11 Weird Ways to Make Life More Beautiful

Life Advice from Kobe Bryant and A Case For Creativity

Read Time: 15 Mintues (6.5 pages on word at 12 point font)

Art by: Falyn Monique @fal_in_muse

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Remember when you were a kid and the most common question was “If you could have any superpower in the world, what would it be?” My imagination would run wild with all of the possibilities, but I decided that the ability to breathe underwater was my #1. I think what I REALLY wanted back then, was the deep feeling of awe and wonder that I’d experience exploring a new underwater world. I’ve since matured and realized that my answer should be something more realistic, something possible. Imagination has it’s limitations in the real world. No matter how hard I try, I’m not going to be able to breathe underwater (without a tank, smartass.) But what I CAN do, is use my imagination to find a way to feel that feeling that I was searching for. Find a way to make life more beautiful. I’ve been pondering this for years: Is there a way to make life more beautiful? More rich? Is there a way to squeeze the more out of life? Wouldn’t that be the coolest superpower? If so, what do I need to do and how do I do it? 

My mom always asked me growing up why I had so many questions. I never knew, I still don’t, but what I do know is that these questions have never stopped. They’ve only gotten deeper and more complicated. For instance, one of the biggest questions for me over the last 10 years has been “how do I become successful?” Success would for sure make life more beautiful, wouldn’t it? 

Turns out, this isn’t a very easy questions to find an answer to. I’ve always wished there was a “Success Doctor” that could write me a prescription with steps to follow that would make me successful. But unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, Success Doctors don’t exist. I needed to find an answer on my own. This lead me on a learning journey of podcasts, books, youtube clips, articles and conversations to try and discover answers to the questions that my mom would answer with “Why do you ask so many questions?” (love you mom.)

I noticed a trend that a lot of “successful” people seemed to talk about: accomplishing the goal isn’t what matters, what matters is enjoying the process. There’s more to life than “achieving.” I was once forwarded Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement speech. In it he says: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Was this the answer to making life more beautiful? 

Even though this was common advice amongst the successful, I was confused. It’s like I understood what their words meant, and I believed them to be true, but I just couldn’t FEEL it. I didn’t know how to apply this advice to my life. I hadn’t yet achieved what I wanted… so how could I just “enjoy the process?” A worry would also pop into my mind: “Won’t I be less motivated… if I’m content now?” 

It was only after asking myself all of these questions, experiencing some personal pain and suffering, and a routine trip to the bank that I finally understood what “enjoying the process” REALLY means. My question “How do I become successful?” was the wrong question all along, and these experiences helped me find the right question. The question should have been “How am I successful already?” Finding answers to THIS question may just be the way to make life more beautiful. 

If you’re short on time, or impatient, I’ll list 11 weird ways to make life more beautiful below, but they probably won’t make sense on their own (like the way the Kobe’s video only made sense after personal experience.) You’ll have to sacrifice 12 minutes of your precious time to read the words that follow and put it together yourself. After all, I’m no success doctor. 

11 weird ways to make life more beautiful:

  1. Change your definition of success
  2. Develop a “Gratefulness-Gland”
  3. Learn lessons from suffering before you suffer
  4. Pay attention to your ability to pay attention
  5. Think of your attention like a bank account
  6. Create a financial plan for your attention
  7. Understand your NEEDS
  8. “Attention-Wealth” over “Money-Wealth”
  9. Search for creativity EVERYWHERE
  10. Learn to generate “Attention-Flow”
  11. Enjoy the Process

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A few weeks ago, I deposited all of the spare change I’d gathered over the past year at the bank. I tend to use my “running around time” as thinking time, so as I was lugging around 20 lbs of change, I had a question circulating my mind. The question was “How can I redefine ‘Success’ so I can enjoy the process, rather than be left unhappy until I get what I want, just like the pros recommend?” This trip to the bank with $431 of rolled up change sparked a thought that made me understand what Kobe and the others were saying all along. All of my questions had finally lead to answers. Answers that will slowly reveal themselves over the course of this article, it’s more a series of answers than anything. I’ll continue to use these answers as a tool to remind myself how great my life is TODAY. I’ll use this tool to make my life more beautiful. Please keep in mind that tools don’t automatically fix things forever, they’re used when you need them. They’re used to fix and MAINTAIN. 

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Why is it only when we get a skin condition that invades our whole body and makes us itchy 24/7, that we realize what REALLY matters in life is being healthy? That we should have just been grateful all along for NOT being itchy. Why do we constantly tune out what our parents say, and then wish we’d paid more attention when they’re gone? Why is it that we’re not grateful for our body until it doesn’t work as it “should?” Right now, the odds are that most of us should be grateful for not having a scalp condition that causes us to lose our hair, we should be grateful for not having an eye condition that causes us to feel a constant burning sensation, a nose condition that makes us lose our sense of smell, a migraine, a chronic ear-ache, a gum condition that makes us lose our teeth. We can’t really be grateful for what we have, until we don’t have it.

I’ve realized that there is a deep truth to the simple cliche “You never know what you have until it’s gone.” We only really learn what we NEED when we experience NOT having that need met. Our brain can only pay attention to so many things. If we had a “gratefulness gland” constantly scanning and reminding us when things are going well, it would simply rob us of too much energy. There are just too many things “going right” to keep track of. Our brains instead evolved a more efficient model, we scan and detect for whats wrong, instead of whats right. The side-effect of this is that when things are going well, we’re not aware of it. Things going well fly under the radar, they’re non-existent to our “threat-detecting” senses.

I’ve learned that we can develop a “gratefulness gland,” and developing this gland plays a big part in making life more beautiful. Developing an understanding that we’re tuned to detect threats can calm us when we’re anxious. We can use it to get us through fear, pain and suffering when we’re in the thick of it. This knowledge can calm our nerves to fall back asleep when we’re woken up by creepy noises in our house. But more on that later, first, there are more questions. 

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Why does everybody say we should be more grateful? Why will being grateful help make life more beautiful? Because we usually only learn life lessons when we experience pain and suffering. And being grateful is being proactive and learning the lessons that pain and suffering teach us BEFORE we experience pain and suffering. We can use feeling grateful to potentially squeeze more out of life. This proactive approach is our new “gratefulness-gland.” 

In order to make life feel richer, in order to be more grateful, we need to learn how to do the seemingly impossible. We need to learn how to PAY ATTENTION to what’s NOT THERE. Pay attention to these undetectable things that only when we LOSE THEM, do we realize their value. We must learn to be grateful that we don’t have a tooth-ache, BEFORE we get a tooth-ache.  

It’s like these gratefulness lessons are hidden in a vault that can only be opened by pain and suffering, but we can make our own key and peak inside. We must get creative to make this key. They key to unlocking this vault is complex, weird, and a bit confusing, but we should expect it to be that way if we’re trying to see the invisible, feel the unfeelable, sense the unsensable. The key to this vault is PAYING ATTENTION to our ABILITY TO PAY ATTENTION Daniel J. Levitin in his book “The Organized Mind” states that “attention is the most essential mental resource for any organism.” (pg.7) 

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I realized on my trip to the bank that our attention is very similar to money in a bank account. Maybe there’s an underlying reason our parents and teachers would always use the saying “pay attention.”

Just like a bank account, you can accumulate and save attention. We can do this through rest, sleep, meditation, and letting our minds wander. And we can spend our attention by focusing on something, this is “paying attention.”

If we’re frugal with our attention and don’t spend any of it, it can lead to depression. We build up our attention reserves to the point where we don’t know what to spend it on. In this state, we’re not paying real attention to anything, so nothing matters. We then chase short-term highs, because feeling good matters, and we feel consistently low. This is our unemployed early twenties when we don’t know what to do with our time. We stay up late switching between channel surfing, smoking weed and masturbating, until we fall asleep. Then we wake up and have trouble motivating ourselves to even get out of bed.

We can get out of this by having goals that we work towards and a target to aim for, something more than “feeling good now” that matters. Goals are basically when we decide that something is worth us spending some of our attention on. With goals, we determine that sacrificing NOW, is worth what we might get in return LATER. Goals are switching a “short-term high chasing” mindset for a “long-term fulfilment” mindset. 

We can also spend too much of our attention, and this can lead to “burn-out.”  Our goals can become an obsession. We sometimes think that we’re not “worth anything” until we achieve our goals. If we don’t spend every second of every day doing SOMETHING to get us closer to “success,” the day seems like a waste. When we do this, we can go into “Attention Debt,” and we crash. We must find a balance between spending and saving our attention each day.

We must create a financial plan and budget our attention. Finding this balance is another step to making life more beautiful. The way to budget our attention, as we’ll later develop, is by bringing creativity into our lives any way we can.

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There’s a very interesting thing we have in our subconscious brain called our “Attentional Filter.” (Organized mind- pg.7) Our attentional filter is like an internal financial advisor that slowly spends our attention for us, and it’s on a budget. Our default is to conserve energy, to build up our reserves of attention, just in case we run into danger later. Paying attention takes more energy than letting our minds rest, therefor our attentional filter decides what we pay attention to by constantly scanning for two things, CHANGE and IMPORTANCE

Let’s say you’re exhausted and decide to take an afternoon nap. Your nap is interrupted by a pot falling in the kitchen. Most of us would think that it’s the sheer volume that wakes us up. But it’s actually our attentional filter detecting that there is a CHANGE in noise level, therefore it tells our brain that we should pay attention. This is an important survival mechanism that could potentially detect a threat while we’re unconscious. This is also why white noise machines help us sleep. A constant noise will drown out the noise of construction outside, or of your upstairs neighbour testing to see if their bowling balls are still round every morning at 6AM.

Next time you’re doing the dishes, pay attention to how much more focused you are when cleaning your big chef’s knife. When cleaning forks, pots and pans, your mind can wander, because there is no potential danger. But you subconsciously know when you’re cleaning a knife, that there is potential harm. Our attentional-filter grants us access to more attention when it knows that what we’re doing is IMPORTANT.

Our attention is worth protecting, and that’s why it is hidden in a vault. After all, our attention is what companies are paying millions of dollars in advertising costs for. 

There are situations where the money from our “attention-bank” can be stolen. And this is what we need to be proactive about. Because when your attention is robbed, it’s VERY difficult to build your reserves back up. And it’s only when we have this attention stolen, and we go into “attention bankruptcy” that we realize we should have been more grateful for the attention we already had access to. We don’t NEED to be extremely “attention-wealthy,” we just need to have enough to pay attention to what we want, when we want. The two main things that steal our attention are PAIN and SUFFERING

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When we’re in pain, our brain tells us that we have to do something to relieve that pain. Whether that pain is physical or emotional, it’s important. So our attentional filter tells us it’s time to pay attention. Our problem solving skills come into play and we start to come up with possible solutions to relieve the pain. Do I need Advil? Do I need to go to the doctor? Should I smoke some weed? Should I take a nap?  Should I do some yoga? Should I eat a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s? We do anything to get rid of the pain, and once we find something that works, we now know how to solve the problem in the future.

There are healthy ways we can proactively prevent pain, which are usually long-term oriented. We can establish healthy habits, spend time with people that care for us, diet, meditate and exercise. But when the pain is immediate, we no longer have the capacity to think in the long-term. We need something RIGHT NOW, something SHORT-TERM. These short term solutions can be unhealthy, but we don’t care. And if we’re not careful, these unhealthy ways can lead to addiction.

 What happens when we can’t find anything that works? This is SUFFERING. Suffering is when you can no longer pay attention to anything else besides the pain you’re facing. When you have nothing to alleviate the pain, your problem solving skills are still active, but to no end. The suffering STEALS your attention until you go “Attention Bankrupt.” It’s only when we go through some sort of suffering that we learn how important the ability to CHOOSE what we pay attention to matters. You may have a project around the house you want to finish, but when you’re suffering, you don’t have any spare attention to complete it and it will remain undone. You may be a painter that all of a sudden has no desire to paint because you don’t have any attention to spend. These tasks cost too much when you’re suffering. Suffering is a nasty thief that steals your attention instead of your money.

I’ve realized through suffering of my own that “success”and “wealth” in our lives should be more about our “Attention-Bank” and less about our “Money-Bank.” 

If attention were a currency, there’d be different “classes of attention,” just like there are different classes of wealth. We can be “attention-wealthy,” or “attention-poor.” Our most important goals in life should be based around our attention-wealth instead of monetary-wealth. Being attention-wealthy is WAY more important to pursue than being money-wealthy, because you can enjoy the benefits of attention-wealth during the process, rather than wait your whole life for it.

Becoming money-wealthy is a trap that we can fall into when we have low self-esteem. When we don’t know what makes our lives worth living, a simple solution pops into mind, we think we’ll be “worthy” if we get rich and have nice things. This is a trick, we think that all of our problems will be solved ONCE WE GET RICH. We’re tricked into thinking “success” is this feeling we get forever when we finish. We think that we’ll be filled up with a huge surge of happiness that lasts a life time once we accomplish our goals. And in the mean time, we don’t feel like we deserve little bits of happiness along the way. This trap makes us feel guilty when we’re happy and makes us not “enjoy the process.” Sounds a bit ridiculous when you look at it that way doesn’t it? 

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To “succeed” means to progressively get better. And because we aren’t born with a “gratefulness gland,” we can ALWAYS get better at being grateful. But it’s difficult, so we must get creative to do so. Creativity is another thing that we can ALWAYS get better at, there is no end. We can always “succeed” at being grateful and being creative. This is what I believe the best “success doctor” would prescribe for success. The biggest success, the best possible superpower, is to make life more beautiful, and we can do this by bringing creativity and gratefulness into our lives anywhere we can.

Creativity is “enjoying the process” at it’s core. Being creative is a skill, and learning skills is extremely difficult. You must enjoy the pain you’ll face when building a skill set if you want to get any good at it. You wouldn’t write if you hated the process of writing, you can only create what you enjoy creating. That’s the beauty of it. Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi says in the forward of his book “The Evolving Self” that “It seemed clear that what was so enthralling about painting was not the anticipation of a beautiful picture, but the process of painting itself.” (pg.xii)

If saving too much of your attention can lead to depression, and spending too much can lead to burn-out, creativity is the perfect balance between the two. When you’re being creative, you’re spending, while your saving. You’re achieving cash-flow, with your attention. Csikzentmihalyi states: “I called it ‘flow,’ because this was a metaphor several respondents gave for how it felt when their experience was most enjoyable- it was like being carried away by a current, everything moving smoothly without effort.” (pg.xiii)

Let’s call our version of the creative state “attention-flow.” Think about it, you can only be creative if you have the ability to pay attention to what you want to pay attention to. When you are being creative, you are by definition, not suffering. I think the “ultimate-success” in life is “continually not-suffering.” So if we ever think we’re suffering, we can attempt to be creative to get out of it. I’ll give an example a little bit later, first we must understand the “classes of attention.” 

To fully understand the different “classes of attention” and why creativity is the “ultimate success,” we must understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

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Abraham Maslow was a ground breaking psychologist. His life’s work was about human motivation and how it’s organized into a hierarchy. We need motivation to get things done, but Maslow realized certain things are more important to us than others, and that certain “needs” disappeared when other, more important, needs weren’t being met. It’s often drawn as a pyramid divided into 5 different building blocks. The bottom block being the most important, the foundation. The foundation is our “Physiological Needs,” which includes our need for food and water. It’s only when this foundational need is met, that we can move on to the next, which would be our need for SAFETY. Once we fulfill a need, we graduate to the next step until we reach the top. If our physiological needs AREN’T being met (i.e. if we’re starving) we’ll be brought back down a step and risk our safety to fulfill our hunger. The 5 needs are as follows:

  • 5- The Need for Self-Actualization
  • 4- The Esteem Needs
  • 3- The Love Needs
  • 2- The Safety Needs
  • 1- The “Physiological” Needs

Money could absolutely buy the first two needs, after all money does buy pizza, fiji water, houses, and alarm systems. But money could definitely not buy the last 3 needs of Love, Esteem, and Self-Actualization. Sometimes we’re tricked into thinking that money will attract love into our lives, and that we’ll feel worthy once we’re rich, but it just doesn’t work that way.

So, the money-wealthy in this world stop at “Need Stage 2,” while the attention-wealthy live in “Need Stage 5.” 

Need Stage 5 is “The Need for Self-Actualization.” Self-Actualization is defined by Maslow in his book “A Theory of Human Motivation” as “A Musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be…This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. The specific form these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions.” (pg.15)  !!!!!!

You may not consider yourself the “creative type,” but getting creative doesn’t have to be an art form. There is an opportunity to be creative everywhere. We can always find ways to be creative, and my dad happens to naturally be a master at it. He doesn’t paint, he doesn’t write, he doesn’t sing, he’s a hardworking blue collar man with the strongest hands I’ve ever felt. But he is very creative, more so than he even realizes.

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Last year, my Dad and I went grocery shopping on christmas eve. My dad walks really slow because of several long-term injuries, so I jumped ahead an isle to grab the peppers we needed (probably in an attempt to get home quicker.) I looked over and my dad was holding a plastic bag like a basketball net and encouraging me to take the shot over the isle of onions and potatoes. Together, we made the shot. Then once at the checkout, my dad grabs the EGGS and without warning, tosses them my way. More important than making the shot, or catching the eggs, getting creative during something as simple as GROCERY SHOPPING made for a lifetime memory. Now THAT’S creativity. THAT’S finding beauty in life where most wouldn’t see it. 

Yeah, for sure, we could have dropped the peppers and eggs, but creativity always involves some risk. Creativity IS RISK TAKING. If you write, paint, draw, sing, dance, plumb, weld, grocery shop or ski, you’re at risk of being ridiculed by others, at risk of breaking bones, at risk of a freak accident, at risk of your safety and self-esteem needs not being met. On one side of these risks lives beauty, on the other, potential pain. But with this potential pain comes learning. I took a life lesson from this grocery run that the opportunity for creativity is EVERYWHERE, and it can make life feel rich and full. (Thanks Dad.)

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Just like the way we can’t know what we’re grateful for until we don’t have it, I can explain what I mean, by explaining what I don’t mean. I’m NOT saying that if you get a concussion, the way to get rid of the pain is to paint. I’m not saying I’ve reached a point now where I don’t need to achieve my goals because I’m so happy. I’m not saying that every time I sit down and write, or sit down and play my drums that everything is automatically better and my pain disappears. I’m also not saying that becoming wealthy is a bad thing. 

What I’m saying is that because my new definition of “Ultimate Success” is “not suffering,” I notice that I’m not suffering when I’m in a creative headspace and I’m grateful for it. Creativity may not be all that I WANT, but it’s all that I NEED. This is living at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, living in “Need Stage 5.” 

The “Ultimate-Creativity” is finding a way to learn what pain and suffering teaches you, before you experience it. What you have NOW is something you won’t realize you have until you don’t have it. What you have now is the ABILITY to be creative. You have spare attention that you can spend on whatever you like. We can use this “ultimate-creativity” to develop our “gratefulness-gland” and find ways out of pain and suffering.

  • Creativity = Not Suffering
  • Ultimate Success = Not Suffering
  • Ultimate Success = Creativity
  • Ultimate Creativity = Gratefulness Gland
  • Gratefulness Gland + Creativity = Success

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Nothing screams creativity like imagination. And luckily we can use our imagination to create fictitious scenarios that get us through immediate pain. When I find myself in pain, I know it’s time to get creative. I know I need to achieve “attention-flow.” I’ve learned that I can use my imagination to create a “potential future suffering” situation in my head that makes me look at the pain from a different point of view.

Sometimes when I’m on a long run, my legs hurt, I feel like stopping and I wonder why I ever liked running in the first place. In these moments I use these “potential future suffering” situations. I think: “It’s completely possible I end up in a car crash some day like my dad and lose the ability to walk comfortably.” I then think: “How much would I miss this pain, how GRATEFUL would I be for this pain in my legs if I couldn’t feel them anymore?” This flicks a switch that allows me to endure the pain and push even harder. I use my “ultimate-creativity” to find a way to enjoy the pain. During these painful runs, my attention bank is being spent, spent on forcing my body to do something it would rather not. Once I bring my “ultimate-creativity” into this situation, I’m spending and saving my attention at the same time. I achieve “attention-flow” and it allows me to push through.

 This creativity, this risk taking, this new definition of success is what I believe a “success doctor” would prescribe to a young, naive, impatient me who wanted the answer to the question “How do I become successful?” Because creativity is something I can do NOW, and it’s something that reminds me that my attention bank budget is balanced. Now, when I notice myself feeling like I’m not “successful,” I ask myself one question: “Are you able to be creative?” If I’m able to sit down and write, sit down behind my drum kit, have a conversation with a good friend, or throw peppers across isles into shopping bags, I’m reminded that I’m NOT CURRENTLY SUFFERING. I’m reminded that my vault is sealed and my attention bank is safe. I’m reminded that I’m ALREADY successful, that I’m attention-wealthy, that I’m enjoying the process. There is opportunity every day for an attention-bank-robber to open up the vault. But, rather than worry about it, we can use our newly developed “gratefulness-gland” to be grateful that the robber isn’t here today. I think this is what Kobe Bryant was getting at during his jersey retirement, and his tragic death reminds us that these days (the journey) MATTER. Maybe Kobe Bryant was a “Success Doctor” and I’m just realizing it now. Thanks Kobe.

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11 weird ways to make life more beautiful:

  1. Change your definition of success
  2. Develop a “Gratefulness-Gland”
  3. Learn lessons from suffering before you suffer
  4. Pay attention to your ability to pay attention
  5. Think of your attention like a bank account
  6. Create a financial plan for your attention
  7. Understand your NEEDS
  8. “Attention-Wealth” over “Money-Wealth”
  9. Search for creativity EVERYWHERE
  10. Learn to generate “Attention-Flow”
  11. Enjoy the Process

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