For much of the modern era, the story of becoming an adult has been told to us as one of psychological liberation: people will notice — as they grow up — how many of their difficulties, especially around love and work, can be traced back to inadequacies in their childhoods. They will realise, for example, how much their low self-esteem owes to their relationship with a withholding mother or how much of their timidity at work can be traced back to an over-anxious father. …


To make a real impact, you need a monastery of the mind

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We’re overly devoted to execution. We rush frantically to fulfill hastily chosen ends; we exhaust ourselves blindly in the name of sketchy goals; we chain ourselves to schedules, timelines, and performance targets. We focus on execution at the expense of the final product, which was the point of all the effort to begin with.

Our bias toward execution makes evolutionary sense; our ancestors needed to act quickly to survive. But in our day and age — where we are surrounded by acute choices as to what to do with our lives, aiming for happiness rather than basic survival — we…


For most of history, speaking up was about the most dangerous thing an ordinary human could do

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Despite a lot of encouragement, despite political freedoms, and psychological exhortations, most of us still suffer in silence. We don’t say — until it is far too late — what is wrong, what we want, how we are angry, what we’re ashamed of, and the way we would like things to be.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. For most of the history of humanity, speaking up was about the most dangerous thing an ordinary human could do. There were mighty superiors above us who demanded complete obedience and were strictly uninterested in anything we might have to say. Speaking up…


The pure fact of buying things and getting excited by possessions is not the real problem

Illustration: Malte Mueller/Getty Images

It doesn’t seem to make sense to suggest that there might be such a thing as “good materialism” — after all, surely materialism is just plain bad? When people want to pinpoint the root cause of corruption in our age, they generally only need to point the finger at our attachment to material things. We’re apparently sick because we’re so materialistic.

It can seem as if we’re faced with a stark choice. Either you can be materialistic: obsessed with money and possessions, shallow, and selfish. …


The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work. That’s 3,750 days or 10 years. We pin much of our happiness, and our unhappiness, on what we do during the working day. And yet, we are often curiously unsure of why we do the work we do; or are unable to see the difference we make.

When we aren’t properly sure of the purpose of our work, our motivation stalls. We carry unvented frustration; we grow resentful and unsatisfied, and ultimately less productive. We should take consolation, first of all, from the fact that we are far from alone. A…

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