Nailing our colours to the mast

We all like to be chameleons these days, changing our colours based on the situation, the audience, the social medial network.

It feels kind of old fashioned to nail your colours to the mast and have a single set of values.

And with a growing trend towards a secular society many of us don’t have institutions drilling us in codes, creeds or commandments. Retargeted advertising on the internet is probably the closest that many of us get to a repeated, daily message – Nike Air Pegasus, now 30% off.

But there is value in articulating what we stand for.

It gives us something noble to aspire to.

It gives us a benchmark to review our actions against.

It gives us a guiding light when we’ve lost our way.

We constantly transgress our own values, because we’re not giving our values enough time out in the sun to grow and become strong. Without air and light, they remain atrophied waifs who can only whisper to us from the dark.

If we want to rely on our values to help guide our way, then we have to grow them with intention and attention. We need to think about what is important to us and take the time to remind and reinforce what we believe.

It doesn’t mean putting them on a t-shirt – this isn’t a necessarily public act – but it does mean being able to articulate them at least to ourselves.

What would we stand for?

What would we fight for?

What would we die for?

Values can be the batteries that power our whole selves, but only if we’ve taken the time to find them, dust them off and plug them in.

If you want full power to the engines: drop your shields


When we’re being sincere and authentic, we’ve got access to all our most powerful functions.

Authenticity allows our truest feelings and intentions to come to the front and have the benefit of our full focus and attention.

But this focus and power comes at the expense of our defences.

When we’re authentic and sincere, our shields are down. We’ve put all our energy into the engines and we’re not draining our batteries by powering defensive systems concerned with worrying about what others will think.

We can certainly feel exposed when we do this, but it comes with 2 massive upsides:

  1. We get the primary benefit of the authentic action. Authenticity springs from purpose, so when we’re being authentic and sincere, we’re fulfilling a purpose. And there is huge value in this.
  2. The more we operate in this mode, the more we realise just how unnecessary the shields are in the first place. The more authentic we are, the more we see that nothing that our shields appear to stop, can actually harm us anyway.

“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”
– Marcus Aurelius

“We do not recognize any injury that does not harm virtue. If I deserve these names there is no insult, it is justice; if I don’t deserve them, it is he who does the injustice that deserves to blush. Where is the insult? That I am bald or have weak eyes or thin legs? Can it be an insult to be told what is evident?”

– Seneca

Both Marcus Aurelius and Seneca illustrate how much of the injury we experience comes from our “sense” of being hurt. That we can only be harmed by others when we chose to feel harmed – when we acknowledge that they have done us harm.

So turn your your shields off and power your engines up.

Don’t worry about what the others think, they won’t be able to catch you anyway.

Stand for something or fall for anything

Whether we know it or not – each of us has an operating system.

It’s the combination of beliefs, attitudes, rules and algorithms that shapes our experience of the world.

And just as iOS or Android are the systems which allow our phones to make sense of what we type into them – our operating system (OS) is how we make sense of what we see, hear, smell, taste and feel.

And what sits at the core of our OS, are our fundamental beliefs about what’s true and important.

These beliefs come from everywhere: religion, philosophy, fiction, culture, the internet and Kim Kardashian.

And while that point is quite flippant, the quality of these beliefs is hugely important. Because it’s these core beliefs which we access and draw on when dealing with difficult situations.

They either rouse us to action or invite us to pause and reflect.

They advise us to turn the other cheek, or command us to take up arms against those who have wronged us.

They’re FUNDAMENTAL to how we think, feel and behave. They dictate how we operate, both as individuals and societies.

So, what sits at the core of your OS?

Have you even thought about it?

We each have something within us which steers our every move and thought, and yet what have we done to understand, or shape it?

Are our beliefs helpful? Moral? Optimal? Legal? Just?

When you’re faced with a difficult situation, will your OS help or hinder your progress? Is it geared towards making things better, or settling scores? Is it tuned for the common good, or personal benefit?

The stoics were concerned with building the best practical operating system they possibly could. They wanted something which would work for everyone: from emperors to prisoners, soldiers to artists.

At the core of their operating system, they put 4 virtues:





They believed that if you started from these virtues and if you used them them to inform your thinking and action, you couldn’t go far wrong.

I don’t yet know if the stoics were right or wrong about their virtues, but I do know that it’s a worthwhile project.

For every person on the planet, examining and optimising your OS is a task worth undertaking, because the prize is so great: a better experience of the world.

If you haven’t deliberately decided what’s at the core of your OS, then it’s time to choose. Because if you don’t, someone else will.

If you don’t shape your own beliefs, they will be shaped by others, without your consent.

If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

Thanks to Tim Ferriss for the idea of Stoicism as an OS – which let to the overriding metaphor in this post.

Finding happiness in rough times


We can always find something to be unhappy about. It’s not hard. Or clever.

We can always point to circumstances or situations which are sub-optimal (or just downright shitty) and say “that’s why I’m not happy”.

But where does that get us?

How does it help (us or others)?

How does it make things better?

We can, and should, find what is good and amplify it.

We can, and should, find what is bad and mitigate it.

But there is very little value in tethering our happiness even to these noble projects. They’re still external and outside of our complete control.

To be happy, even in the dark times – we should work to improve our character – our own interface with the world.

Can we stay calm when things get hectic?

Can we stay humble and grateful when things go our way?

Can we stay brave when things get scary?

Can we keep moving forward – one step at a time?

Can we keep striving to make things better?

If we work on our character – our reactions and interactions with an imperfect, unfair and indifferent world – then we always have something worthwhile to work on.

Our progress and growth can always be a source of satisfaction and drive since they are within our complete control.

Then we always have a something to be happy about, even when things are rough.

Focus on what you can control

Remember when this was a joke?

I suspect that today is going to be a depressing and frustrating day for a lot of people.

In London where I live, there isn’t a lot of love or enthusiasm for Donald Trump, but we’re waking up to the news that he’s likely the next President.

It’s not a great situation, but, given the Brexit vote earlier this year, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise either.

If we learned anything from Brexit – it should be that no amount of complaining, bitching or whinging is going to un-elect Donald Trump.

Our job now is to focus on what we can control.

If you think that Donald Trump is bad for this world, then focus on what you can do to make it better.

Think about all the things you really care about and make sure you’re working to develop and nurture them.

Find the things you can influence and work to improve the hell out of them.

Donald Trump might have reach, but you have boots on the ground, experience and you’ve got a head start – so get going.

If we all spend the day wallowing, it will be a long, frustrating day.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Start by making one thing better right now and you’ll already be ahead.