books - self development

Mental Traps

A Field Guide to the Stupid Mistakes that can Ruin Your Life

by Andre Kukla

In a nutshell, this book describes how “our lapses from doing the best thing at the best time and in the best way fall into recurrent and readily identifiable patterns. These are the mental traps.”

I’ll say upfront that I didn’t love this book, and I wouldn’t recommend it – it certainly has some wonderful nuggets but overall it wasn’t an easy read and I disagreed with some of the material.

(Sidebar.. I am reminded of this quote… “Time in life is short. You can only read so many books, so choose wisely.” )

Here are those flags of mine…

pg 11 So we begin to welcome trouble as an ally, and to be fascinated by our reactions to it. And everyday life is transformed into an endless adventure. For what is adventure if not an attitude toward trouble?

pg 18 A useful distinction may be drawn between persistence and perseverance. We persevere when we steadfastly pursue our aims despite the obstacles that are encountered along the way. But we merely persist if we doggedly carry on in directions that are known to lead to a dead end.

pg 50 We we can’t do anything useful to advance our aim, we would do better to forget about it and turn to something else – even if the aim is enormously important and the alternative is just barely worth a glance.. Any amount of value is preferable to merely killing time. Until we’re in a position to do something constructive about saving the world from a nuclear holocaust, let’s have a cup of tea. When we’re standing in line, we can observe the other people or enjoy a private fantasy. When we’re stuck in traffic, we can do isometric exercises. Periods of enforced waiting are often precious opportunities to indulge in the little pleasures of life for which we can’t make a special time in our busy day. Here at last is a chance to take a leisurely bath or an aimless stroll, to throw sticks for a god, to discuss philosophy with a child, to interpret the shapes of clouds. In fixation, we throw away the gift of an empty moment.

pg 56 But we need never wait to become who we are. We are ourselves already, and this is already our life. A prince isn’t merely a future king, a little girl isn’t just a woman-to-be. Princes, children, students, apprentices, unpublished authors, struggling artists, and junior executives are already something definite and complete. The maximum of life’s joys and sorrows is already open to them. … There are no preliminaries to living. It starts now.

pg 64 Complaining is the more general term, referring to any expression of displeasure with the course of events. Lamenting is complaining about what can’t be changed. Complaints that aren’t mere lamentations may be instrumental in getting things done. This is why there are complaints departments. But there would be no point in having departments of lamentation, where people go to bewail unalterable fates.

pg 73 Since disappointments are both painful and arbitrarily defined, why don’t we arbitrarily define them out of existence? … What we call a disappointment is no more than a part of the present conditions under which we must act. Not having made money on the market is the same as not having invested. Losing money is the same as never having had it in the first place. What does it matter how we came to be where we are? Here we are.

pg 80 But if a piece of work can be delayed without endangering the chance of its timely completion, then it should be delayed. For we lose nothing and gain the advantage of basing our actions on the latest and best information.

pg 93 Evidently, we suffer from the delusion that we always need to know what’s going to happen next. … If we always try to anticipate what happens next, we can never give our undivided attention to the task at hand. … There are people who remain perpetually ahead of themselves by only a moment… They’re never fully here, never just doing this. Hence they’re never fully alive.

pg 98 But the fact that something needs doing does not necessarily mean that it needs to be done right now. Even the most important task in the world can be utterly ignored until its time has come. In time, we may be called upon to make momentous decisions, perform heroic feats, lay down our lives. That time may only be a moment away. But until it comes, there’s only this night sky to admire, this cup to rinse. Everything else is a trap.

pg 107 But it’s pointless to let opportunity slip away when the present task can be postponed without cost. We’re not likely to forgo opportunities that are very large and obvious. But our reluctance to change course often causes us to miss little pleasures. We won’t stop to look at a sunset until we’ve finished our work – and then it’s too late.

pg 147 Ultimately the only remedy that will restore our efficiency and our capacity for pleasure is to stop dividing. The technique for achieving this cure is constant practice in doing one thing at a time. Every single affair of the day is a suitable occasion for this important exercise. When we eat, we can practice just eating. When we wash the dishes, we can practice just washing. … In some traditional approaches to mental development, students spend twenty minutes a day counting their breaths from one to ten and over and over again. Mastery comes when they’re not distracted from the count during the entire sitting. The benefit of this activity for everyday life may not be evident to those who don’t attempt it. … When we catch our mind wandering away from the count, we should simply start again with the number one, as though nothing had happened. Every time we do this, we increase our ability to remain undivided as surely as each lift of the barbell improves our physique. After two or three months of daily practice, the increment in our mental efficiency and in the pleasure derived from daily life is so noticeable as to take almost all practitioners by surprise.

pg 150 The Universe never asks more than one thing of us at a time. In the midst of a thousand desperate emergencies, we have only to attend to the most desperate emergency. … In reality, there’s never more than one thing to do. Being busy is always a trap.

pg 164 If our work is infinite – if it will never be at an end – then what’s the point of rushing? Expediting the end of one chore earns us only the privilege of beginning the next. Infinity minus one is still infinity. Therefore speed can’t improve our condition. We might as well take our time with everything we do.

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