Solitude is More Than a Desire: It is a Need

We have a healthy craving for quiet solitude. I know there are a few people who are afraid of being alone, but the rest of us find it soothing and rejuvenating and it doesn't happen nearly as much as we'd like.

Solitude is therapeutic. Spending time in solitude doing what you want at a pace that is natural to you, without any interruptions, without having to take others into consideration, without any external pressures or the need to hurry, is deeply satisfying and personally I classify it as a psychological need.

It is unnatural for human beings to have no time to think. It serves an important function, I think, much in the same way dreaming does. Dreaming may seem to be a waste of time, but when people are prevented from dreaming — allowed to sleep as much as they want but awakened when they start to dream — after a short while, they begin to hallucinate while they're awake. Dreaming is necessary for mental health.

Solitude and time to think is necessary too, I believe. If you prevent yourself from having time to do nothing, by yourself, allowing free time to think naturally, it makes you less calm, less rational, less happy, less sane, than you otherwise would be. Although I have no experiments I can point to that would validate that assertion, I believe it's true, based on what I know.

In solitude, in the absence of interruptions and distractions, the mind naturally drifts to solving problems, trying out solutions, imagining conversations.

In "primitive" societies, where people don't have the pressures and multi-tasking and so many different forms of diversion, mental illness is almost nonexistent.

Of course, too much time alone isn't healthy either. It's like anything else, you need balance. Not enough exercise is unhealthy, but too much exercise can put you in the hospital. But I think most of us are deficient in solitude and need more of it. Finding it and doing it will require some ingenuity on your part. But you can do it.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Inner Peace

On vacation many years ago, I was reading the Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism's holy books. It is basically a conversation between Arjuna, a charioteer, and a spirit. The spirit is urging Arjuna to let go of his attachment to the outcome of the upcoming battle. And all throughout the book, there is a continuous urge to let go of your desires, to give up desiring.

Crazy idea, I know. But I was on vacation, and I thought of something I'd like to try, so I tried it. I did a kind of meditation that lasted for several HOURS. I normally fidget a lot and have a hard time sitting still for long periods, but without any goal to sit still for so long, I was quite content to stay sitting there for hours. And all I did the whole time was to notice when I had a desire, and then decide to let that desire go.

I realized that desires are something I don't really have control over. They come up on their own. Just sitting there, one desire after another would pop up. I wanted to move my position. I wanted the pain in my leg to go away. I wanted to get up and have something to eat. I wanted to get rich. I wanted people to like me. I wanted things to go well at work. I wanted I wanted I wanted. One after another these desires came forth and presented themselves. That part I had no control over.

But I did have some control after that point. I can decide on a desire or not. I may have the desire to have a beer, but then I can decide, "nah, I don't really want one, now that I think about it."

In other words, I don't really control whether or not a desire comes up. But I do control whether I hang onto that desire or let it go.

So that's all I did for several hours. I payed attention to when a desire came up, which was several per minute, and then decided to let the desire go. I simply decided No, I don't really want that now.

That was one of the most deeply peaceful experiences I have ever had in my life. I achieved a kind of bliss I didn't think was possible without heavy medication. I was totally peaceful. I was completely at ease. I had found bliss and tranquillity.

Now of course, most of my life is oriented toward goals, and that's the way it is. I don't want to simply sit and live in peace without doing anything worthwhile. But I know that any time I want to descend into the well of deep peace and quench my thirst, I have a way.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Talk to Klassy — A New Podcast

I've started a new podcast. It is my commentary on conversations I have with my wife and business partner, Klassy Evans. We often have creative, insightful conversations because she's brilliant and rich with wisdom. 

I've often had the thought while we were in the midst of one of these conversations, "I wish we had recorded this," but she came up with the next best thing: After one of these conversations, I could make a podcast about it while it's still fresh in my mind.

So that's what I'm going to be doing. I hope you enjoy it and get value from it. The podcast right now is only available on the following three platforms, but we'll get it on more platforms soon:

On YouTube

It should be fun. Stay tuned...

Direct Your Mind: What Does Life Expect From Me?

This is another in the series, Direct Your Mind. The most powerful tool you have available to you for using your mind to work for you rather than against you is asking a good question. Learn more about that here.

I borrowed this unusual question from Viktor Frankl. He had learned in his experience in Hitler’s concentration camps that many of his fellow prisoners needed to change their attitude. Frankl wrote,

We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
This is an interesting perspective, isn’t it? Very different from our normal way of thinking. It is a productive question to ask yourself, “What task has life set for me?”

For example, Tom has seen his boss doing something unscrupulous, but he really wants his promotion, and he’s the breadwinner of a growing family. He feels torn. It would give him a helpful perspective to ask, “What task is life setting for me here?”

Men in the concentration camp with Frankl sometimes tried to kill themselves. Because Frankl was a psychiatrist, life asked him to do something about it. He was called upon by his fellow prisoners to talk to the despairing men and find a way to renew their will to live.

Frankl learned the importance of finding meaning in life firsthand. When a person had some meaning — some reason to live — they were much less likely to kill themselves.

Frankl found that one man had a niece. The man was her only surviving family member. She needed him. So he had a reason to stay alive. There was a meaning to his suffering — a reason to endure. He needed to survive so he could look after that girl.

Another man had written several volumes of an important book series and it needed to be completed. He was the only person who could complete it. That was enough to keep him from committing suicide or just giving up and dying.

Frankl helped these men find something important life was asking them to do, and that was enough of a reason to live.

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist in Germany when Hitler took power and Frankl spent many years struggling to stay alive in concentration camps. During that time, he lost his wife, his brother, and both his parents — they either died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. He lost every possession he ever owned. Because he already knew a lot about psychology before he experienced these extreme circumstances, his observations have an extraordinary depth that makes his slim book, Man’s Search for Meaning, very rich in insight. His perspective on finding meaning in life is different from any other I have encountered. He wrote, for example:

The meaning of life differs from person to person, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion, “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds true for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.

I love that line: “…to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.” For example, Frankl tried to keep his fellow prisoners from committing suicide. The Nazis had made it strictly forbidden to stop a fellow prisoner from killing himself. If you cut down a prisoner in the process of hanging himself, you (and probably everyone in your bunkhouse) would be severely punished. So Frankl had to catch people before they actually attempted suicide. This, he felt, was a concrete assignment which demanded fulfillment. He was a psychiatrist. He was the most qualified prisoner in his camp to fulfill this assignment.

The men would often confide in Frankl, since he was a psychiatrist. The two men I mentioned above had told Frankl they had decided to commit suicide. Both of them had basically the same reason: They had nothing more to expect from life. All they could expect was endless suffering, starvation, torture, heartbreak, and in the end, probably the gas chamber.

“In both cases,” wrote Frankl, “it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them...” That's when Frankl discovered one was a scientist with an incomplete book project and the other had a niece in another country.

These are concrete answers to the question, “What does life expect from me?” The first man needed to finish his work. The other needed to find his niece and take care of her. Frankl had done nothing more than help them see they had a concrete assignment they had not yet fulfilled.

Even for people in less desperate situations than a concentration camp, a sense of purposelessness can produce fatigue, depression, alcoholism, and suicide. A lack of purpose creates all kinds of mental and emotional ill-health. And even if the ill-health wasn’t created by purposelessness, finding a purpose can often cure the health problem.

It doesn’t matter what other factors are doing well — money, family, kids, work, health — without a sense of purpose, those things won’t make you happy, and psychological problems will tend to plague you.

And you can’t “make something up” just to have a purpose. Any random goal is not good enough. It’s got to be real for you. It has to have meaning for you. This is not a quick and easy fix. This is a profound and fundamental question: What concrete assignment do you really feel is demanding fulfillment?

Each person’s life is unique. The concrete assignment a person needs to fulfill is different for every person, and different for each person at different times under different circumstances. Frankl discovered that a prisoner would not commit suicide once he realized his unique obligation to life.

Frankl’s observations have been borne out by recent research. Investigators at New York State Psychiatric Institute studied eighty-four people suffering major depression trying to determine why thirty-nine of them had never attempted to kill themselves. Instead of asking what makes depressed people want to die, they asked what makes them want to live.

The study revealed that age, sex, religious persuasion or education level did not predict who would attempt suicide. But strong reasons to live did predict it rather well. The depressed patients who responded on the questionnaire with more reasons for living showed less hopelessness and were less likely to try to kill themselves.

Other studies have shown that students who feel they have some purpose in life are far less likely to get involved with drugs.

Purpose in life. Meaning in life. These are not superfluous issues reserved for philosophy classes. Frankl’s question brings us to the heart of a vital matter. The question makes us look at our situation from an unusual point of view.

Thinking about “what you want out of life” is a common thing to do; it is looking at your situation in a common way. But what about asking what life wants out of you? Not that you should ignore what you want out of life. I don’t think these two points of view are entirely opposing, and in fact, I would add to Frankl’s view that the ideal purpose fulfills both. For both of the prisoners who had decided to commit suicide, Frankl’s point of view helped them find their purpose, but for both of them, the purpose was not merely a duty. It was also something they wanted very strongly and had simply forgotten about or given up on. For each man, their purpose was something they desired and also something they felt was a concrete assignment that demanded fulfillment.

Frankl’s question is worth asking — especially if your aim doesn’t seem very clear to you. By looking at your life from another angle, you can sometimes see what you’ve disregarded or overlooked. What needs to be done and what you strongly want to do is often staring you in the face without you seeing it.

For Michael W. Fox, his concrete assignment was unmistakable. Fox is now a veterinarian and author of several books. When he was nine years old, he was walking home from school when he looked through a fence and saw a ghastly sight: A large trash bin overflowing with dead dogs and cats. He was looking into the backyard of a veterinary clinic. “I never knew the reason for this mass extermination,” Fox said, “but I was, from that time on, committed to doing all I could to help animals, deciding at age nine that I had to be a veterinarian.”

Here was a concrete assignment life had presented to Fox. He saw something that needed to be done, and he strongly wanted to do something about it. He became a veterinarian and has been reducing the suffering of animals ever since. He has worked to educate people and pass legislation that reflects more respect for all animals.

A clear aim can convert a feeling of horror into a resolve to do something about it. A clear aim can transform a feeling of despair into grim determination. If there is anything in your life you feel you’ve given up on, or if you feel despair or hopelessness about something, this is your wake up call. A clear aim can change a self-defeating, counterproductive emotion into a constructive feeling that leads to constructive action. For example, during the Korean War, the Chinese government tried to brainwash captured U.S. soldiers. The Chinese used every technique they could think of to make the POWs give up their belief in personal freedom and take up a belief in the greatness of communism.

The captives were tortured, starved, and psychologically assaulted — unless they converted. In one of the prison camps, three-fourths of the POWs had died, and things looked pretty bleak to those still alive. They were feeling demoralized and hopeless. Not only did their chances for survival look slim, but they would have to endure terrible suffering until the end. The POWs were beginning to give up on life.

Then one man said, “We’ve got to stay alive, we’ve got to let others know about the horrors of Communism. We’ve got to live to bring back the armies and fight these evil people. Communism must not win!”

This was a turning point for every American in that prison because their meaningless suffering was transformed into a mission. Their despair was turned into resolve. Their feeling of hopelessness was converted into firm determination. And from that point, prisoners stopped dying. They made it back to the U.S. They lived to tell the world what happened.

A single definite, worthwhile, heartfelt purpose can transform a horrible experience into a sacred calling, crusade, a holy aspiration, a true mission. I’ve read about and I’ve had personal experience with the same transformation many times.

Viktor Frankl wrote, “Any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal...Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost.”

The psychologist, Abraham Maslow, studied exceptional people to find out what unusually healthy people were like. Until Maslow came along, psychologists mostly studied mentally ill people to find out why they were ill and how they became that way. Maslow felt we could also learn something from the study of fulfilled, happy, successful people. That became his life’s work. And one of the things he found out about these “self-actualized” people was that “every one of them, without exception, were devoted to a cause outside their own skin.”

They were devoted to a cause. They had a clear aim. And for these exceptional people, it was a clear aim beyond satisfying their personal needs. They were working on a concrete assignment that demanded fulfillment.

If you want to join the ranks of the self-actualized, get yourself a purpose that fires you up. Find something that you think is needed, that you feel is important, that you want very strongly to see accomplished. If you don’t have one, I have one for you. I’ve thought long and hard about what is needed in this world, and here it is: We must win the war against pessimism, cynicism, and defeatism, and you can help. You can take up this banner and put your powers to the test.

Maybe you already have a clear aim. Or maybe your clear aim is not so global in scope. If not, don’t sweat it. But don’t try to accomplish a clear aim if your heart isn’t in it. Pick something important to you. Choose something that fits your situation. Remember the man who had a niece to take care of.

But don’t choose a goal beneath you, either. Defeatism reveals itself in the setting of low goals — goals too small or petty — goals below your capabilities. Setting a low or petty goal is a kind of preemptive defeat. You’ve given up on bigger goals before you’ve even tried. For someone with no purpose at all or in a very restricted situation (like a concentration camp), a small goal is all you may be able to realistically consider. But as your level of psychological fitness increases (and/or as your material conditions improve), there comes a time when an all-in crusade is called for as a context for your life.

There isn’t one right purpose which you must find and follow. Delete that kind of magical thinking from your thoughts forever! Any constructive purpose is better than no purpose and some are better than others. Some are good for now, but no good if pursued too long. The important thing is that you like your purpose and feel it is important.

We don’t know if life really does expect anything from us. But asking that question calls forth deep personal answers of meaning and purpose. Try pondering the question for a few days and you’ll see what I mean.

The above was excerpted from the book, Direct Your Mind: How to Steer Your Mind to Work For You Rather Than Against You.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought, Direct Your Mind, Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, and many others. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Oil Isn't Sold in a Free Market

Petroleum does not exist in a free market. Some oil production operations produce oil for much cheaper than others, so they could sell theirs on the market at a price lower than anyone else, and thus gain a larger market share.

But they don't. They all sell barrels of oil for the same exorbitant price. Why?

Because they can sell everything they have at top dollar.

Why? Because OPEC keeps oil artificially scarce. They keep it scarce enough that all the oil that becomes available on the world market is snatched up. There is no competition. It's an unprecedented seller's market.

OPEC's price-fixing, economy-devastating scheme (and its destructive effects) can be bypassed with the simple introduction of fuel competition. Cars would become a platform upon which different fuels would compete against petroleum in a free market.

And then what would happen? Prices for fuel would drop, and the economy — no longer dragged down by crushing, encumbering, onerous fuel prices — would boom.