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Perspective, Targets and Limits: Medicine from 50,000 Feet


Learning Medicine

Medicine is a fascinating field with endless amounts of knowledge that can be obtained. Someone could, and many do, spend an entire life striving to learn as much medical knowledge as possible yet, like someone travelling the world, so much will always remain unexplored.

It can be a satisfying feeling to go from ignorance to relative expertise in certain topics. There are other incentives to work hard to obtain this knowledge too, such as admiration from your peers, praise from your parents and points for your CV.


A common pitfall

However, this leads to a common pitfall: working too hard. You may have heard this before a million times, but let me use a personal example to demonstrate a point.

In my first year of medical school I was aiming high. At the end of the year, I was disappointed with my result so I resolved to do better the following year. I made a lot of sacrifices; I skipped social events, spent less time with my friends and spent many late nights in the library. Half-way through the year, we had a full ‘mock’ exam and the hard work paid off; I achieved a mark that, based on projections from previous mock and actual marks, predicted I’d finish in the top 10 of our 400-person cohort. However, my approach wasn’t sustainable; before the end of the year I became apathetic, burnt out and achieved a good but, compared to my personal target, disappointing result once again.


Learning from failure

The following summer I spend a lot of time reflecting. My approach that year contributed to me breaking up with my girlfriend, feeling more distant from my friends and family and ultimately feeling less happy. I had sacrificed so much — what had it all been for?

I began to assess my motives. For a long time, I had been telling myself “I need to study hard so that I can be the best doctor I can be” but I realised this didn’t hold up to scrutiny: the difference between a good and a great result wouldn’t make me a much better doctor, yet the reduced life experiences from living in the library may well make me a worse one.

I realised that being the best had become part of my identity during school, causing me to lose perspective on how important it really is relative to other areas of life. I also realised that I cared too much about what other people thought of me and part of my motivation was to prove myself to others and show everyone how smart I was.

I want to stress that I don’t think that working extremely hard is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it is important and admirable to work hard towards a worthy goal. Most people don’t work hard enough. However, we must be clear about our priorities, honest about our motives and strive to maintain perspective at all times.

I appreciate it is not that simple. If I had told my second-year self that exams aren’t the be-all and end-all, I doubt he would have listened. I needed that tough summer of soul-searching to figure things out. Sometimes you just have to make your own mistakes and learn from your own experiences.

Different people will come to appreciate their priorities and motives in different ways. Two techniques which, if undertaken with an open mind and honest approach, can help provide this clarity are ‘Following the Trail of Whys’ and ‘Attending Your Own Funeral’.

Follow the Trail of Whys

It is easy to ask ‘why’ and accept the response, even when it doesn’t really answer the question. For example:

Q: Why was the patient’s intravenous fluid run at the wrong rate?

A: Because the previous nurse didn’t change the run rate.


If we accept this answer without probing further, we will assume that this was the nurse’s fault and that she should be blamed or held accountable in some way. However, this doesn’t get to the bottom of the problem and is not a solution.

The founder of Toyota, Sakichi Toyoda, is credited with advising people to “Ask why five times.” The exact number is not important, but continually asking why can be effective at finding new answers and uncovering flaws in previous assumptions.


Let me demonstrate with the above example:

  1. Why was the patient’s intravenous fluid run at the wrong rate?

The previous nurse didn’t change the run rate.

  1. Why didn’t the previous nurse change the rate?

The doctor’s order had gone to the pharmacy and the medication administration record (MAR) was not updated.

  1. Why wasn’t the MAR updated?

The MAR is updated only once per day.

  1. Why is the MAR updated only once per day?

The hospital has chosen to use oral instructions for updates that happen more frequently.

  1. Why are oral instructions used?

The process was constructed a decade ago, when medication orders changed less frequently due to longer lengths of stay. Upon further study, the hospital determines that 40 to 50 percent of its medications change every day.


It isn’t until the fifth why that the actual answer to the question is found.

This technique can be applied to any situation, including understanding why you think or act in a certain way.

If I had been honest and objective with myself during my first two years of university, the Trail of Whys may have produced something like this:


  1. Why do you study so hard?

Because I want to get one of the highest marks.

  1. Why do you want to get one of the highest marks?

Because I want to show everyone that I’m the best.

  1. Why do you want to show everyone that you’re the best?

Because I derive some of my sense of self-worth from what others think of me.

  1. Why do you derive your sense of self-worth from what others think of you?

Because my upbringing taught me to seek the approval of others. This was an adaptive response to my environment but is not serving me well while studying a competitive course at a competitive university.

Therefore, the solution is to deliberately re-appraise how I evaluate myself, rather than to focus on how hard I am studying or working.


As you can see, this technique can get deep and personal pretty quickly. This is why absolute self-honesty is so important.

This technique can also be useful in academic learning. I shall discuss explore how in a future post.

Attend your own funeral

This technique involves visualising your own funeral, imagining how it could go and how you want it to go. The aim is that, by doing so, you will appreciate what really matters and is most important to you. There is a wider philosophy termed ‘memento mori’, meaning ‘remember that you have to die’, which believes meditating on our death can bring profound insights about ourselves.


Insights from a palliative care nurse

A palliative care nurse called Bronnie Ware revealed the five most common regrets that people have at the end of their lives:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.


The technique

Below is a description of the technique, from the book ‘The Charisma Myth’ by Olivia Fox Cabane. It can stir up emotions, so you are encouraged to do it in an environment where you feel comfortable being emotional and with time to process things after the exercise.


Set the scene and involve your senses:

  • Sit or lie down, close your eyes, and set the scene.
  • Where is your funeral being held? What day of the week? What time of day? What is the weather like?
  • See the building where the ceremony is being held. See people arriving. Who’s coming? What are they wearing?
  • Now move into the building and look around inside. Do you see flowers? If so, smell the flowers’ scent heavy on the air.
  • See people coming through the door. What are they thinking?
  • What kind of chairs are they sitting in? What do these chairs feel like?


Watch your funeral:

  • Think of the people you care most about or whose opinions matter most to you. What are they thinking?
  • See them stepping up one after another and delivering their eulogy. What are they saying? What regrets do they have for you?
  • Now think: What would you like them to have said? What regrets do you have for yourself?
  • See people following your coffin to the cemetery and gathering around your grave. What would you like to see written on your tombstone?


For a recording of the above guided exercise, visit http://foxcabane.com/audio/Funeral.mp3.


View exams as a game

A medical student colleague of mine wrote a great article about how he approaches exams by viewing them as a game.


Set limits, not just targets

Medicine can consume your life. With clearer understanding of your priorities, you can set not only more appropriate targets but you can also set limits.

It may be that you still want to aim to finish top in your medical school, and that’s fine. However, you may be content with a more modest target. For example, after my summer of reflection I set my target as finishing in the top 25% of all exams alongside enjoying life, spending time with friends and family and investing time and energy into other pursuits.

This limited the amount of time I spent studying and gave me more stress- and guilt-free time to enjoy. It also helped guide my studying. Whenever I came across new content, I would ask myself “would someone in the top 25% know this?” In some cases, the answer was “definitely yes”, in which case I would work hard to learn it as efficiently as possible, using techniques I shall outline in future posts. In other cases, the answer was “probably not”, in which case I decidedly did not learn it. As well as saving time, I found my studying was more consistent, as were my results.

Don’t get me wrong, I still work hard. But now I vent that same energy and determination into goals that I consider more worthwhile and more in-line with my deeper intrinsic values. I will elaborate more on this in a future post.

One fear that some medical students have is that if they don’t study as much as they can, they won’t pass their exams. However, if you are intelligent enough to get into medical school then you are definitely smart enough to pass exams with the right approach. There are approaches that you can take, such as spaced repetition, which can enable you to do better while studying less.



  • Studying medicine is competitive, there is an endless amount to learn and there are continuous exams. This means that many people sacrifice too much for work.
  • Perspective and clarity can be increased by following the ‘Trail of Whys’ and ‘attending your own funeral’, as well as by other techniques.
  • This enables us to set targets and limits. Limits can increase studying efficiency and help us find a good work-life balance.


If you enjoyed this article, please share!

This article is an excerpt from my latest book, The Modern Medical Student Manual, which offers guidance for succeeding at medical school, while finding deeper fulfillment in work and setting yourself up for an impactful medical career. For more information, click here. It is available now on Amazon.


Also published on Medium.

By | 2018-01-10T18:10:30+00:00 December 20th, 2017|

Threshold for sharing

It is important to an establish a threshold for sharing content with others in life and on the internet.

There is a balance between oversharing things that aren’t interesting and sharing things that can be useful to others.

If someone says everything that comes into their mind, other people would get bored pretty quickly. If I verbalised every thought that entered my head, other people would get bored pretty quickly, somewhere between the twentieth time I told them “I’m hungry” and thinking about what I should do that evening. It’s necessary to filter the ideas in our head and only say things worth saying out loud.

Oversharing on the internet is also common. Growing up, I would see people sharing very personal things publicly on Facebook. Things that many would hesitate to tell anyone outside of their close circle yet here they were shared for the world to see.

The flip-side is being afraid to share something that would contribute to others. Many people have ideas for things they would love to say or do which don’t come to fruition. They may be scared of trying and failing. They may be scared of doing so publicly for fear of what others will say or think.

The decision to share is something I must make every time I write a post. Is this good enough to put against my name in the public domain? Or is it better off filed away in a recess of my computer’s memory?

In the past, I didn’t post much due to fear of what others would think. To overcome this, I went through a period of forcing myself to share my writing whether it was good or not.

My perfectionist tendencies led me to want my articles to be my final say on any subject. One approach I adopted was thinking of my published articles as just a first draft. This served me well as it helped me to post more regularly.

This anxiety has now largely subsided. However, part of me still has the mentality of sharing as much as I can. Looking through some of the things I have posted on my blog in the last few months, I have to ask myself whether I am trying to share too much.

The motivations to share can be many. It feels productive to be sharing articles. When I look at my blog and see that I’ve shared 7 articles the last two months straight, it feels like I must be doing well. If I feel I haven’t achieved much in any given day, I will often write a quick article in 10-15 minutes and feel like at least I’ve achieved something.

However, the number of articles shared is a poor metric as it doesn’t take into account the quality of the articles.

I have started sharing more articles which I have written in <10 minutes, haven’t bothered to proofread and occasionally look back and realise I didn’t finish the article yet shared it anyway. This leads me to ask myself whether I’m taking this ‘first draft’ principle too far.

It’s important to write a lot and ‘always be shipping’ (in the words of Seth Godin), however it’s also important to value the time of the people reading your article. If you don’t put effort into an article then you are wasting the reader’s time.

I will continue to search for this balance. However, one better metric jumps to mind which could act as a filter when deciding whether to share an article:

Is this adding value?

By | 2017-11-30T13:41:11+00:00 October 18th, 2017|

On Money, Freedom and Purpose


Recently I have found myself thinking a lot about money. I want more of it.

And no, I don’t want to buy a fancy car or the latest iPhone. I believe there is some truth in the trope “mo’ money, mo’ problems” (as well as in the retort “but I’d still rather do my crying in a Lambo”).

Buying nice things can be great. They are a source of pleasure — we’ve all felt it. However, the emotional baseline will always be restored with time and our threshold for experiencing those same feelings will rise. This means we need to keep buying more expensive things to provide the same positive feelings. In short, this is not a source of lasting satisfaction.


I want to buy freedom.

What do I mean by that?

Freedom is the ability to live in line with our personal values and inclinations, less restricted by outside rules. We may still decide to take the same action, but it is our choice.

Financial freedom would enable me to make decisions regarding occupation without needing to factor in money.

The same is true in other domains. ‘Social freedom’ describes the ability to live your life as you want to without being overly affected by the opinions and expectations of others. You may still choose to fit in with society, but at least you have the choice.

Without freedom, we must subjugate ourselves to conform to the system that we are within. We may be required to suppress aspects of our personality that are not considered appropriate for our line of work or position in society. We may be asked to wear certain clothes, got along with people we don’t like and do work that doesn’t align with our values.


However, the follow-up question is more important — why do I want more freedom? For me, the answer is so that I can work on things which bring me fulfillment.

There is an important assumption here. Will more autonomy necessarily bring more fulfillment? Perhaps fulfillment lies in the work that you are trying to run away from? Or perhaps the pursuit of freedom is in itself a source of fulfillment?

Working a 9 to 5, even if it’s not a job we love, may even increase our fulfillment. For example, by providing us with a routine and something to do, it helps us to avoid staring into the existential abyss. I have been working now for one week and, while I spend a majority of my hours at work, I have noticed I am dramatically more productive and positive in the hours outside of work than I was with a more flexible schedule.

The ultimate aim would be to earn money doing work that you love and that contributes.

I fully expect that if I ever do develop financial freedom, there will be times when I feel a little lost. It would certainly take some time getting used to, probably in the form of creating external pressures and finding worthwhile projects to occupy myself with. But that’s a bridge I will cross if and when I get to it…

By | 2017-11-30T13:41:15+00:00 August 3rd, 2017|

Let good ideas die

The life of an idea conforms to the rules of evolution.

If you put a number of ideas in someone’s brain, they can combine and produce completely new and unique ideas – a process that has oft been compared to sexual reproduction.

My current approach to life is to continually expose myself to new ideas by reading lots of books and talking to lots of people in the hope that these ideas, combined with my life experiences, will lead to good new ideas.

As a result, I have a number of new ideas every day. Some are good, others aren’t. For some of the better ones, my instinctive response is to try and write a blog post which summarises the insight as soon as possible. This is with the intention of solidifying the thought as well as hoping other people can understand what I’m trying to say and may find it useful.

However, while writing these ideas down may help with clarity, it is not an effective use of time for most ideas. Rather, I should be allowing these ideas to undergo a process of natural selection – really great ideas will continually re-present in my mind, in one form or another, which can act as a selection pressure.

Many animals in the animal kingdom give birth to a number of children and only the fittest survive. While I may have emotional investment in some ideas that I come up with, much like the mothers of these offspring, by allowing this selection pressure to act it will ensure that only those ideas really worth writing about are brought to fruition.

By | 2017-11-30T13:41:33+00:00 June 16th, 2017|

Man’s Search For Meaning – Book Review

What makes this book stand out is a combination of the environment that lead to its creation (being based on experiences in Nazi Concentration Camps sets the precedent for a more than interesting story) as well as the unique and inspirational insights that the author, Viktor Frankl, is able to draw from it.

After describing some of the most significant and memorable experiences from time at Auschwitz and other camps, he goes on to describe Logotherapy – a psychoanalytic method which argues that, rather than the ‘will to pleasure’ proposed by Freud and the ‘will to power’ discussed by Adler, the fundamental drive of human beings is the ‘will to meaning’ – i.e. to discover the logos of life. Frankl believes that the lack of a meaning of life (which he terms ‘the existential vacuum’) can present as a will to pleasure or power, as the human psyche tries to compensate for this lack of a meaning in these ways, but that ultimately it is this desire for meaning which is the primary factor. He argues that therefore, any psychotherapy (or indeed any intentions to help others with their psychological problems) must, at least to some extent, aim to help them discover the meaning of their life.

What is the meaning of life? How could someone possible hope to find it? These are questions that many will ask. Frankl suggests quite reasonably that there is no ‘ultimate’ meaning of life, and that your ‘meaning’ will change at every moment – it is unique to every individual and every situation that they are in. He uses the excellent analogy of asking a chess-player ‘what is the best overall move’ – of course, one does not exist.

Frankl then goes on to propose that there are three main ways in which the meaning of one’s life can be realised. The first of this is through creation, by a project or creating something new which helps others. The second is through love – that love enables you to see the potential for self-realisation within someone else and in doing so realise your person in helping them to do so. He argues that self-realisation alone is not possible, and that one should undergo self-transcendence whereby one ‘realises’ themselves through others. The third method is through suffering, and this is particularly relevant to the first half of the book, in which Frankl describes his experiences. Suffering can help you to realise your meaning, as you can reflect on what the meaning of the suffering is. Examples that Frankl uses to illustrate this point include one of a man who is depressed after the death of his wife, to which Frankl explains that by living longer than her he has spared her of this same pain, and another of a woman who lost a young son but still had another and that needed to care for him to enable him to live a happier life.

By | 2017-05-27T21:55:36+00:00 May 27th, 2017|

Make the most of your free moments

A system for regulating inputs and outputs

Everything that we do (from a productive point of view) can be divided into input or output.

Input is receiving the ideas of others. Studying is input. Reading is input. Listening to others is input.

Output is creation. Writing a blog is output. Brainstorming solutions to a problem is output. Working on a project is output.

Free periods of time pop up at a number of occaions each day. Waiting for a bus. A lunch break. (Right now I’m on a plane.) These moments can be insufficient to work on a larger projects due to time restrictions, distractions and lack of resources (eg. no computer, no desk)

To benefit from these free periods we should decide what to do in advance. The default response is to plug in to the internet and browse social media or our other ‘go-to’ websites. While this is technically a form of input it has between minimal and negative value.

We are better off consciously deciding to do something which is either a form of input or output. This post presents some guidelines for doing so.

1. Decide what type of input and output is you priority

I love to learn about psychology, practical philosophy and innovation. I find reading and listening to books on these subjects pleasurable and enlightening. These are my main inputs.

I love to write (to gain clarity in what i think) and I love to think of solutions to existing problems. These are my main outputs.

2. Use context to decide output vs input vs neither

The first thing to ask yourself is: Do I have a defined output task? Is it achievable in the current context?

If the answer is yes, DO IT.

If the answer is no, decide an output (see later).

Output takes priority as it is the most valuable. Creating something has the potential to benefit others. It also consolidates input through the application of and abstraction from new ideas.

The answer to the first question may be no when you don’t feel you have something to do/say/create. If you feel low on ‘inspiration’, you may benefit from new inputs.

The answer to the second question can be no when you don’t have long enough, you don’t have the required resources or you don’t have the mental energy.

Deciding input

I have a hierarchy for forms of input as follows:

  • reading a book
  • listening to an audiobook
  • watching a long educational video/documentary
  • watching a film or TV episode
  • watching short educational clips
  • listening to music

There is one main factor that justifiably allows you to move down a rung of the hierarchy is input saturation. (the alternate reason is lack of motivation, which I won’t cover here)

This is where you have undertaken so much input recently that your brain is ‘’full’ and has no room for further intake. Your brain continually processes previous information intake on a subconscious level but this machinery can become overloaded. Although, with practice, this processing ability increases and the saturation point raises.

In order to assess whether your brain is input-saturated for a type of learning, ask the following questions:

  • What was my last input?
  • What was the most important thing I learnt from it? How does this fit in with what else I know?

Repeat this for the last 3 or more sources of input. If you can comfortably produce answers then you are input-saturated and can continue to feed your brain new information.

However if you really struggle, it suggests your brain may not be effectively processing new information and it is worth dropping a rung in the hierarchy and repeating the same questions as necessary.

(If you don’t have the energy to even watch short clips or listen to music, you are probably not feeling that well and should perhaps take some medicine and go to bed).

By | 2017-11-30T14:51:58+00:00 May 19th, 2017|

A trap to avoid when assessing your progress

Part 1 of a 2-part series

We always want to feel like we are making progress. We strive to become ‘the strongest version of ourselves’. We want to feel that we are going in the right direction.

As part of this, we often spend time comparing our present selves to our past selves: Do I procrastinate less than I used to? Am I producing better work? Am I more socially confident?

Yet these continual informal comparisons can be counterproductive. They are unreliable and the false conclusions can produce undesired responses.

The recall problem

Psychological research, as explained by Daniel Gilbert in ‘Stumbling On Happiness’, highlights that our mechanisms for recalling the past can be inaccurate. We can’t recall long time periods of weeks, months of years so instead we recall a few snippets of past experiences and use them to create an overall impression.

The problem with comparing ourselves with our past selves is that the snippets we recall are rarely an accurate representation of a larger time scale, and thus our comparison is heavily influenced by the snippets that we just so happen to recall.

Natural fluctuation

To demonstrate why this can be problematic, let’s consider productivity levels (although the principles are true for anything, from social confidence to money spending habits).

Our productivity levels (and other outputs) constantly fluctuate from hour to hour and day to day. Plotted on a graph it would look something like this:

Progression over time is an incremental process. We can’t be more productive than our past self ALL the time but we can maintain an upward trend. On a graph this may look something like this:

However, if we continually try to assess our improvement in this informal way, we are vulnerable to grossly incorrect judgement.

If I’m currently having a productivity peak and the reference memories that I recall are of a productivity trough, I will give myself a false impression of massive progress. This may have negative effects by inducing a false sense of security and an inclination to slack off.

Conversely, if I’m in a trough and my reference memories are from peaks, I will be disappointed. I may start to question whether I am taking the right approach and start feeling despondent, which again is counterproductive.

What is the solution?

There are three questions that we must therefore consider:

1. Should we be trying to improve?

2. Is it beneficial to quantify this improvement?

3. What are useful ways to do so?

I will answer these questions in part 2 of this post. Feel free to leave your own opinion in the comments below.

By | 2017-05-18T14:29:18+00:00 May 18th, 2017|

Clear the path to make way for great things

Lower your activation energy, so that periods of productivity and clarity can lead to even greater results

Our levels of thinking fluctuate. Some days our brains will fire off great ideas in all direction, on others we want nothing more than to switch off and forget any of our grand ambitions. This is always going to be the case — no-one is 100% switched on all of the time.

What we can change though is how much we capitalise on our periods of higher thinking and greater clarity. The way to do so is create a path for action during those moments, with the lowest amount of activation energy required.

Let me use some examples to demonstrate.

Removing “writer’s block”

For a long time I could never finish writing an article. I would find it too difficult to focus the whole way through, I would start to doubt my ability to express myself and I would continually question what people would think as I wrote.

Therefore, whenever I had a seedling idea or a question I wanted to answer, I would never let it grow beyond that stage. It would sprout in my mind but then wither and die.

Over the course of time, I have worked hard to diminish these barriers to writing. I wrote every day for 30 days. I forced myself to share my articles on Facebook. I have managed to silence the voices sufficiently to be able to write on command and share it on Medium most of the time.

Kendrick Lamar describes forcing himself to continually write raps for a number of years until he got to the point where, at any point in time, no matter how he is feeling, he can write a full rap song. This doesn’t mean it will always be good, but it does mean that if he gets a great insight or idea for a new song, the path exists for him to convert it into a rap.

Different mediums of expression

Writing is only one of many mediums through which you can act on an insight or idea. Making videos is another.

In recent months, I’ve had a number of good ideas that would be best conveyed through video. In each instance, however, limitations have prevented the idea from fully coming to fruition. On occasions I have filmed some or all of it but never edited it. On others, I have edited it but not felt confident enough to share it.

I am still being restricted by my limited competency in video editing and my self-consciousness about sharing videos.

What are the barriers that stop you from capitalising on being in a great state?

To get to the point where you maximally benefit from these periods of clarity or insights, it’s necessary to create a pathway of little resistance for the insight to pass down.

What area do you have insights in?

What medium would you like to express or act upon these in?

What are the current limitations and how can you remove them?

Stop and ask yourself these questions now.

Limitations on my path

A brainstorm of things that limit the amount that I benefit from periods of high productivity and clarity produced:

  • Admin, which eats up free time and is draining
  • Caring what other people think, so being afraid to create or do
  • Fear of hard work — afraid that starting a new idea will involve hard work
  • Overconfidence — thinking that my current high productivity and mental clarity will last forever, so what’s the rush?
  • Scared of not achieving the end goal — if I start working on a project, what it I’m not happy with the result?
  • Feeling its a waste of time — there’s no point doing it if no-one is going to read it or benefit from it, right?
  • Scared of the consequences of actual achieving what I want
  • Scared that the good state of mind won’t last long enough for me to finish it once I get started, which would be frustrating


We all have great ideas from time to time which could change our lives and the lives of others for the better. Most of us never act on them. In order to do so, we must continually break down our limitations. This will enable these great insights and periods of clarity to come to fruition.

By | 2017-11-30T15:04:08+00:00 May 17th, 2017|

Love The Process.

How to stick to things without needing to try

Sticking to commitments — my experience

I have been gyming on and off for the last five years but never really maintained the consistency required to reach the goals that I want.

I’ve tried many different approaches; buying myself rewards for going to the gym, only allowing myself to listen to my favourite music if I’m at the gym, motivational audio as my morning alarm, etc.

These techniques have all worked but only for a certain time period — I have never maintained the routine indefinitely.

(This happens with most things that we try in life — perhaps it’s related to our need to always be making progress)

But now I’ve found something that works.

In the past, I have always been fixated on the end result and used that as motivation to push through. However, this type of motivation is flimsy — it can easily be disrupted, for example if you start to feel you aren’t making adequate progress towards the result in mind.

The prospect of maintaining the routine indefinitely can seem scary and impossible.

I have discovered a love for the process.

More recently, I have stopped looking at the gym as a means to an end but rather started to appreciate it for what it is. With the help of some friends who are enthusiastic about powerlifting, so can speak passionately about the art form of certain gym exercises, I have gained an increased appreciation of the process.

Now, when I go to the gym, it feels pretty spiritual and, in some ways, beautiful. I feel I am increasing the connection between my body and my mind. I feel more connected with my natural inclinations, through experiences that our DNA is encoded to enjoy.

I am also appreciating the art form of learning how to perform certain exercises correctly. To progress it is necessary to make small variations in technique every time you go to the gym. However, you will only perform each exercise a limited number of times so you must really tune into your body to appreciate what effect these minor variations have. One friend said that learning to powerlift takes a lifetime; I can begin to appreciate what he means.

With this love of the process, I no longer need as much motivation to go to the gym. As a result, without even keeping track or needing to push myself, I have just completed a two month period of sustained frequent gyming. And I have no inclination to stop any time soon.

This ability to love the process is important in all areas of life. For example, loving the process of studying rather than focusing on the end exam result, enjoying your work rather than your wage.

What if you don’t love the process?

However, there are bound to be times when you don’t feel you love the process and don’t feel that you can.

In these cases, it is useful to bear in the mind the following:

Sometimes you have got to do things you don’t like. I will let Elliot Hulse elaborate on this.

Find ways to love it. Keep trying different things. It’s not sustainable to spend your whole life forcing yourself to do things that you don’t enjoy. Your mind and body will resist and look for ways to do less, while you want them to be pushing you to do more.

So if you don’t love the process of an activity, either find a new one (it may not be the right thing for you to be doing) or find ways to love it (by continually trying new approaches and looking at it in different ways).

In other words, if you ain’t found the love yet, keep looking and keep experimenting.

By | 2017-11-30T15:05:04+00:00 May 16th, 2017|

Stop telling people they are working too hard

We are holding each other back

“wow, you’re working so hard. Don’t you think you should take a break?”

Some variant on this is common advice today.

If we see friends or colleagues working hard, it is often our instinctual response to utter this phrase.

And while it’s certainly true the stress and overworking ourselves can cause problems such as burnout and dissatisfaction, reflexively telling people to work less is counterproductive.

Why working hard may be important

Telling someone to work less can be wrong because we don’t know the full context. We don’t know their motivations or what they are trying to achieve. They may work long hours because it is something that they love. They may find fulfilment through doing so.

We often think of ‘stress’ as something that is negative and certainly ‘distress’ is. ‘Eustress’, however, is “the positive cognitive response to stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfilment or other positive feelings.” It is stress that pushes one without overwhelming them and has been positively correlated with life satisfaction and well-being.

Often it is necessary to work hard on difficult things to experience greater enjoyment later on.

What if we are working hard in the wrong ways?

Of course we must not neglect the possibility that someone is working too hard on the wrong things. Indeed, in today’s society, this is more often the way; we are very bad at realising and doing things that make us happy and lead to fulfilment.

Our problem is not that we work too hard, rather that we work too hard on things that don’t matter and don’t bring happiness of fulfilment.

When this is the case it is not beneficial to simply tell the individual to work less. Rather, we must understand their reasoning and, if we believe ourselves more appropriately informed (again something we must be wary about), we may try to influence the direction of their efforts.

For example, I have seen many students in Cambridge (myself included) give a disproportionate amount of importance to exams, greatly inflating their importance and the amount of happiness that they will gain from a good result and depreciating the amount of happiness they could gain from alternative objects of focus.

Yet simply telling some to ‘work less hard’ does not solve this problem. They need to realise this through their own experiences. At most you can attempt to guide them in this direction.

Why do we do it? — the crab mentality

As humans one of our natural instincts is conformity. Historically, the consequences of deferring from our tribes were too high, as we depended on their support for our lives. So we looked to fit in and encourage others to do the same.

The present-day consequence of this is that when we see something that goes against our societal norms we naturally resist it.

At times this may be appropriate. However, it is a societal norm to accept mediocre levels of happiness and fulfilment by settling for ‘safe’ jobs, relationships and daily activities that we don’t particularly enjoy.

While some would argue this mentality benefits society (I would argue the opposite), it certainly doesn’t benefit the individual.

When we tell someone to ‘work less hard’ we are, whether we realise it or not, asking them to conform to our societal norms. We have a ‘crab mentality’, whereby we try to pull down people who do things differently:


Next time you see someone that you think is working ‘too hard’, reflect for a second before you tell them not to.

By | 2017-05-02T19:16:19+00:00 May 2nd, 2017|