Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

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October 29, 2023 | Max Jenkinson

The Present Is The Solution

I wrote some articles in Swedish back in 2021. Here is my attempt to rewrite one that I liked.

It’s about how four books on a wide variety of topics all converge on the same insight when it comes to happiness.

Let’s see if this helps you become a happier person. 🙂 



The ancient Greeks had an interesting view of time. They believed we exist in both chronological time and experiential time. Time passed they called Chronos and experienced time they called Kairos.

Kairos is time spent present in the experience at hand. A psychological state in which chronological time ceases to exist (at least to your awareness).

We live a life of chronological time but as subjective beings, we also get to experience that time.

As you will see, the more time we spend in kairos the happier we become. Happiness could thus be measured as the total amount of time spent in kairos (in the present).

Evolution does not care about individual well-being, but you and I do. We believe happiness is a worthwhile pursuit.

We all have a sense of what happiness is but that sense is usually low resolution. Our culture lends us some direction on how to get there. But, if we had some tools it would make the pursuit at least easier.

First off, I don’t think happiness is what we are looking for. Happiness is usually thought of as a maximally positive temporary state.

What we should aim for is an increase in our baseline experience over time. From now on, I want you to think of happiness less as a temporary state of positive emotion, and more as an optimal human experience across time.


4 perspectives, 4 books

1) In the present negative emotions do not exist

Time is finite. How we spend our time determines how we feel and where we end up in life.

Something that helped me spend less time reflecting on the past and the future was the book The Power of Now.

It was the first book that showed me that most of our suffering is self-inflicted. And, if it is self-inflicted we have the power to change the amount of suffering we experience.

In the book, author Tolle depicts two fundamental states humans can exist within. One where we are conscious about the past and the future. Where we reflect on something that has occurred or something that could happen.

He calls this Psychological time (very similar to what the Greeks referred to as Chronos). This name stems from the fact that both the future and the past only exist within our minds.

The second state is one in which we are totally present, completely absorbed by the moment at hand. Tolle posits that negative emotions can’t exist in the present and that they are only byproducts of us contemplating the future or the past.

Negative emotions did fill a purpose for our survival. Survival is no longer a constant problem that needs to be solved. So, it is our responsibility to figure out how to overcome the evolutionary bugs.

If we do this we can start to dictate how we experience reality. And, the only thing that exists is the moment in which you exist.

As I read the book I became more and more observant of when I was in psychological time. I started noticing myself contemplating the past or the future. Every once in a while I could steer myself back into the present.

Over the years this has led to me spending less and less time in psycholgical time. So, today I experience way less negative emotions than I used to.


2) Insights from a failed writer: Do the Work

I have never liked plans, structure or anything that applies constraints. To procrastinate has come naturally for me.

Procrastination is when we avoid doing the things we know we should because we somehow believe we can postpone them into the future.

Every time I needed to do something I didn’t want to do, there emerged a battle within me. A battle between the part of me that knew I had to do the thing, and the part of me that would rather do something else.

Most often the part that wanted to do something else won. But, the closer to a deadline I was the more likely the part of me that knew I had to do the thing won.

It took a long time until I became conscious of this internal battle. As soon as it did a question followed;

How do I win the battle against myself?

The answer came when I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Pressfield was a failed writer for most of his life until he finally put words to what had hindered him for so long. The voice inside of us that tells us we aren’t good enough, that we shouldn’t pursue our dreams, or that we shouldn’t risk it.

He gave the voice a name and called it Resistance. Resistance expresses itself in many ways, such as procrastination, the fear of failure or doubt.

It is universal, we are all in an internal battle with Resistance. Unfortunately, very few win the battle and even fewer win it every day.

Once Pressfield had articulated the thing that stood in his way from reaching his goals as a writer he now had something concrete to fight against.

He decided to go to war. He finally saw Resistance for what it was and no longer rationalised what stood in his way.

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

Steven Pressfield

After decades of struggle, he came to a solution. It was to treat our aspirations and dreams as full-time jobs.

Every day we need to do the work, despite how we feel. We need to sit down and start writing. We can’t wait for the perfect moment to start, for the motivation to be there, or for other people’s approval.

We need to define what we want to achieve and then do things daily that inch our way closer toward that thing.

Winning small battles every day is what gives consistent and real results.


3) Getting into the zone (kairos)

The research on human well-being is called positive psychology. One of the founders of this science is a man named Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

He is also known as The Godfather of Flow because he wrote the seminal book on the state of flow. In the book titled Flow, he describes the optimal human experience as a defined psychological state.

He states that flow is the state in which we feel and perform the best. This is because the studies he performed showed that people who spend more time in flow are happier, more productive and more successful.

The quality of life is dependent on the content of consciousness

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

So, what we want is to spend more time in flow. In other words, more time in Kairos. Tolle and Csíkszentmihályi came to the same conclusion from two completely different perspectives.

The question is: how do we get into flow more often?

If we assume Tolle is correct when he says negative emotions stem from our existence in psychological time. Then we want to dampen the thing that handles the past and the future so we can become more present.

But, there are different ways to be present, true presence and pseudo presence.

To get into the present we need to direct our attention to something stimulating enough to quiet down the part that keeps us in psychological time.

We can do this by scrolling social media, watching series or drinking alcohol. But in this state, we are usually passive actors.

When we are not actively engaged in the activity at hand we will not get into Flow.

In activities that decrease chaos without allowing active engagement, we do not progress. Even if the contemplating part of us is quiet the internal battle still lingers.

If we are pseudo-present the chaos remains while we do not increase our capacity to handle the chaos in the future. This leads to a slippery negative feedback loop.

Chaos emerges naturally, we then avoid the chaos by becoming pseudo-present without improving our capacity to handle future chaos.

If we understand the difference between true presence and pseudo presence we can allocate more time to activities that increase our capacity to handle the world’s unavoidable complexity better.

To understand it we need to understand the difference between enjoyment and pleasure. This might be the most important insight from the book.

Pleasure is something most people confuse with happiness. It stems from our five senses. Like when you get a massage, eat a doughnut, or when you watch Netflix.

You engage in something that redirects your attention to the present moment. The sensory information overrides our capacity to control attention forcing us into the moment.

Enjoyment is achieved when you instead voluntarily direct your attention to the activity at hand. It allows you to progress within the structure that defines the activity.

To achieve enjoyment you need to consciously engage in what you are doing.

I’ll reuse a quote from a previous post that illuminates what flow is, and enjoyment is a prerequisite for flow.

Flow is the place of maximal insight in a game that bears relation to your identity and status

John Vervaeke

We all have an idea about what our potential is. We know that we could become so much more than what we are today.

You might know you could become a pro athlete if you did the work required. Maybe you know that you could write a book that would help thousands of people.

What separates you from the person you could be is the time you spend, or do not spend, in the process that moves you toward your goals.


4) The Lost Art of Deep Work

Cal Newport, a professor in data science, argues in his book Deep Work that the ability for deep focus is becoming rare, and thus more valuable.

Deep work is when you remove all distractions during a period to focus solely on something. It creates a state where all our attention and focus is put toward the task at hand.

Deep work is what allowed all great human achievement. It is behind all great works of art, all world-shifting scientific discoveries, and all great philosophy.

Newport believes everyone could get close to their potential if they succeeded in implementing more deep work in their lives. You might not be the next Einstein, the next Stephen King, or the next Stephen Hawkings, but the best person you could be is, at least, awesome.

In the book, he gives four strategies of how one could implement deep work. Based on your current situation, the type of work you do, and your personality you can choose the strategy you think will work the best.

1) The Monastic Approach (The Munk Mode)

This strategy is all about removing yourself from the world to completely submerge in your work. Here you might travel to a cottage in the middle of nowhere to focus your entire being on writing a book.

This strategy has been used by many great thinkers throughout history. People like Carl Jung, Einstein, and Newton all spent long periods alone to dive into their passion.

2) The Bimodal Approach

Here we set aside time dedicated to our priority tasks. It could be by locking yourself in a room during a certain time each day, each week or x times per month.

3) The Rythmic Approach

This is all about time blocks. Newport suggests deep work blocks of around 90 minutes.

Here you can schedule in five 90-minute time blocks each week for your priority task/s. Then you can try to slowly increase the amount of deep work blocks you do each week.

4) The Journalistic Approach

The strategy is for those with crazy lives. Those with less structure, something like a new parent. What you do is dedicate all your time outside of obligations toward your deep work.


Final Words

At the start of this post, we talked a little about the two states in which we exist that the Greeks called Kairos and Chronos. We have explored these two states from four perspectives from four books

When we are present, in kairos, time does not only pass but we instead experience time. All four books point to the same insight.

To be happier, more productive, and more successful we need to spend more time in the present.

The books also give us some more specific insights that help us achieve presence:

  1. We need to come to terms with two fundamental psychological states, to be present and to not be. Kairos and Chronos.

  2. There is an internal resistance that strives for security and for things to remain. It is what stands in our way to become present and to do the things we know we should.

  3. There is a defined psychological state in which we feel and perform our best, namely Flow.

  4. & that deep work is how we practically can be present within a specific complex task that allows Flow and that moves us toward something meaningful.

By using these insights we can slowly gain more kairos in our lives. This will in turn make us more productive, and more successful but mainly happier or at least less unhappy.

This is not to say psychological time is useless. But, we should use it as a tool to choose what activities we want to be present in so that we can move our lives toward what we want.

It is only once the activities we do are aligned with who we are that we can accept that what we are doing is also what we want to be doing. I’ve found that the lack of this acceptance is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of presence.

Fight Resistance every day and you will become a warrior for good. That is if you do things that improve your life and those around you. Like everyone, I want to feel better. But, I haven’t always tried to feel better.

Start measuring your life in kairos and not chronos. Become as old as you can. In other words, experience as much as you can during your life here on earth.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.