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  • Writer's pictureAntti Vanhanen

The Lost Wisdom of Youth

When I was young, I went after what I wanted with curiosity, boldness and joy.

Life was effortless and fun.

Sometimes I’d struggle to fall asleep at night because I couldn’t wait to see what the next day held.

Then something changed.

Life became serious.

It was no longer a game.

Suddenly everything was measured by grades, milestones and goals I needed to achieve.

The curiosity, boldness and joy with which I had approached each day with was replaced with conformity, doubt, and anxiety.

I struggled.

I procrastinated.

I stopped enjoying life.

Worst of all, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with me.

Was I too lazy?

Was I too stupid to really get it?

Was I lacking the drive to succeed?

My questions lead me to search for strategies and tools to fix my laziness and give me motivation, discipline and confidence.

And boy did I find strategies. Shiny, step-by-step, guaranteed-to-work strategies. They were everywhere.

Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, Zig Ziglar, Dale Carnegie and a thousand others were all too eager to sell me their strategies and advice.

Thus began my life as a self-improvement junkie.

I spent years, thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to get myself to be who I thought I should be.

Yet for all the work I put in, I had precious little to show for it.

For all the effort, I felt like a hollow, two-dimensional cutout of someone I was trying to emulate rather than a genuine flesh-and-blood version of me.

I still struggled.

I still procrastinated.

One day, as I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me for the 837th time, it hit me:

I had bought into other people’s ideas and had lost all sight of who I was and what my own wisdom was telling me.

In that moment, I realized that the problem wasn’t more or better information and strategies, because how preciously little of what we’ve learned in our lives do we actually apply?

The real problem seemed to be that despite everything we read and thought, what we actually struggled with was taking action.

The fact is that almost everyone knows what they should do, it’s just that they don’t want to do it.

And boy did that describe me painfully well.

Fortunately, I was able to hear my wisdom whisper something to me:

“Antti, why aren’t you having fun? Don't you think you would do better if you had fun?”

It’s hard to put into words just how much those questions changed me.

It’s like I had bought into the misguided and totally counterproductive seriousness of the world, and suddenly I was able to see through it.

I started asking different questions. Instead of asking how I can be smarter, more confident or procrastinate less, I became more interested in understanding what makes us lose sight of the fun and curiosity we are born with and makes us grow serious and scared.

The answer I kept coming back to again and again was that at some point, I started believing what society told me about the importance of outcomes.

As a result, I stopped following my curiosity and intuition and no longer trusted in myself.

Instead, I became fixated on the outcome, as if the ends were all that mattered and I just had to find whatever means it took to get me there.

That made me play as if I have something to lose - that I must achieve a certain result NO MATTER WHAT.

I suppose that in retrospect it’s obvious that that’s a terrible way to approach anything, but in the moment it was revelatory.

When we give the outcome power over our happiness and emotional wellbeing, we tense up.

We start playing scared.

We lose sight of the fun and curiosity that used to propel us forward.

We start trying to avoid mistakes and play it safe.

We dread obstacles and difficult situations.

We procrastinate because we don’t want to fuck up.

Now, there are many people in the world that believe that this sort of emotional investment in the desired outcome is mandatory in order to make us perform at our best.

They believe that putting pressure on ourselves is what elevates us to a higher level.

I call BS on that.

When we are forced to do something or when we feel something important is at stake, we no longer play naturally.

Action no longer flows effortlessly from us.

Instead, we become tense and we start overthinking.

We get thrown out of whack and out of sync.

Fortunately, over time I learned to differentiate between physical investment (effort, work) and emotional investment (needing some outcome to happen).

I learned that the more I put in the work and the less I worried about the outcome, the more effortless and fun the process became.

I found creative solutions to all sorts of problems.

I stopped procrastinating, as if by magic.

My results soared.

Simply by forgetting about the outcome and staying fully in the moment and only focused on the immediate next step, I kept having fun and doing great work.

And when I occasionally lost sight of this and started worrying about the outcome and constantly second-guessing if this is the best way or if I was good enough, I procrastinated, performed poorly, and lost all enjoyment in the process.

So how can you “convince” yourself that there really is nothing at stake when it seems like there is?

You might have rent to pay, a business to fund or an exam to pass. They all sure seem serious and real.

After all, everyone knows success leads to happiness, wealth leads to security, and circumstances dictate our experience.

But what if we have that backwards?

What if happiness actually leads to success, security leads to wealth and our thoughts create our experience?

When you see the magnitude of this for yourself, you will see that your procrastination is created from the inside-out.

So are your attempts to overcome the procrastination.

You’ve pitted one thought (“Do something!”) against another thought (“I don’t want to!”)

You are the source of both those thoughts. As you strengthen one, you also strengthen the resistance in the other.

It’s an unwinnable war, no matter how strong-willed you are.

It is only when you take a step back and realize it’s all made of thought that you can stop messing with it and making it worse.

If I had to put this in the form of advice for my former self, this is what I would say:

Hey buddy, slow down.

You’re okay.

Just relax a little.

Stop doubting yourself.

Stop pushing yourself to do and be more.

You are already enough.

This world needs YOU, not the you that you’re trying to be.

You have so much doubt, expectations and overthinking filling your head that the quiet, gentle voice of your wisdom is being drowned out.

Anyone would procrastinate in your situation.

Anyone would make poor decisions.

Anyone would stop enjoying life.

You see, procrastination isn’t a “you problem”; it’s part of the human condition.

Just like trees flower, humans think. We’re thinkers, and sometimes we get so caught up in our thinking that we lose track of what’s what.

Everybody gets stuck when they have too much thinking about the outcome and what we should be and achieve.

So let yourself off the hook.

Let your thoughts settle and you will automatically find your way back to clarity, resilience and wisdom.

The answer isn’t to try harder, to seek further, to beat yourself up more.

It’s the opposite.

Embrace yourself as you are.

Forget the story you’ve told yourself about procrastination, outcomes and the world.

They’re just that - stories.

Instead, just let things be as they are.

When you relax, you will notice a funny thing happen:

You’ll suddenly notice yourself having fun and being curious and taking action effortlessly again.

Just like when you were young.

You see, you never lost that innocence or that potential.

You never became lazy or serious.

You just thought you did.

This is your wake up call.

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