The Number One Rule For Living Life

Photo by Robin Mathlener, Text by author

There you go, everything in one picture. No suspension or anything. But allow me to elaborate a little.

Humans like certainty and simplicity. Behavioral experiments show in many ways that people will prefer a certain, undesirable outcome over an uncertain outcome with better average result.

We like certainty because we want to know what’s coming and we like simplicity because it makes it easier for us to decide what to do about it.

From the boss who suddenly criticized your performance to the often-asked question of “what should I be doing with my life?”, many frustrations and emotional turmoil stem from uncertainty and complexity. Why did that happen? What does it mean? What should I do?

We try to find the constants in life and boil down these lessons to easy-to-remember quotes like “ask a question and you’re a fool for 5 minutes. don’t ask and you’re a fool for the rest of your life”. It’s great advice in many cases, but there are also many examples where asking certain questions would be extremely bad and you’re better off asking somebody else at a later point.

Like a child who recently learned a few rules of spelling will apply those rules to every word (therefore writing peetsa instead of pizza), we hold on to rules we’ve learned and try to apply them whether it fits or not. Often when our rules fail, we blame others for being so stupid, unreasonable, emotional, etc.

We need predictability and simplicity. That need itself is very useful. But the degree to which you will get the most out of life and enjoy it in the process, depends on your willingness to appreciate that the world is not black and white. No rule will always work. You should be with people you love, unless the people you love right now are not good for you. Be kind to people and they’ll be kind to you, unless their self-esteem is so low they’ll see you as being more superior when you’re being an asshole. Being persistent is important to achieve your goals, unless your efforts are in vain. Regular exercise will help you live a long and healthy life, but you still might die young.

Life is filled with unless-es and but-s. It seems unfair. We did what we’re supposed to do, so we should get what we’re supposed to get. “Everything is true only until it isn’t” reminds us of three key lessons of life:

1. You might not be right in this particular case

The scientific method, a cornerstone of modern society, is not designed to prove things right, only to prove them wrong. The scientific theories we currently hold are there because they’re useful and haven’t been proven false yet; not because they’ve been proven to be right. Consider this example: a single black swan can prove the theory that all swans are white wrong. But how do you prove that theory to be true? Short of literally seeing all the swans in existence, there is no way. That last swan you haven’t seen might be the one that turns out to be black after all.

So it is only a given that a lot of our beliefs, whether it’s “mom likes red flowers” or “my boss is incompetent”, have limited validity. That means that they’re probably not entirely wrong, but they aren’t right in all circumstances. We need beliefs because they help us interpret the world. Our goal should not be to get rid of them, but to be aware that those beliefs are simply “the best we’ve found until something better comes along” and need regular updating. Otherwise you will get blind-sighted and feel more and more stuck. Whenever you get the feeling “this is unbelievable!”, in either positive or negative sense, it’s time to update an old belief.

2. Things change and people do too

How often do we make choices, whether it’s a career, a relationship or a way of being, that feels like now we have to keep going where we’re headed? How open are we to new experiences that are trying to show us that “the way it was always done” is not the best way to do it anymore?

One reason it’s difficult to change is because it feels like it means that we were wrong in the past. If I realize now I want to be a doctor even though I spent the last 10 years in software development, it feels like I wasted all that time and I made the wrong decision all those years back. And that can be very painful. So we continue doing what we were doing and rationalize our choices.

When something isn’t true anymore, it doesn’t mean that it was never true. In human life, there are very few universal truths. Just because your job might no longer be the best choice for you now, doesn’t mean that it never was. It doesn’t mean you wasted your time doing it. It only means that things change. And the longer we stay after the change has already happened, the more painful it becomes.

The same goes for other people. They move on, so let them. Don’t hold them in place with your assumptions about how they are and that this is how they will always be. Especially with the people close to us, we fail to notice the small and significant ways they are more the person they’re becoming and less the person they used to be. That shy person from work might be going to dinner parties every week to practice speaking with people. Your sloppy partner might’ve started putting the dishes away after having a snack. A good friend of mine described herself as having “tendency to be insecure in making decisions” when they asked her to describe a weakness at a job interview. Six month later her supervisor told her he had kept an eye out for her insecurity to show up but hadn’t seen signs at all. He was actually very pleased with her firm decision-making. This is when she realized that she simply saw herself as being insecure because that’s how she had been in school and when she first started working half a decade earlier. The truth was though, she had long grown past that. She simply hadn’t assessed herself anew.

Therefore, don’t let the past dictate your future. Don’t get stuck with your choices. It might’ve been true then, it might not be true now.

3. “Supposed to” is not reality

If only we knew everything. If only we could do everything. Then we’d do everything wonderfully, perfectly, and have exactly the life we want.

…If only right? We can choose to try to desperately change life like an ill-suited romantic interest, or we can appreciate it for what it is.

The final lesson behind the rule is that you can’t know everything and you can’t control everything and that that’s okay. Things are constantly changing. Not because something is wrong, but because it’s in the nature of things to change. Try to find the courage in yourself to let go of the idea of how something is supposed to be and consider that at this moment, it is already how it’s supposed to be at this moment. You’ll be surprised at your clarity of mind. Really, just try it out for a minute. Close your eyes and imagine that everything in your life has gone exactly how it’s supposed to go. You’re not lost. You’re on your way. Everyone and everything around you is simply on its way. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to build your future the way you see fit, it means to let go of your judgement of the past and present.

I’m not going to lie to you: sometimes appreciating how life is, is extremely hard. Shit happens and we’ll blame ourselves, others, and the universe. Sometimes it seems like an endless barrage of problems and nastiness. Sometimes you have no idea what the heck you’re even doing. At other times it’s simply miraculous. The sailing is so smooth you can hardly believe yourself. And that’s how it’s supposed to be!

I try to see life as a family member I love, no matter what differences of opinion, bad jokes and awkward moments there might be between us. If uncle Henry were perfect, how would he be any different from uncle Adam or aunt Linsay? I love my family not because they’re perfect, but for all the ways they are and are not. The slightly inappropriate jokes, the eye-roll-inducing comments, the three-hour dinners, the loud laughter, the old arguments that have been dragged around for decades. That’s how it is.

Frustration, anxiety, anger; they aren’t caused by the uncertainty and complexity in our lives, they are caused by our unwillingness to live with it. Being able to take action, to move forward, to enjoy the journey, it’s much less about the unless-es and but-s in our lives and much more about the ands. My dad can be angry at me and love me. I can have made a good decision to get married and make a good decision to get a divorce now. I can feel myself shake and stutter when I speak in front of people and I can become a professional speaker.

The unless-es and but-s tell you of how it’s supposed to be and how it doesn’t turn out that way. The ands tell you of the many things that can co-exist in the world and the many more things that may yet come.

Have strong beliefs and truths, but hold them weakly. Because you might not be right in this particular case, things change and people do too, and “supposed to” is not reality. Let’s have an exciting, loving, and interesting journey.

Everything is true only until it isn’t.

Photo by Robin Mathlener, Text by author

There you go, everything in one picture. No suspension or anything. But allow me to elaborate a little.

Humans like certainty and simplicity. Behavioral experiments show in many ways that people will prefer a certain, undesirable outcome over an uncertain outcome with better average result.

We like certainty because we want to know what’s coming and we like simplicity because it makes it easier for us to decide what to do about it.

From the boss who suddenly criticized your performance to the often-asked question of “what should I be doing with my life?”, many frustrations and emotional turmoil stem from uncertainty and complexity. Why did that happen? What does it mean? What should I do?

We try to find the constants in life and boil down these lessons to easy-to-remember quotes like “ask a question and you’re a fool for 5 minutes. don’t ask and you’re a fool for the rest of your life”. It’s great advice in many cases, but there are also many examples where asking certain questions would be extremely bad and you’re better off asking somebody else at a later point.

Like a child who recently learned a few rules of spelling will apply those rules to every word (therefore writing peetsa instead of pizza), we hold on to rules we’ve learned and try to apply them whether it fits or not. Often when our rules fail, we blame others for being so stupid, unreasonable, emotional, etc.

We need predictability and simplicity. That need itself is very useful. But the degree to which you will get the most out of life and enjoy it in the process, depends on your willingness to appreciate that the world is not black and white. No rule will always work. You should be with people you love, unless the people you love right now are not good for you. Be kind to people and they’ll be kind to you, unless their self-esteem is so low they’ll see you as being more superior when you’re being an asshole. Being persistent is important to achieve your goals, unless your efforts are in vain. Regular exercise will help you live a long and healthy life, but you still might die young.

Life is filled with unless-es and but-s. It seems unfair. We did what we’re supposed to do, so we should get what we’re supposed to get. “Everything is true only until it isn’t” reminds us of three key lessons of life:

1. You might not be right in this particular case

The scientific method, a cornerstone of modern society, is not designed to prove things right, only to prove them wrong. The scientific theories we currently hold are there because they’re useful and haven’t been proven false yet; not because they’ve been proven to be right. Consider this example: a single black swan can prove the theory that all swans are white wrong. But how do you prove that theory to be true? Short of literally seeing all the swans in existence, there is no way. That last swan you haven’t seen might be the one that turns out to be black after all.

So it is only a given that a lot of our beliefs, whether it’s “mom likes red flowers” or “my boss is incompetent”, have limited validity. That means that they’re probably not entirely wrong, but they aren’t right in all circumstances. We need beliefs because they help us interpret the world. Our goal should not be to get rid of them, but to be aware that those beliefs are simply “the best we’ve found until something better comes along” and need regular updating. Otherwise you will get blind-sighted and feel more and more stuck. Whenever you get the feeling “this is unbelievable!”, in either positive or negative sense, it’s time to update an old belief.

2. Things change and people do too

How often do we make choices, whether it’s a career, a relationship or a way of being, that feels like now we have to keep going where we’re headed? How open are we to new experiences that are trying to show us that “the way it was always done” is not the best way to do it anymore?

One reason it’s difficult to change is because it feels like it means that we were wrong in the past. If I realize now I want to be a doctor even though I spent the last 10 years in software development, it feels like I wasted all that time and I made the wrong decision all those years back. And that can be very painful. So we continue doing what we were doing and rationalize our choices.

When something isn’t true anymore, it doesn’t mean that it was never true. In human life, there are very few universal truths. Just because your job might no longer be the best choice for you now, doesn’t mean that it never was. It doesn’t mean you wasted your time doing it. It only means that things change. And the longer we stay after the change has already happened, the more painful it becomes.

The same goes for other people. They move on, so let them. Don’t hold them in place with your assumptions about how they are and that this is how they will always be. Especially with the people close to us, we fail to notice the small and significant ways they are more the person they’re becoming and less the person they used to be. That shy person from work might be going to dinner parties every week to practice speaking with people. Your sloppy partner might’ve started putting the dishes away after having a snack. A good friend of mine described herself as having “tendency to be insecure in making decisions” when they asked her to describe a weakness at a job interview. Six month later her supervisor told her he had kept an eye out for her insecurity to show up but hadn’t seen signs at all. He was actually very pleased with her firm decision-making. This is when she realized that she simply saw herself as being insecure because that’s how she had been in school and when she first started working half a decade earlier. The truth was though, she had long grown past that. She simply hadn’t assessed herself anew.

Therefore, don’t let the past dictate your future. Don’t get stuck with your choices. It might’ve been true then, it might not be true now.

3. “Supposed to” is not reality

If only we knew everything. If only we could do everything. Then we’d do everything wonderfully, perfectly, and have exactly the life we want.

…If only right? We can choose to try to desperately change life like an ill-suited romantic interest, or we can appreciate it for what it is.

The final lesson behind the rule is that you can’t know everything and you can’t control everything and that that’s okay. Things are constantly changing. Not because something is wrong, but because it’s in the nature of things to change. Try to find the courage in yourself to let go of the idea of how something is supposed to be and consider that at this moment, it is already how it’s supposed to be at this moment. You’ll be surprised at your clarity of mind. Really, just try it out for a minute. Close your eyes and imagine that everything in your life has gone exactly how it’s supposed to go. You’re not lost. You’re on your way. Everyone and everything around you is simply on its way. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to build your future the way you see fit, it means to let go of your judgement of the past and present.

I’m not going to lie to you: sometimes appreciating how life is, is extremely hard. Shit happens and we’ll blame ourselves, others, and the universe. Sometimes it seems like an endless barrage of problems and nastiness. Sometimes you have no idea what the heck you’re even doing. At other times it’s simply miraculous. The sailing is so smooth you can hardly believe yourself. And that’s how it’s supposed to be!

I try to see life as a family member I love, no matter what differences of opinion, bad jokes and awkward moments there might be between us. If uncle Henry were perfect, how would he be any different from uncle Adam or aunt Linsay? I love my family not because they’re perfect, but for all the ways they are and are not. The slightly inappropriate jokes, the eye-roll-inducing comments, the three-hour dinners, the loud laughter, the old arguments that have been dragged around for decades. That’s how it is.

Frustration, anxiety, anger; they aren’t caused by the uncertainty and complexity in our lives, they are caused by our unwillingness to live with it. Being able to take action, to move forward, to enjoy the journey, it’s much less about the unless-es and but-s in our lives and much more about the ands. My dad can be angry at me and love me. I can have made a good decision to get married and make a good decision to get a divorce now. I can feel myself shake and stutter when I speak in front of people and I can become a professional speaker.

The unless-es and but-s tell you of how it’s supposed to be and how it doesn’t turn out that way. The ands tell you of the many things that can co-exist in the world and the many more things that may yet come.

Have strong beliefs and truths, but hold them weakly. Because you might not be right in this particular case, things change and people do too, and “supposed to” is not reality. Let’s have an exciting, loving, and interesting journey.

Everything is true only until it isn’t.

Entrepreneur. Humanist. Medium addict. B.Sc. Artificial Intelligence. M.Sc. Cognitive Neuroscience. Learning through sharing.

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