The Illusory search for happiness

John Lennon quote

I see quite a few people who come in and say they want to be happy…. trouble. Nothing is ever enough for them.

Anyone who lives his life looking for happiness ends up sick, addicted or kills himself directly or indirectly prematurely.

If you feel you get what you deserve you feel content.

If you feel you got more than you deserved you feel lucky (when positive), unlucky (when negative).

If you are hungry (can be food, sex, recognition whatever) the moment you get just enough you feel gratification and you may feel happy for 30 secs to one minute then it’s over.

After that the law of diminishing returns and sensory overload load kicks in. Another unit of what just gave you pleasure is no longer pleasurable and you begin to feel less happy then you were a few moments earlier.

The ones who end up reasonably content, fulfilled and even dare I say it happy more often than not, picked a life focussed on purpose and it was often values driven.

They are often artists, scientists even missionaries. Generally they focus on more than themselves. On something larger but in such a way that their own emotional and psychological needs are met in this pursuit.

They have learnt resilience like marathon runners so they don’t experience burnout.

5 Stages to Mastering Anything


Unconscious incompetence:

Don’t know that I don’t know. Don’t care to know. There may be a belief that the subject matter is too trivial or not important enough to warrant time and energy. “It’s so easy any idiot can do it”.

Conscious incompetence:

Increasing awareness of ignorance. Increasing awareness of potential benefits of wanting to know more about the subject matter and learn some of the skills involved.

This is an essential stage necessary to trigger the next stage of learning. “How does anyone ever learn this?”

Conscious Competence:

Conscious awareness of theory, framework, skill sets and ability to use

All of the above in problem solving.

This is the beginning of expertise. “I can do this.”

Unconscious Competence:

This is the stage where observation, theory, analysis, perspective and discovering a solution are so seamless and automatic that it seems to flow and meld together.

The answer seems so obvious that it seems hard to believe no one else can see it. “Its so obvious. How come no one else sees this?”

This is the domain of an expert.

Reflective Competence:

In order to reach the stage of reflective competence, the master requires a “beginner’s mind”, which refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

When deliberately assuming the attitude of the beginner’s mind, the master will reflect on the field of study and attempt to break every concept down to its simplest form. Through this process, new insights will arise and lead to increased clarity.

This process will be counter productive at earlier stages. It will interfere with the process of developing superior automated skill sets.

Only when the superior skill sets are automated will the inquiry into core principles be useful.

As you teach more and more people on a specific subject, it will become easier to identify their current stage of development. It is only possible to assist someone in reaching the next stage if you have clarity on their current stage of growth.

As soon as you meet someone for the first time and during the first interaction are able to identify their current stage of development and immediately after that you are able to assist them in moving to the next level, you have reached the grand master stage.

The challenge for being in business whether as an entrepreneur, CEO or investor is understanding where you are in the schema above and behaving appropriately.

There are two major traps:

1) Beginners luck: You are in the right place, right time and right connections. Everything comes together. If you recognise you were lucky, you are safe.

If you think you made it happen, it’s the deadliest of traps you have laid for yourself. You will henceforth believe you lead a “charmed life” and get involved in bigger and more expensive businesses.

When eventually you crash and burn and hit the ground, you leave a 50 feet deep seismic crater in the ground.

Witness the “” era. Also when the markets’ are bullish and no matter what you do you make money.

How many of them thereafter can pick themselves up after they crash? They are often in financial shambles. However the biggest blow is the to their self esteem and self worth.

2) The pain of change and growth: There is often significant discomfort when we do something new for the first time. Too many have been seduced into thinking that the journey to mastery is a smooth ride. The moment they start “bleeding” a little they give up. Ask any master of the blood sweat and tears they shed along the way.

The only guide to traversing the treacherous road is “To see the world as it is” as in my earlier post.

Ask any of the grandmasters below about their journey and see if you get a different response.



To see the world in a grain of sand…

As a poet, philosopher and mystic I remain fascinated by these words.

As a physician, scientist and businessman the above lines spell “Danger”.

Everyday I meet clients who struggle with challenges in their lives because they fail to recognise the reality confronting them.

Very commonly they have mental filters and blinkers and emotional triggers that distort what they see, hear and feel.

Some of these processes were useful in a given context. Out of that context it became downright dangerous.

These processes include:

1) Deletion: Your brain has to make sense out of thousands of stimuli per second. So after awhile it screens out the repeated back ground “details”.

There are also things you don’t want to see or hear because they make you uncomfortable, so you screen that out as well.

As a result you don’t pay attention to your loved one when they are struggling with a real problem and get shocked when they get a heart attack and drop dead.

You don’t pay attention to how your client is presenting himself/herself and you miss vital clues that could help you close the sale. You kiss a thousand dollars goodbye.

2) Generalisation: You have always done it a certain way.

So you conclude that is the only way.
Something happened enough times in your life with enough intensity to create a neural pathway in your brain.

So you conclude that, “love hurts” because everyone you were close to dies or leaves.

You saw enough examples of unethical behaviour by rich people so you conclude “rich people are bad people”

You do not pay attention to the changes in the environment or people.

You fail to recognise major changes in the environment that would invalidate that particular marketing or business approach.

If you are “lucky” your business dips only 10% because you missed the trend.

If you are lucky, your wife only smiles at you sweetly (while she quietly curses) because you bought her a gift exactly like what her best friend is wearing. You did not keep track).

In the long term, these little things wear your business and your relationships down.

3) Distortion: 

This process is the basis for creativity. It creates great artist and poets you do Creative things with their imagination like Picasso and his Cubist style of painting.

On the other hand, it can also lead to major issues. One person’s model of accuracy is another’s model of obsessive compulsive attention to detail.

4) Projection: Whatever secret fears and anxieties you have, you deny having them. You ascribe it to the people around you.

You are an anxious person but you cannot accept it. Your cab driver looks at you and asks you if everything is fine and you conclude your cab driver is anxious.

So all these processes deletion, distortion and generalisation and to a lesser extent projection will determine what we allow into our world. In that sense they are filters. They end up forming our values, biases and beliefs.

On the other hand, based on those processes we will also design a future where all our biases, beliefs and values are validated. If that is so you cannot appreciably design a future that is very different from the past.

All your goal setting and planning becomes fatally flawed.

Which pill will you take? Red or Blue?

The Fallacy of EQ only


In earlier years,IQ or Intelligence Quotient was revered as the hallmark of life long success.

It’s another issue of cognitive bias.
1) First if everyone is a genius with a PhD, and if you have EQ you are ahead (The oft quoted Bell study mentioned in “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goldman)
2) On the other hand if you are not a genius with no PhD you don’t get the job.

So in business, if 3 of you are competing selling a similar product,
1) The one with a system is ahead
2) The guy with a system and some EQ is more ahead.
3) The guy with a system and Personal Branding (a tailored EQ system for his company) takes the jackpot.

My good friend and partner Raymond Ng commented that

“From experimental data, which of course you can say there is cognitive bias in it, I observe the following.

The one with the system is rarely ahead. If one does not have EQ (required for understanding basic market need), he is simply not in the game.”

I replied

“A collection of protocols that does not serve the intended beneficiary is bureaucracy.”

So in a rapidly evolving market place, earlier systems that provided superiority are rapidly subsumed by more advanced systems that provide a Competitive Edge. This is often referenced in Spiral Dynamics.

Whatever we idolise, we eventually demonize. As in the “Book of Changes”, the cycle swings. IQ is passé and EQ is the flavour of the month or is it. We now have something called AQ or Adversity Quotient.

Pursuit of Happiness – Part 3

251A Victoria Street, Singapore 188035 

The Pursuit of Happiness
and the 10k Rule
(PART 3)

ow can consciousness be controlled?
Experience depends on how we invest psychic energy – on the structures
of attention. This is related
to goals and intentions. These processes are connected to each other by
the self or the dynamic mental representation we have of the entire
system of our goals.
Whenever information disrupts consciousness by threatening its goals we have a condition of inner disorder or psychic entropy. When something troubles our well-being or safety we use up attention on this threat and cannot pay attention to other areas of our life.

Every piece of information gets evaluated for its bearing on self.

  • Does it threaten your goals?
  • Does it support them?
  • Is it neutral?

What is the meaning we have assigned to this information?

When information is coming into awareness is congruent with your goals, psychic energy flows effortlessly. But whenever one stops to think, the evidence is encouraging. Positive feedback strengthens self and more attention is freed to deal with outer and inner environments.

How does someone committed to continuous learning and growth handle his responses regardless of whether he is a factory operator or a brain surgeon?

He will ask himself the following questions:

  • How can I beat my record?
  • How can I improve my performance?
  • He would work out painstaking moves on his routine and how to use his tools.

Following a flow experience, the internal organisation has become more complex than before. This complexity consists of differentiation and integration. While differentiation is the movement towards uniqueness, integration is the integration of autonomous parts. Flow helps to integrate self because in that state of deep concentration, consciousness is well ordered.

Thoughts, intentions, feelings and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is in harmony. And when the flow episode is over, one feels more in harmony than before not only internally but also with respect to other people and to the world in general.

When you only have the differentiated self-great accomplishments often with self-centred egotism. When you have a self based on integration you can be connected and secure but lack autonomous individuality.

Only when you invest equally in the above do you have complexity.

Paradoxically when you act freely for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives that you learn to become more than what you were.

While much effort has been devoted to 10k rule as the forerunner of future success, no one has really paid attention to why an individual would spend so much of their time in developing those skill sets.

I would suggest that early in life they experienced enormous sense of pleasure, enjoyment, gratification and reward for excelling in that endeavour. We are back to “humans want to maximise their happiness”.

If the young person pursues this endeavour purely for the enjoyment they get from excelling, you get enduring world class performance.

If not, you get a well-trained competitor who does it for pure external gratification.

Witness the tale of two Olympic champions Joseph Schooling and Li Jiawei.
Joseph’s father remembered an episode when Schooling was just 8 years old. He woke his father up at 4am. The father asked him if he knew what time it was. He replied yes. He just couldn’t wait for his father to bring him for his morning swimming practice. Such was the determination of Schooling, wanting to swim and wanting to excel in swimming from a very young age.

In an interview in 2008, Li admitted that she didn’t like table tennis and did not play the game with passion. “I don’t like the game. I just did it when I was younger to condition my body,” she said. “Now it is my career and I have to face it.”

The American Junior Academy of Sciences which consisted of the highest IQ youngsters in America had a disproportionately low number of Nobel Laureates.

Let me tie it all back with the ongoing discussion I have had with D’Niel Strauss and Raymond Ng.

The layers of learning and growth:
    1) Unconscious incompetence

    2) Conscious incompetence

    3) Conscious competence

    4) Unconscious competence

    5) Reflective competence


the movement of the above often reflect core competencies that are often directly or indirectly related to the competencies acquired in the course of the 10k hours.

The levels of growth:

    1) Novice
    2) Apprentice
    3) Craftsman
    4) Master
    5) Grandmaster

The above levels correspond to your capacity to grow, to self- actualise and your desire to increase your personal quota of meaning, purpose and happiness. The journey whether you get there or not is what matters. If you want to succeed and be happy, you need to ascend the scale of ability. You have to become more complex.