The OutmarkⓇ love of reading has brought us a new and exciting book this quarter—one that thinks outside the box. Our book club read the fascinating and counter-intuitive psychology work called The Antidote: Happiness For Those Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman.
In a society dominated by “just think positive” and “if you put your mind to it, you can succeed!,” The Antidote provides an alternative approach for those of us who feel like there’s got to be another way to be happy besides just telling ourselves to be.
Referring back to human psychology, Buddhist philosophy, and Stoicism, Burkeman considers alternatives to our overly-optimistic mindsets that can help rewire the way we value failure and uncertainty, and learn the value of embracing difficult experiences.
Check out our favorite highlights from this quarter’s book club.
What would Seneca do?
Ever heard of Stoicism? Essentially, it is the philosophy of leaning into hardship and pain. Burkeman, following this philosophy, argues that imagining the worst-case scenario makes one resilient, not depressed. When we consider how badly things might go, there are many benefits, including:
- Developing a muscular calm in the face of trials
- Learning that nothing is inherently positive or negative, and it depends more on how we perceive it
Adopting this mentality can prove helpful in the workplace. Being overly optimistic can be dangerous, while having a healthy awareness of all the things that could go wrong can help us prepare for possible outcomes that are not quite sunshine and rainbows—and also view those storms as learning experiences rather than personal failures.
Mt. Everest is a towering feat for the climbing community, attracting risk takers everywhere to climb its hazardous summit.
Some psychologists have been intrigued by the kinds of people who are determined to climb the mountain—especially those who are fixated on the most deadly approaches and refuse to turn back.
Goal obsession showed to be a lofty influence in many climbers who ended up dying on their expeditions. Those who became too emotionally invested in their goals made choices that ended in fatality. Their goals ended up being more important than anything else, including their lives.
Comparing this to the world of business shows how goals are not always all that they’re cracked up to be. Just because someone sets a goal doesn’t mean that they will or even necessarily should reach it, no matter how well they prepared, or how hard they tried. This can be because of two reasons.
Reason 1: The goal is too all-consuming
Evaluating our progress is critical, but some people become too fixated on an end goal. Ever seen the Pixar movie Soul? The story shows how those who become too obsessed with something can turn into miserable monsters. It starts to rule that person’s life, and blinds them from other opportunities.
Burkeman argues that letting go of a goal that is impractical shows more foresight than clinging to a perilous one that may no longer be relevant. Instead, learn to be flexible with goals.
Reason 2: We don’t have total control over our environment
Overly-rigorous goal setting may be an attempt at controlling the uncontrollable. We don’t have control when, say, a pandemic hits, or we lose a client or investor. Once again, learning to be flexible can do us much good in a world that we can’t control.
Flexibility in life shows that we are becoming more comfortable with how uncontrollable the world is, and allows us to adapt to life’s uncertainties. Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities—for success, for happiness, for really living—are waiting.
The value of failure
Are you familiar with the Museum of Failure? This museum collects failed products from companies all over the world, and they have a lot to choose from since the failure rate for products is a heartstopping 90%.
The problem is that our society is aversive to failure, to the point where many companies don’t keep track of their failures, instead hiding them away shamefully. The academic world is notorious for this too—most studies without groundbreaking results are never published. The problem is that this leads to repeated failures without ever learning from what went wrong.
How do we fix this?
We should be reflecting wholeheartedly on our failures, respecting them and learning from them with a growth mindset. This involves embracing the belief that our failures do not determine if we as an individual are a failure.
Our overall lessons learned from The Antidote? Lean into hardship and contemplate how things can go wrong, evaluate if our goals are all-consuming or overbearing, and be okay with the failures that we face and learn from them rather than shirk from them.
That’s a lot of food for thought. Have any impressions? Be sure to include them below—we would love to hear them!