• The fear of failure has stopped me from undertaking something positive more times than I can count. In fact, the fear that I would hate how much my writing has worsened since the last time I wrote a blog post almost stopped me from writing this one. I’ve discovered one thing that always, always help me overcome this fear. First, that “you always have to start somewhere.” This especially applies when you’ve gotten worse at something you were once good at. After I tore my hamstring last January, it’s taken all the way since now to start working out and running frequently again. I realize that I want to be able to run 10 miles without worrying about getting a heart attack, but so easily forget how much work it takes to get there. When I am confronted with this reality (e.g. coming back from a three mile run completely destroyed), instead of letting the thought that I haven’t even got to a third of the distance I used to be able to run, I realize the certainty that one step must follow the other; I must be able to run 3.5 miles before I can run 5 miles, before I can run 8 miles, before I can run 10 miles, and so on. The chain cannot begin without the first step – hence “you always have to start somewhere.” It’s so liberating to relieve myself of the pressure that the fear of failure puts on me to “succeed.”
  • Beating myself up over the idiotic comment I just made is a symptom of social anxiety. It affects many of us. The mental antidote: No one cares about what you just said. What I mean is this – what you just said is literally 1/1,000,000 of everyone else’s day, and by the time they sleep, they’ll have forgotten about it. It’s hard to fully embrace, but next time someone says something awkward or stupid, make a reminder of it. Remind yourself of this in one week. And you’ll realize how little you care. It’s not the errant, infrequent comments that we can so easily beat ourselves up over. It’s how we treat others and how we made others feel, overall, that people will remember. If your heart is in the right place, then its 99% certain that no one will care about the one time you made a joke no one laughed at.
  • It’s repugnant when people say: “Hurrdurr just failed that test, whoohoo!” It’s one thing to own up to failure, and another to parade it around like a badge of honor. There’s this culture rampant in our generation that glorifies showing indifference to complicated, deep issues and rebelling against the oppressive system of education. It’s mistaken for confidence, but it’s actually apathy towards doing work to improve yourself. It’s the same culture that says “You try too hard” when you worked hard for an A on a test, or calls you nerdy for posing a meaningful philosophical question in a non-academic setting. I’ve encountered it far too often, and every time someone tweets something like “Preparedness level for SAT: buying calculator right now” on the morning of the exam and gets 45 likes on it, it affirms the normalcy of this mentality and perpetuates mediocrity.
  • Increasing your vocabulary: being able to name something is being able to interact with it and have a voice about it. I’m just going to use an example. “Sonder” is the realization that every one of the hundreds of thousands of people you’ve met or passed by since you were born leads a life as complicated and meaningful to them as yours is to you. It’s something that’s hard to grasp without a name. The closest you’ll get is “that feeling when…” but without a name, its easily forgotten. A name for something gives it a handle. It’s just like in a computer programming – objects and variables are given a name instead of being represented by their numerical memory location. The name gives meaning. I especially like this example because it’s not even a real English word. It was coined by John Koenig, the creator of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, in which he explicitly states that all his definitions are made up. And yet, though what this word describes is essentially empathy, describing and naming this feeling allowed it go viral on the Internet. There’s another benefit to extended vocabulary too. I haven’t taken enough cognitive science to confirm this, but I’m almost certain that creativity is the ability of how many of the connections you can make to the subject in question that are relevant. The more things you can describe, the more solutions you can come up for a problem (whether that problem is attempting to describe something, coming up with a joke, or a math problem). Every new word you know is another node a connection can be formed from… I’m realizing this is pretty incoherent (I need to expand my vocabulary???), but I hope you get the idea.