Human Nature: 3 Deep Lessons to Change your Life

Change your life

I’m here to remind you that although you may have to work on Monday, pay your cable bill, and look presentable at that dinner party next weekend, you’re floating on a f*cking rock through space.

It took 13.8 billion years of supernovas exploding, galaxies colliding, clouds of gas cramming and condensing, compounds shifting and replicating, millions of generations of life on Earth, (and your parent’s special moment at that Lynyrd Skynyrd concert), to perfect the miraculous, powerful human spirit that is you – the inside of a star made aware of its own existence. Amazing. You won the impossible lottery of life – a prize-drawing with odds so small, the human mind can’t even comprehend the number (it’s 1 in 1 with 2.6 million zeros after it). At the moment of conception, you are gifted a golden ticket for “One Admission to Life on Earth”, stamped with a simple tagline – “Enjoy the Ride”. Your 9-month journey is arduous, and upon arrival, you’re promised a few basic amenities:

  • 80-or-so-odd trips around the sun – or 29,000 Earth spins.

  • A functioning body with five sensations that perceive the states of matter around you.

  • Eyes to look at things – Sunsets, mountains, baby tigers, trees, naked humans, clouds, the indignant face of your mother-in-law – there is an endless amount of stuff to look at.

  • Beautiful weather and breathable air – Besides our planet, it’s really shitty for trillions of miles in every direction.

  • Endless amounts of time to think and ponder – The Spanish Inquisition, astronomy, 20th century English literature – there’s an endless amount of stuff to fill your brain with.

  • The power to create – Art, film, sculptures, poetry, literature – the human mind is a blank canvas with unlimited potential to create and reflect upon its existence.

  • Oh, and you’re out of the food chain (which is nice).

Life is short. You are animated for a brief time, a speck on the cosmic calendar, only to return to the impending void from which you came. There are no rules for life on Earth, just ones we humans made up. With this golden ticket to life on Earth, you are created as a blank slate with unlimited possibilities and choices; a being whose actions produce measurable results in the universe.  Your life is truly amazing. Yet, when casting an eye over human nature, what do you see? A huge disconnect between the spectacular nature of reality and how we act in our daily lives.

We fight with our friends and neighbors. We gossip. We spend 9-5 doing things we don’t like. We pay more attention to celebrities and social media than those who really matter in our lives. We judge people before we get to know them. We complain. We limit ourselves and create artificial barriers. We settle – for ordinary jobs, ordinary relationships, and ultimately, ordinary lives. Why do we act this way? Why is it so hard to break free from this trap and live up to our innate human potential?

It’s simple... we’re human; imperfect creatures with fundamental flaws in our programming. Although we live in modern times, we possess ancient evolutionary instincts from a bygone era, hardwired into our machinery. These instincts, coupled with our life experiences and agreed-upon social norms, limit what’s possible and reinforce our mediocrity. Think about it. We prefer the comforts of security and certainty to the unknown, yet it's this anxiety-inducing uncertainty that pushes us out of our comfort zone and creates a life worth living. 

So what limits our potential? I've narrowed it down to three distinct flaws in our human nature. Through understanding these flaws and acting on them fearlessly, we can begin to understand how we operate as human beings, and begin to think differently about our lives.

Human Nature Flaw #1 – Our Fear

Picture your great-great-great-great-great^10,000 grandfather. Let’s name him Grook. Grook was a hairy, highly unpleasant man; a hunter-gatherer who used specialized tools to survive in the wild. He didn’t have time to worry about his long-term career goals or ponder which Netflix series to watch next. He battled other tribes, hunted animals and probably raped people. Oh Grook… He was a social animal, developing his understanding of the world through other humans in his tribe.

Grook’s survival was dependent on fitting in. He developed specific tribal fears which helped him conform with the group. This was logical.  Grook was either accepted, and reaped the benefits of power in numbers, or exiled which in those time was a death sentence. Because of this, Grook operated with three tribal fears:

Judging – He constantly stayed on top of other members of his tribe, or they could potentially steal his food, rape his women, or kill him.
Being right – Decisions were life or death. It was critical to be right; leading the tribe to a source of water, not a pack of hungry lions.
Looking good – Grook passed on his DNA by being a strong, desirable member of the tribe.

Fast forward 200,000 years... We no longer need to fit in to survive. Decisions are not life or death. Being a social outcast in not a death sentence. Yet we still judge, want to be right, want to look good, and we get the same gut reaction when these things go wrong. Our survival mechanisms are playing out in modern life. We compare ourselves to others, worry, obsess over our appearance, care too much what other people think, instantly judge, and try to gain admiration and respect by fitting in – fitting into a tribe that no longer exists.

All social fears can be reduced to two simple motivations:

To look good
To not look bad.

It’s that simple. We witness looking good everywhere, especially on social media. The “check out my amazing relationship” photos, the “I’m living quite the life” brags, the cryptic, “something bad is happening to me” cries for attention, all highlight our desperate need for approval; our biological need to project a positive image of ourselves and look good to the tribe. However, all of this looking good and not looking bad can be dangerous. It can quickly shift those entrepreneurial dreams into thoughts of "What if I fail? What will they think of me?". It might turn that walk-up introduction and conversation into "What if they reject me?". That fear is the first human nature flaw that holds us back.

In order to look good and do normal things that everyone agrees are normal things, we developed a system of mass agreement called:

Human Nature Flaw #2 – Our Society

Society knows perfectly well how to kill a man and has methods more subtle than death.
— Andre Gide

We live in a world of social agreements – a matrix of reality that shapes how we think. It’s the unquestioned backbone of society that deems what is and isn’t normal. This is considered a “consensus reality”, or an agreed-upon reality based on a consensus view. It’s an imaginary construction crafted by men and women around long before we were born, and perpetuated over the generations.

What we eat for breakfast (no ice cream?), the length of a work day, the proper age to get married, family values, what it means to be a man, table manners, how we act in public – all consensus realities. You can see it, I can see it, but we didn’t sign up for it. It’s like a traffic jam – we’re all in it, but can’t change a damn thing about it.

Think of how much social agreements limit what’s possible:

  • “I can’t change jobs, no one will hire someone my age."

  • "I can’t take my kids on vacation this summer; I’m only allowed two weeks off per year."

  • "It’s okay I’m bored at work because most people don't like their jobs."

  • "It's okay I can barely afford the mortgage, most of my friends are homeowners.”

  • "I need to hurry up and get married by 35 or I'll be all alone."

  • "Why should I start a business? Most fail within five years."

Our societal pessimism and resignation construct a prison of our own creation; an artificial barrier to what’s possible. The worst of these social agreements is the idea of busyness.

“Hey Adam! How have you been?”

“I’ve been sooo busy lately. Between work, writing this blog, working out, and volunteering, I barely have time for anything else.”

“So do you want to hang out tonight?”

“I don't think so, I’m too busy. I might have a few hours after work, but I’ll let you know.”

Busyness is a brag disguised as a complaint. It feels good to be busy. It makes us feel significant, like people rely on us and we matter. “I’m an important human being! I have a full schedule and people that rely on me. Why aren’t you as busy as me?!" Say, “I’m not doing anything today,” and enjoy a glare of disapproval. The social agreement of busyness keeps humanity in line. It assures our heads are down in our work and duties, and that civilized society marches on uninterrupted. Busyness doesn't care. It doesn't care if we have time to question things, nor does it care if it helps or hurts us. It just is. We didn't create it, but it's the world we live in.

What are we so busy doing? Are we taking time to design a life of our choosing? Or does most of our time benefit someone else? Most likely we’re at a job writing emails, filling out proposals, creating spreadsheets, taking phone calls, and sitting in meetings, staying busy for busyness’s sake; working day and night for someone else’s future.

On this rock in space, all the busyness – the forfeited lunch breaks, time away from family, work-induced stress, and late night email checking - is completely and utterly meaningless. Ask yourself: will any of it matter 10 years from now? It may pay the bills and fill up our calendars, but it’s probably not why we were put on Earth. We all need to get comfortable with the idea that what we're doing matters a lot less than we think. 

So to recap up to this point, you’re floating on a rock in space at 67,000 miles per hour in a vast an incredible universe, your body is made up of 93% stardust, and millions of generations of life had to combine at just the right time to create you at this very moment; this moment when you’re sitting at work, staying busy, doing something you probably don't like. And lucky you. After a long day at work you can lay down in bed, check social media or watch Netflix until you fall asleep, and kill every idle moment so there's no time left to sit quietly and question the meaning behind of all this. 

Remember the golden ticket we received at birth, with the tagline that read “Enjoy the Ride”?

Society has it’s own tagline, and it reads:

Behave. Listen to your parents. Do your homework. Be a good student and get good grades. Perform extracurricular activities. Go to college. Get more good grades. Land a good job at a high paying company. Work hard. Get promoted. Settle down. Take out a mortgage and buy a nice big house. Spend that money you earn. Have kids. Save for retirement. Pay your taxes. Retire. Enjoy your free time. Die.

This blueprint is a race to nowhere.

It leaves us stressed, unhappy, and unfulfilled. We plan and save and dream of “one day”, pushing happiness into the future. We settle for tolerable jobs making just enough for a mortgage, a few vacations and retirement. We put our heads down, work hard, and stay busy, missing many of life’s precious moments. Our self-expression, our belief in what’s possible, and our very humanity are murdered by society’s collective, self-limiting, perpetual cycle of mediocrity. We experience a predictable, reasonable, ordinary life, and then we die. Ultimately, we end up with a life we didn't ask for, because we let society choose it for us. 

Henry David Thoreau, an American essayist best known for his transcendentalist views and reflections on living a simple life in nature, wrote in his famed book Walden:

“I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me...”

How do we shake ourselves out of this timid, predictable, linear life path? How do we escape this limited way of being that starts in our minds and is reinforced in society? First, we break free from our past.

Human Nature Flaw #3 – Our Past

The human mind is a wanton storyteller… We see faces in clouds and tortillas, fortunes in tea leaves and planetary movements. It is quite difficult to prove a real pattern as distinct from a superficial illusion.
— Richard Dawkins

Your past is a movie; a dramatic narrative of every event in your life. In your story, there are heroes and villains, acts, sets, producers, screenwriters, and cameramen. As the hero of your own story, you brain plays back all of your victories and your failures, everything that ever happened to you, in vivid HD. You recall a single event – a bully picked on you when you were in 4th grade, your crush made fun of you in art class, you struck out in the 9th inning of your big game - and you attach dramatic meaning to it. You remember feeling embarrassed, rejected, or unloved. You tell yourself, "I never want to experience that feeling again." So now, coupled with your innate human fears and societal conformity, you act safely, doing your best to avoid rejection, escape conflict, and not be your true self. 

The truth is, life is a series of random events. There is no story, complicated drama, or inherent meaning behind anything. An action occurs in the universe, particles move from point A to point B, maybe words are passed from one person to another (the meaning of which can be construed hundreds of different ways), and then after the fact, your brain attaches meaning to it based on your beliefs and experiences. This story (your past) is a hypothetical reinterpretation that no longer exists in reality - that never existed in reality - a story that no one on Earth remembers the same way that you do. You are a meaning-making machine. In your stories, you beat ourselves up for things that happened days, months or even years ago. You carry your past with you your whole life, defining your present and future based on what’s already occurred. You say, “I have always been this way, so it must be who I am.” When truly it's all in your head. The only time that exists is now. And now... And now... And now...

Pretend your past is stored on a hard drive, with files and folders consisting of the memories of everything that ever happened to you – that family trip to Disney World, the first day at your new job, the time you and your ex split up – everything that's ever happened in your life. This hard drive is flowing with terabytes of memories, stored haphazardly in folders, with files opening every so often, pushing themselves into your conscious thought.

You also have another hard drive – your future hard drive. This is filled with what you expect to happen in the future – driving to work tomorrow, meeting your friend for lunch on Wednesday, upgrading your kitchen cabinets, moving into a bigger house, getting married – everything you imagine might happen. However, like a lot of computer programs, there is a major glitch. Hackers snuck in and messed with your hard drives. They copied all of the files from your past hard drive and pasted them into your future hard drive.

This is how you operate. Since your past is your only reference point, you view your future through the lens of your past. You imagine going to the same job, the same meetings, having the same kind of relationships, the same level of success, and living a predictable, almost-certain future. These assumptions, based on an imaginary past, restrict what’s possible. This leads you to say things like,

  • “I failed at my business; so I’ll probably fail again."

  • "My girlfriend broke up with me; I’m unworthy of love."

  • "I’ve always had an office job; there’s no way I can travel the world."

  • "I’m extremely shy; I can’t be a public speaker."

  • Ultimately, "My life has always been average, so it always will be.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Your future will not be determined by some imaginary past that's trapped in your mind. Your past does not define you. You are (as you have always been) potential - a brain, a body, and the conscious choice to act, at this exact moment. In order to act in a meaningful way, you must train yourself to face your fears, disregard society's rules, and forget your past.

Human Nature: 3 Deep Lessons to Change your Life (Summary)

Up to this point, your life has been held in check. You’ve been controlled by evolutionary fears, limited by a mediocre society, and restrained by your imaginary view of life through the lens of your past. This may sound bleak, however it's the best news you can possibly hear. As average people clasp desperately to their safe, comfortable existence, you have the opportunity to take massive action, to be courageous, to do things that scare the shit out of you and create a life worth remembering. While everyone else is asleep at the wheel, you have the innate human potential to change your life, your business, the world – because 99.9% of people simply aren't doing it.

If you can see your fear as a challenge and not a life or death struggle, you can take action in spite of it. If you can see society for what it is – a sea of ordinary people and rules that  reinforce mediocrity – it doesn’t hold you back. If you can understand that your past is an imaginary drama with no real significance, it loses its grip on you. Understanding this is only a small part of the battle. After reading this, you will still be on the sidelines – thinking, planning, figuring out what it all means in your head, analyzing the validity of the arguments, and judging the quality of the work. I challenge you that there is nothing to figure out. All you have to do is take action now. To defeat fear, you must encounter it, continuously, over and over again. Take enough action in the face of fear and you're no longer paralyzed. 

Finally, I want you to put an imaginary wall behind you that blocks your past and let’s you forge ahead fearlessly. I want you to lead by example. Stop carrying the burden of your past – a regret, a failed relationship, a feeling of guilt – a simple phone call can erase it all. Apologize and move on. Mend your broken fences. Don’t get stressed about your job; money won’t make you happy anyway. In fact, go ahead and take an extended lunch break – or hell, a whole week off. Remember to give to others: fulfillment comes from making a difference. Hug your kids and tell them how amazing they are. Laugh your ass off. Smile. Stop caring what people think. And don’t take life too seriously.

Oh and please remember, you’re only floating on a rock through space, all the rules are made up, and none of it matters. So go invent your life. 

I'd love your feedback on this article. Please comment and answer this question:

What is the number one thing holding me back from living up to my potential in my life and/or in my business?

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