly. Changes can be tangential or fundamental, low-risk or decisive, reluctant or resolute. What really counts is that you have taken decisions and are carrying them out. Once you start walking, you can go a long way.

Difficult or not, individuals will do what they have to do if they are convinced that it's their best option. Here are some examples of changes that people are undertaking in order to improve their lives:

  1. Sell their house in the city, move to a village, and build up a whole new existence there. Or move to live on the coast. Or in the mountains. Or in a different country.
  2. Drop out of their current circle of friends from one day to the next, and seek out new friends with values and interests more aligned to theirs.
  3. Go through their kitchen, throw away unhealthy food, and commit to purchasing exclusively wholesome items in the future. No more excessive calories. No more junk food.
  4. Look for a job in a field unconnected to their previous experience, just because they feel fascinated by that field. Do not listen to naysayers who are trying to keep you immobilised.
  5. Buy a bicycle and ride it every day for an hour. Do not listen to those who are telling you that it's so difficult to find time to exercise. Block out the necessary time. Do it every day. Turn exercising into a routine you cannot do without.
  6. Unplug their television set, give it away, and never spend another minute watching TV shows. You will draw much more from life if you allocate your time judiciously. Do not waste your evenings and weekends on mindless entertaining.
  7. Learn a foreign language and find a job in another continent, in a city where you don't know anybody. The experience can massively increase your self-assurance, professional success, and happiness level.
  8. Cancel their affiliation to an organisation that has been part of their lives for decades, and cut their links with former associates. If you want to build a new life, you will first have to clean the desk. You will first have to through the ballast overboard.
  9. Sell their possessions (including also their car), move to a tax heaven, and change their nationality. Read stories of people who have done so. The phenomenon is more common than you would have thought. Low-tax and low-cost countries are more numerous than you would have considered.
  10. Throw away all tobacco and alcohol at home, and never purchase or consume those again. No more hard liquor. Goodbye to an unhealthy lifestyle.
  11. Start up their own business during evenings and weekends, while keeping their present job. Grow their business until the earnings will allow them to quit their job.
  12. Read about nutrition, learn to cook healthy food, and lose the excessive weight they had accumulated over the years.
  13. Tell their spouse that they want a divorce, move to another place, and start building a new life.
These cases are not as rare as you may think. People who are embracing major personal changes come from all walks of life. Middle-aged or old, male or female, they will hesitate long until, one day, they make the big decision.

Their determination to take a new road will frequently antagonise their family and friends, but so what? In order to change your life and improve your future, you will first have to escape other people's expectations of immobility.

How to gather the necessary courage

It takes lots of determination to embark on this sort of journey. More often than not, what prompts individuals to change their lives is the realisation that their time on earth is limited. Such a realisation may happen suddenly as a result of major illness, or little by little, when people have progressively outgrown previous constraints.

When was the last time you revised your long-term objectives? What aspects of your life do you wish to improve in the next five years? Taking a few days off to reflect might be all you need to get started.

It's high time to step out of unsatisfactory routines. It's high time to embark on major changes and take unconventional paths. Once you make the decision, you are on your way. Let me wish you a successful (although not necessarily smooth) transition.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph of ancient sculptures. 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

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Factors that contribute to career success: Why excessive prudence and modesty are fundamentally wrong

Studies have identified many factors that contribute to career success, but so far, nobody has been able to build a convincing model to predict an individual's future, or how much happiness a certain profession will bring him. In case of doubt, people opt for safe choices. This is why you will seldom hear career counsellors recommend professions that may lead to unemployment.

Routine advice aims at achieving social insertion. Risk is regarded as a problem, safety as the solution. Of course, career recommendations based on conformity are never going to inspire students to become daring adventurers, artists or innovators. The problem though is that fearful advice is going to prove wrong more often than not. In times when markets are demanding creativity at all levels, excessive prudence and modesty are fundamentally wrong. In fact, I suspect they are wrong in all circumstances. Let me tell you a story that drives my point home.

In the year 1820, the acclaimed sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen travelled from Rome back to his native city, Copenhagen in Denmark. Thorvaldsen was then fifty years old and at the pinnacle of his fame. During his stay in Copenhagen, he talked to many aspiring artists, giving them generous advice and encouragement.

When Thorvaldsen returned to his hotel one night after a reception in his honour, he was told that a boy had been waiting for him all day. Intrigued, Thorvaldsen looked around the hotel hall, and found a poorly dressed kid asleep on a chair.

He walked up to the boy, shook his arm gently, and whispered to him: "It's late, kid, go home." Startled, the boy opened his eyes and jumped to his feet. "I was waiting for you, Herr Thorvaldsen. I have been waiting for you all day."

That must true, thought Thorvaldsen, since the boy looked so exhausted and hungry that it was pitiful to see him. "I wanted to ask you for advice on my career," the kid went on. "I cannot decide whether I should become a novelist or a poet."

Out of compassion, Thorvaldsen ordered a glass of warm milk for the boy and listened to his story. It was a heartbreaking tale. When the boy turned ten, he had lost the striking voice that had earned him praise and a small income as a singer in his home town. As of that day, he had joined the thousands of unemployed teenagers that roamed the streets of Copenhagen.

"This is why I have thought of becoming a writer," the boy explained shyly, taking three ruffled pages out of his pocket and handing them over to Thorvaldsen. Strangely enough, the idea of asking a sculptor for literary advice seemed to fit the boy's pathetic situation.

Thorvaldsen devoted a few minutes to reading the text, and was appalled to see that it contained dozens of grammar and spelling mistakes. It was obvious that the boy had no chance of becoming a writer. Even if it was cruel, it was better to tell him the truth right away, so that he could at least learn some trade.

"What is your name?" asked Thorvaldsen, giving him back the pages. "Hans-Christian," replied the boy full of hope. "Hans-Christian Andersen." A silence ensued, as Thorvaldsen searched for the least hurtful way to express his judgement.

Thorvaldsen stared at Hans-Christian Andersen for a long while as he remembered his own ambitions as a young man, many years ago, but of course, his situation had been completely different. Thorvaldsen took a deep breath and shook his head. "Look, Hans-Christian," he began, "I don't know how to tell you this."

At that moment, Andersen nodded and gave the sculptor a crazy smile. That was what he had been waiting for. He was about to hear the words of encouragement that he needed so badly. He was sure that an artist of the calibre of Thorvaldsen would be immediately able to recognize his talent, and point him in the right direction.

"What do you think, Herr Thorvaldsen, should I become a novelist or a poet?" he asked again, this time full of confidence. Fascinated, Thorvaldsen looked at the boy's bright eyes, and realized how foolish he had been. "I have no doubt, Hans-Christian," he answered softly, "that you will become both."

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

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

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to two audio interviews just published:

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Everything faster, everything better: Three productivity techniques you can use in everyday life

Human beings have an innate tendency towards efficiency. The pursuit of maximum output with minimum effort is in our genes. Even children, as soon as they can verbalise their thoughts, begin to demand better results. They will progressively evolve from the passivity of babies to the search of short-term benefits typical of adolescents. Yet, their search will not stop there. As they become adults, they will start to think long-term, that is, if they really become adults.

Unfortunately, techniques that deliver good results in certain environments can lead to poor outcomes elsewhere. We steadily try to improve things, get more beneficial outcomes with less effort, but it's difficult to identify universal prescriptions enabling us to do everything faster, everything better.

Once we reach adulthood, most of our attempts to improve performance will take place in the realm of work. Industrial management researchers have been studying successful companies since the nineteen fifties, trying to identify the keys to outstanding performance. We can profit greatly from the conclusions have they drawn if we turn them into habits, if we grow alert to opportunities to work faster, consume fewer resources, and achieve our objectives with less effort.

The problem with the main three recommendations in the field of productivity is that they are not easy to integrate. At first sight, the may even seem contradictory. It takes substantial effort to implement them consistently in your work and private life, but if you do so, you can draw immense benefits.

Few individuals possess the self-discipline to perform a little bit better each day, not only in their profession, but in all areas. I am talking about cleaning your home faster, cooking healthier food more efficiently, getting in shape with less effort, and so on. Let's take a look the three main lessons from productivity studies, and see how to implement them in everyday life.

No more bottlenecks

First recommendation, the removal of bottlenecks. This is the most basic recommendation to enhance your productivity. When something is not going well, you need to identify the obstacle and remove it. When a process is operating slowly, you need to figure out which step is critically slowing down the whole chain.

It is rarely self-evident or easy to find the key issue. In fact, most people will not even bother to look for it. They will complain about difficulties and delays without really understanding the problem. If you find the bottleneck and remove it, you will achieve immediate improvements, but then of course, another bottleneck will arise elsewhere. Improvement never ends. Productivity can always be increased. You can keep making your results better in all areas, day after day, year after year.

Fewer mistakes

Second recommendation, doing similar tasks together, in batch form, so that you can perform them faster and commit fewer errors. Manufacturers have adopted this approach a long time ago. As long as the demand is roughly stable, they can keep producing similar items in batch form, using the same materials and manufacturing processes. In your everyday life, you can adopt this technique for instance for answering emails. Instead of checking your email in-box randomly during the day, it's more efficient to do it once or twice a day, at a fixed hour, and handle all incoming messages together.

Jumping from task to task is usually a bad idea. If you check your email in-box twenty times a day at irregular intervals, you will inevitably spend extra time reading and filing messages, typing answers and wondering what to do next. It is much more efficient to perform similar tasks together. The same goes for cleaning the house, cooking, ironing, washing your car, doing exercise, or whatever other tasks men and women do regularly. Do not spread your attention and energies too thin. Concentrate your efforts on similar tasks, and get them done quickly and flawlessly.

Less stress

Third recommendation, carry out activities in a continuous flow, that is, with a minimum of interruptions. Try to reduce dead time between tasks, wasted efforts caused by disruptions. Truth be told, it is difficult to achieve continuous flow in any kind of process, industrial or professional, let alone in activities of private nature. However, continuous flow can deliver massive gains in quality, increased serenity, and cost reduction. It obviously requires a lot of planning, a lot of forward thinking, but the payoff can be gigantic.

The opposite of continuous flow is "chasing" items, that is, breaking your tasks abruptly or putting them on hold because you have to chase some missing item, some missing input or missing instruction. People who fail to think ahead will spend huge efforts chasing missing items. That's a complete waste of time, but one that cannot be removed through improvisation.

The more you chase, the more stressed you'll get, but are you willing to make the effort of organising your activities today, so that you will achieve continuous flow in the future? Imagine if you could perform your work each day without having to chase missing items. Imagine if you could cook your meals easily because you have all ingredients at hand. Or if you could always rely on your car because you have performed preventive maintenance at regular intervals.

I always tell people to start by removing the bottlenecks on their way because the improvements will be immediately noticeable. It will seem like magic. You just remove one bottleneck, and you'll enjoy the benefits right away. Working in batch form requires more time investment, and the improvements won't be visible so quickly, even if they prove large. However, if you do want to become highly productive in all areas, you should pursue a lifestyle of continuous flow. It will not only bring you better results, but also increased happiness.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

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

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:

Friday, 9 August 2019

In praise of making mistakes: how fast and cheap mistakes can accelerate your success

It takes a while before a man realises that he is going to die some day. Some people never become conscious of their mortality, and continue to waste their days until the very last moment. Drug consumption, including alcohol, is a failed attempt to appease the anxiety created by the fundamental truth that time moves in only one direction. Accepting that your days are limited is a precondition for making the best use of your time.

With happiness as a long-term goal, personal growth becomes a short-term objective. With longevity as a desirable aim, good nutrition becomes a crucial element of a good lifestyle. The general goals are given by nature, but each individual must define his own strategy.

Gaining understanding of the fact that each passing day is irrecoverable exerts enormous pressure on insecure persons. They wonder incessantly if they are doing the right thing, or enough of it. They speculate about a myriad of projects they could be carrying out instead of what they are doing right now. They spend hours on end reading news pieces about who is doing what, how fast, and how well.

Should you let anxiety drive your life? In the pursuit of your goals, how can you strike the optimal balance between peace of mind and personal growth? An hour always has sixty minutes, and every new day is offering you another twenty-four hours. However, exaggerated time-consciousness and focus on achievement may lead you to psychological misery that is hardly any better than the confusion of idle people. Personal growth requires balance as much as it requires passion.

Drawn with charcoal

The path to happiness should be first drawn with charcoal, and then brought to life with oil colours. You will gain additional knowledge as you move forward. A fair share of mistakes is inescapable, since you will sometimes take the wrong turn of the road. Nobody possesses the ability to make the right decision every time.

No one can at the same time concentrate his resources on the future, and fully enjoy the present. Each individual is born and raised in different circumstances. Genetics, talent and other personal qualities will vary from one person to the next, even within the same family. A philosophical approach to happiness should not deviate from the hard rules of biology.

Imagine a young man who, growing in a favourable environment, has identified his lifetime ambitions when he is fifteen years old. He may well spend the rest of his life pursuing his goals, but there is no guarantee that he will achieve them. Anyone entering a profession has to learn the trade, and assimilate its written and unwritten rules.

Sooner or later, insufficient knowledge, misunderstandings or bad luck may slow down his progress or bring it to a standstill. Any biography you read will provide evidence of this principle. Just as trains stop from time to time, careers will sometimes stall and fortunes lost.

Occasionally, evil forces may play a role in destroying great ambition, but those cases are rarer than popular accounts tend to portray. Discouragement is the natural response to failure, but human beings can develop extreme resiliency and surmount all disappointments. The winter rarely kills trees weakened by autumn storms. Soon enough, spring rains will nourished new seeds, which will take root during the summer warmth.

Along the way

You just need to adapt the speed of your personal growth to your constraints. In order to move forward, you should employ the success formula that applies to all individuals, countries, and historical periods: Experience has taught me that the best strategy is to identify your goal, start moving immediately towards it, and then correct your mistakes along the way.

Relentless action will help you advance on the road of your choice, but the crucial aspect in happiness is not motivation but effectiveness. Anyone can raise his motivation level by attending rallies and listening to enthusiastic speeches, but the effects will be short-lived.. You can sign and dance, dream and speak loudly, but very little will be achieved just by doing that.

Whether other people support or oppose your initiatives will play only a minor role in the long-term. Nasty criticism is like the noise of trains running on their tracks. Indeed, the noise will accompany the train, but what moves the waggons is the engine, not the noise.

Instead of focusing on motivation, you should concentrate on taking action. Let your daily work take you to better places. What you do counts more than what you dream about. Increased effectiveness is the typical consequence of focused, consistent action. If you wish, do spend some time cultivating your motivation, but do not turn it into a game of its own. Talking is not tantamount to doing.

Fast and cheap mistakes are the cardinal accelerators of success. Inexpensive errors mark the smoothest way to happiness, in particular when you rapidly acknowledge and correct them. Learn a lesson from each mistake, so that you don't repeat its cause and effect. This factor alone will have compound positive effects on your achievement, enabling you to attain goals you had thought beyond your reach.

The experience acquired in a few years of continuous action will teach you more than decades of enthusiastic motivational talks. Reality is too complex to be reduced to motivational theory. True personal growth can only be achieved only through constant action, trial and error, and intelligent realignment.

Just like minerals are diluted in sea water, knowledge is condensed from action. If you wish to become a great surfer, you'll have to taste sea water hundreds of times. As you learn to face the wind, your reflexes will become faster. In your search of happiness, let practise take precedence over speculation. Do no waste your limited time on empty talks. Let your mistakes lead you to new insights and a sharper vision.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

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

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:

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Free up 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.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

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

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

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

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.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

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.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

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.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

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.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

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:

Monday, 4 February 2019

Undisrupted: How highly-effective people deal with disruptions

Is your life running smoothly, always filled with success and happiness? Or do you sometimes face disruptions and periods of chaos? If this is the case, you need the lessons contained in this book:
  • How industrialist Savva Mamontov could have prevented disruption from destroying his life.
  • Why Albert Schweitzer only grew happy and famous after turning his life upside down.
  • The disruptive strategy that enabled Joseph Paxton, a simple gardener, to become wealthy.
  • How it is possible that the all-powerful Knights Templar were wiped out overnight.
  • The method conceived by Abbot Suger in the twelfth century for running projects smoothly.
  • Which variation of positive thinking Emile Coue invented for overcoming disruptions.
This book presents real-life lessons that can massively increase your ability to succeed in the face of disruptions.
An example taken from real life
The type of disruptions you should embrace wholeheartedly
A powerful insight emerges: Kovalevsky's discovery
Do this, and you will avert catastrophic consequences
An unchangeable principle, although so often ignored
A habit that you absolutely need to acquire
Why I am in favour of risk reduction
The zero-risk approach: a model to imitate
Progress will be smoother if you don't force the machine
Disruptions that create opportunities for advancement
The perfect antidote against feelings of dissatisfaction
Surprising decisions will stir up opposition, so what?
When your best option is to turn your life upside down
A resilient lifestyle and its favourable consequences
Negative criticism that has proven unjustified
Countryside quietness can be deceptive and harmful
How people develop unsustainable views
Confusion and disorientation are not heroic
An unstable personality is a recipe for disaster
The delusion of a peaceful, undisturbed life in nature
Beware that not all knowledge is created equal
Listen only to those who offer you a workable approach
Attain general victories by overcoming specific disruptions
Give me real solutions, not statistical data
Why millions of people keep suffering from anxiety
Two talented men, two heavily contrasting results
A relentless focus on existing opportunities
Productiveness as a way of life: the underlying philosophy
Low-cost innovation can make you dramatically stronger
Solid structures and solid routines keep disruptions away
Can you find a way forward despite severe setbacks?
Effective strategies after encountering extreme disruptions
Thriving against all odds in hostile environments
Fell from a flying aeroplane, survived and recovered well
Questionable certainties in the face of disruption
Less vulnerability, fewer disruptions: an illustration
Victory over vulnerability in four simple steps
The art of rendering yourself more resistant to disruptions
Segmentation: a solid strategy you can implement today
How to structure your day, so that it's remarkably strong
A dangerous fallacy that is leading many people stray
The Knights Templar: fierce warriors, easily overturned
Beware of false narratives of prosperity and strength
Overnight demise is a fairy tale for the unwary
Individuals who undermine their own defences
Here is a formula that always works to your advantage
The light touch of the master: no fear, no overreaction
Making good choices in the face of overwhelming pressure
When you are given only ten seconds to save the day
The right way to repair structural damage
A universal method for handling destabilizing factors
This mental trick from the Middle Ages is still working
Kilograms, meters, hours – what do they have in common?
A crash course on error prevention
You don't need to employ more than six elements
How a desperately ill woman turned her life around
The resistance to acknowledging past errors
A decisive step towards a new life
Taking a close look at faith healing
Here is a variation of positive thinking that really works
Learning to look beyond bits and pieces of information
Ingredients of a lifestyle that keeps disruptions at bay
How to perceive signals well in advance
Accepting the drawbacks of simplicity and speed
Eight preventive measures against disruption
Discard ideas that are keeping you weak and vulnerable
Recommended reading