21 Maxims To Maximize Your Life.


In each new maxim, I am exploring a psychological concept and talking about the implications that it has on our own growth and wellbeing. You can find each maxim as a full episode on my podcast, Morning Coffee. If you are interested in following along or using each maxim as a journaling prompt or thought experiment, check back here daily through the end of November.

Maxim #1: Undefined intentions create the space for mediocrity to exist.

Morning Coffee Episode #452

  • Intentions that aren’t thought out may set us in a direction but they don’t tell us how to act in the meantime. If you want to actually achieve something, you need a goal that is pointed enough to direct your actions in pursuit of what you want.
  • lots of professionals that have every intention of being successful but because they haven’t defined what success actually looks like, aren’t quite sure where they are heading. And if you don’t know where you are heading, how could you possibly know what to do in order to get there?
  • Without a clearly defined behavior, you won’t know how to always conduct yourself. 
  • As you travel down your path you will be exposed to numerous opportunities, if you clearly define what you are after (either with a goal or even a mission statement) than you will know what you should agree to and what you should pass on. 
  • With "good intentions" the temptation is to take every opportunity possible. The danger in that is that you won't know if the opportunity it taking you further or moving you closer to the life that you actually want.
  • Success metrics are the antidote to poorly defined intentions.
  • Journaling prompt: How do you define success? The way that you define success is what creates the problem that you are solving. For example, if success to you looks like a six figure job, that creates a host of possible solutions. If success to you looks like a six figure job where you work three days per week and have challenging intellectual endeavours to work on (these are some of my own success metrics) than you now have a new creative problem to solve with fewer options. The more pointed your metrics can become, the more you will know how to act and what to do in order to get there. In addition, you're more likely to enjoy it if you can actually attain it. With as much detail as possible, describe all of the facets of your life where you would like to achieve something. This is the beginning of your personal playbook. 

 

Maxim #2: The past only becomes useful when you let it go.

Morning Coffee, Episode 453 

  • We have the ability to remember the past so that we can architect the future. 
  • The problem is that if you are looking at what has transpired through a lense that is tainted by your emotion, than what you are looking at can't be trusted. You won't see it clearly.
  • Information without objectivity isn't clear enough to be counted on. You don't know if you are seeing what's happened or only what's happened in context to you. 
  • Understand there are many views for the same situation. You need to find the one that allows you to look at what has happened, learn from it and move on.
  • If you don't have that objectivity, there's a chance you will be learning the wrong lesson which will leave you in a position to possibly repeat the lesson.
  • All of the personal development help in the world would fall short of what you could learn from your past if you could learn from it properly.
  • Since emotions simply need to be felt, learn to feel them as they happen so that you can move through them, let what's happened go and begin to move on.
  • Who you are going to be is far better than who you've been: Only you have the power to make that statement true.
  • Journaling prompt: What's transpired in your past that you still aren't free to learn from? If you've been stuck on the past currently, write it down carefully and completely, allow yourself to feel what's transpired completely so that you can free yourself up to move forward. Learn to release what you are holding onto so that that you can reclaim all of you for what's here and now.

 

Maxim #3: Everyone has a right to their own story

Morning Coffee, Episode 454

  • You aren’t mad because someone was an asshole and cut you off. You are mad because you expected them to hold up your world view and standard for right and wrong.
  • The only person that you can truly expect you from, is you.
  • It’s ludacris for you to expect that someone else should be on your path considering their world is formed by their unique history.
  • For this reason your answers couldn’t possibly be theres and likewise, no one else's answers are guaranteed to work for you.
  • Journaling Prompt: Where have you given your personal contentment away because you've held people to your standard for living? Understanding that everyone has their own view and that their view is influenced by what they've personally gone through. 

 

Maxim 4: Expectations should be reserved only for oneself.
Morning Coffee, Episode 455
  • You are solely responsible for giving yourself exactly what you need. No more and no less. No one else should or could.
  • When you place expectations on others, you hand your wellbeing off to someone else to hold which creates the space for resentment to exist.
  • In school we’re not taught that we are the ones that are responsible for saving us or giving us exactly what we need. As adults, we need to learn to embody that knowledge because it won't be our default setting.
  • It’s our job to come through for ourselves regularly and if we learn to then we can actually enjoy the company of the people we are with and we don't NEED something from them.
  • Remember that expectation is the root of resentment. We have to ensure that we aren’t creating the space for resentment to exist because we are expecting a certain validation from our friends, family or siblings.
  • Journaling Prompt: Where have you placed expectations on other people to give you something that you need? Whether that’s validation, belonging or club soda, it can only be you that will ever truly give it to you. The beauty is that if you learn to rely on yourself for what you truly need, then you are in a position to choose your life and your company, freely and completely.

 

Maxim 5: We fear the idea of the thing, far more than the thing itself.
Morning Coffee, Episode: 456
  • Most people are scared of what failure means more than what it says which positions them to experience that thing again. To be clear, failure doesn't mean anything about you. It simply says that you made an error. 
  • This is one of the literal thoughts that contributes to performance anxiety - We put our focus on ourselves and as a result are no longer focused on the task at hand. Hence we begin to feel inferior in the face of what we are doing.
  • The deeper we go into metacognition “thinking about thinking” the more we restrict our ability to act in the moment. This is because thought by itself does not technically exist in reality.
  • When we fear the idea of something, we tend to run ourselves in these metacognition loops that can be difficult to get out of. When you find yourself in one of these loops, what you need is an action step to help pull you out of it.
  • While metacognition is what gives you the ability to make new choices in the first place, the best performers in the world get really good at discerning whether the current moment requires deliberation or action and they further minimize the time they spend in indecision.
  • Understand that failure from a performance perspective is actually a good thing. But you aren't free to see that when you believe that the failure says something about you outside of that performance. There is too much emotion involved.
  • If you face your fears, you will see what they have to tell you and then can move on. They are almost never what we make them out to be in our heads.
  • Journaling prompt: What is the thing that you are not willing to face? If you can stand in your truth and face whatever that thing is, it will hold the key to your liberation.

 

Maxim 6: Being good for someone else is good for you.
Morning Coffee, Episode: 457
  • Meditate on the fact that existence itself is a matter of relationships.
  • The quality of our relationships then becomes the quality of our lives.
  • Romantic and personal relationships often create a container for personal realization and improvement.
  • If we don’t analyze our relationships enough, we begin to believe that proximity is a quality that defines a good relationship. Simply being together becomes a picture of success regardless of how stifled each person might be. 
  • The truth is that lots of people are addicted to things that are bad for them and it’s extremely easy to let your chaos become someone else's drug. In this case, we are more apt to find wound mates than soul mates.
  • The outer world is holding up a mirror to your inner world. Which is why being the partner that you want to be with actually works for you as well.
  • Journaling prompt: Where in your relationships could you become a better version of yourself? This could be platonic, personal or romantic. In most cases, each party's just waiting for the other person to step up and be a catalyst toward love. Take this time to identify all of the areas that you could improve your relationships by just showing up as the person that you want to be with.

 

Maxim 7: In an abundant world, opportunity is a matter of selection.
Morning Coffee, Episode: 458
  • We have this idea about life that in order to get the right opportunities, we must work hard for them and they will present themselves. 
  • In an abundant world however, all possibilities already exist.
  • This is technically true. If you think about where you are right now, there are an almost unlimited number of things that could happen next. That number only increases as you step forward into the world. What this means is that the potential for the opportunities that you need already exists.
  • When it comes to finding the right things, what you need to do is  tune your selecting mechanism. This is the role of the Reticular activating system. This is the part of your brain that is used when you notice something that you’ve just become aware of. 
  • You often hear it referred to when talking about how you seem to see the same color car that you just bought but it’s also going to happen with concepts and words quite often. And concepts can actually change your life if they are realized in reality. 
  • Journaling prompt: What are you currently tuned into finding? Said another way, what do you deeply believe to be true. That is what you will live out and those are the opportunities that you will find. If you can get to your core beliefs around what you want, you’ll actually stand a chance at changing it.

 

Maxim 8: You will live out what you believe to be true.
Morning Coffee, Episode: 459
  • Opening story: Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. According to Ovid, after seeing the Propoetides prostituting themselves, Pygmalion declared that he was "not interested in women",[1] but then found his statue was so beautiful and realistic that he fell in love with it. In time, Venus's festival day came, and Pygmalion made offerings at the altar of Aphrodite. There, too scared to admit his desire, he quietly wished for a bride who would be "the living likeness of my ivory girl." When he returned home, he kissed his ivory statue, and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again, and found that the ivory had lost its hardness. Venus had granted Pygmalion's wish. Pygmalion married the ivory sculpture which changed to a woman under Venus's blessing.
  • The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon whereby others' expectations of a target person affect the target person's performance.
  • A corollary of the Pygmalion effect is the golem effect, in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance
  • When you expect something to happen and then it does, is that a self fulfilling prophecy or did you correctly predict the future? This is something that many people wrestle with on a day to day basis. 
  • Luckily it’s not something that requires speculation as researchers are continuing to find that a performers expectations of performance is one of the largest determining factors in that performance. 
  • The best performers in the world don’t wait until they are mid performance to try turning their narrative around, they go into it with an expectation of how they will conduct themselves and what they tell themselves while they are in it.
  • Journaling Prompt: what do you deeply believe to be true about how you’ll perform when you step up to the plate?

 

Maxim 9: Making the right choice is about objectifying the subjective world.
Morning Coffee, Episode: 460
  • We make our choices until our choices make us.
  • Values are the one thing that we can scientifically say gives us a sense of meaning in our lives. Values are a subjective psychological experience meaning that what your values are and what mine are tend to be very different things. 
  • When it comes to making difficult decisions, you want to have a familiarity with your values so that you can recognize how they will be lived out in different decisions. 
  • Thus you want to objectify i.e. take emotion out of the equation when it comes to giving yourself what you want. Your values are what you want but often we have a narrative in our head about something that doesn’t allow us to actually live it out. Like perhaps we value agency over our lives but we are so used to allowing one of our parents to dictate what’s right and wrong in life through their validation that we can never exhibit that agency.
  • If validation causes you to live differently from your own intrinsic values, than you are living smaller than you have to and allowing your temporary emotions to stand in the way of what you want. 
  • This will never change if you don’t. In many cases it’s a matter of pulling ourselves out of the roles that we are currently in or have known but in any case, it’s important to remember that not every decision you make says something about someone else. It can just be about you and what you need.
  • This is why we must also understand what it is that we need in order to feel centered or feel good about what we’re doing. This is subjective because obviously we don’t all need the same things in order to feel good about ourselves. The quicker you figure out your needs, the quicker you can learn how to use your voice and stand up for them. 
  • Often when we say yes or no to people, we have a hard time standing on that decision or even using our voice to vocalize it. The truth is that sometimes we have to say no in order to protect our bandwidth, not because we don’t want to hang out with someone. 
  • Journaling Prompt: Where could you rescue more of your bandwidth back by making different decisions? You can turn that decision into a boundary and then turn that boundary into a standard for life, thus freeing you up to use more of our effort on things that we actually want to be focusing on. 
Maxim 10: When progress becomes the goal, meaning becomes a right.
Morning Coffee, Episode: 461

 

  • The truth is that authenticity is the quickest path to high performance. 
  • Otherwise, there won’t be enough reason to keep moving forward amidst the pain and hardship if you don’t.  
  • Even if you don’t think about what you are doing as a career as shouldering an extreme amount of risk, times are still going to get tough because you’re still doing the human thing. You still need something strong enough to push amidst the heartache and loss that you’re going to deal with in life.
  • The reason we should seek to see the pursuit of meaning in life as an inalienable right is because when someone has a sense of meaning, they are constantly pushed to show up as something approximating the best version of themselves. Or to at least put their best foot forward. 
  • When it comes to architecting a society, what else could you ask for than a group of citizens who are all doing their absolute best to play their part, whatever that is? This is one of the true responsibilities that society should actually push in my opinion. 
  • The thinking that gave us our current construct is that we should train people to play a part without ever stopping to ask if it’s the part they want to play. How much different, happier and more effective might the world be if we were taught to find meaning in what we do?
  • Journaling prompt: Where in your current lifestyle could you seek more meaning? Whether that is taking a class or playing a sport; the activity is somewhat inconsequential as long as it affects a value. 
Maxim 11: In regards to failure, you certainly can be.
Morning Coffee, Episode: 462

 

  • “In order for a tree to reach its branches to heaven it must first reach its roots to hell.” -Carl Jung
  • One of my most often recited messages is that as a human being you are everything. You contain the full spectrum of human emotion, characteristics and attributes.
  • When it comes to beating ourselves up or dealing with imposter syndrome, one of the narratives that we tell ourselves is that we are a failure, or stupid or incompetent.
  • This usually comes out when we mess something up or begin to think about stepping into a new role or a position that we perceive as bigger.
  • This is often a method that our subconscious mind uses in order to keep us small and comfortable.
  • The truth is that when it comes to failure or incompetence, you definitely can be, but what else is true?
  • Journaling prompt: Where have you succeeded in the past? No one has a single quality without also exhibiting its inverse quality. That’s why you can only truly love someone, only to the depth at which you are willing to suffer. This is life and life is everything that makes it up. 
Maxim 12: Always assume the rug that you’re standing on will be gone soon.
Morning Coffee, Episode: 463

Nan-in, a Japanese zen master  in the late nineteenth century, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

  • Zen Buddhism (originating in China) is an interesting religious practice in that it deemphasizes knowledge of doctrine and emphasizes direct understanding of truth. - Which in many cases makes us relinquish what we previously knew. And because life is fluid and not static, it requires our beliefs to mold and evolve as we do in many cases. 
  • The point of the koan is to exhaust the analytic and egoic mind in order to reveal the more intuitive “no-mind”. They are not about arriving at an answer, but to see for ourselves that our intellections can never provide us with a completely satisfying answer. 
  • The goal is to reveal some sort of deep truth in the untangling of the mystery. 
  • This is why zen Buddhism is often spoken in riddles. As people we become attached to our beliefs and if we aren’t careful we become an arbotor or puppet of our beliefs and they are no longer serving us. Actually, it’s the other way around.  
  • This is why the only true expectation you can have is that what you know is incorrect. 
  • The strength in this message actually comes from simply relinquishing your grip on life. The nature of it can’t be grasped and when we try to, we are no longer talking about life but an idea.
  • This is also why you have the saying, be hard on principles and soft on methods, because you want to make sure that you leave room for what you don’t understand.
  • Life isn’t somewhere to get, it’s something to experience. When we treat it like it’s somewhere to arrive, we end up clinging far too tightly to things that aren’t serving us or what we want for ourselves.
  • Journaling Prompt: What belief are you holding on to that is keeping you from pursuing the life that you want?