Success: Give yourself permission to be human

Interview with Tal Ben Shahar, professor of Positive Psychology, Harvard University

People who assume reality -that we,re just humans– do not aspire to be the smartest, handsome or richest, but appreciate what they already are. And they are happier. And from that wellness, often succeed.

I,m 40 years old and I won,t waste one more trying to be perfect. Be humble and you,ll be proud of not having to prove anything to anyone.”When I started teaching Positive Psychology at Harvard, one student said, “I will turn to you and if I see you always happy, I will be enrolling in the course”.

A smart boy.

Do you believe? I replied that if I was ever happy it was because I was a psychopath or dead. Because only psychopaths and the dead never feel envy, sadness, grief, jealousy … and never fail.

What do you teach, then?

You give yourself permission to be human You see what a relief! Only when you stop denying errors and blocking negative emotions you,ll allow yourself to be

affected by the positive ones.

Why do we deny the error?

We are educated in the mythification of success.

A word that sells books

Parents push their children to succeed after having crushed themselves: and if they haven,t succeeded, they haven,t worked enough. And it’s never enough. I myself tortured myself through my youth with two phrases: “Nothing replaces hard work” and “The harder I work, the more success I have”.”

They are fashionable; along with suffering.Thus leading to the lie of perfectionism. The truth is that if you want to succeed more, you should start by failing twice and for that you must begin to assume the emotions that defeat brings. How Come?Life is a succession of failures to be able to have some success. And the paradox is that when you accept the error, pain, loneliness; and the emotions they cause: hatred, sadness, envy, jealousy, frustration

And let them flow without trying to suppress them, only then they stop being your emotions, to be just emotions. And that,s how they dissolve.For example.It is mere cognitive therapy. Suppose that you,re terrified of public speaking What do you suggest?You interpret the audience -fact- as a thread -thought- and react with anxiety -emotion-. Accept that anxiety; let it flow and don,t try to suppress it.

But it will continue to paralyze me.

Nature to be governed before must be obeyed. Give way and come to interpret the audience as people who love you and listen to you until the anxiety curb decreases.

Isn,t it about trying not to be affected by it?

Leave that to Clint Eastwood. You give yourself permission to be weak. Being positive is not to ignore or downplay reality, but accept it. And assume your emotions.

The less they affect me the better.

It,s actually upside down: denying emotions discon

nects us from reality. So when you are aware that you,ve failed and have been vain, selfish, jealous or traitor

Okay, I get it.

Don,t settle with thinking about it yourself: it doesn,t work. Tell someone. Or, if you,ve got no one to confess, write it. But … Express it!

For example.

Many men refuse the right to be cowards or to any other emotion. In our culture the man who feels is a sentimental, weak: less man.

What about women?

Their emotional sin is usually to deny anger. They feel it,s unfeminine to catch a good anger … and lo let it show.

Although it feels so liberating.

When a client of mine is fired from a job, I ask them to write a journal about ‘the anger of the unemployed’ to express how humiliating it feels to be fired, how useless are some of many of those who remain.

A relief.

It,s more relaxing to shout it out to their bosses but, even later, may they express it. The unemployed who manifest their anger, mature, grow and are able to distance themselves from their emotions and put themselves in a better position to find another job later.

Or not.

Or not, but they,ll have more self-esteem and realism to judge a system unable to deliver prosperity through employment. And they,ll be able to organize for change.


Those who shut errors up, promote.

Only in perfectionists organizations, therefore liars. In mature organizations, mistakes are not failures to blame a person, but opportunities for all to improve the team performance.

An optimist is a pessimist missinformed?

I prefer to be an optimistic and aspire to almost everything, to finally enjoy almost nothing. Today we know that happiness is not the culmination of success, but only the beginning.

 People who assume reality -that we,re just humans– don,t aspire to be the smartest, handsomest or richest, but appreciate what they already are. And they are happier. And from that wellness, often succeed.
Failure Champion
Ben Shahar seems a reconcentrated guy, suitable to obsession and incapable of self-indulgence, but willing to be taught -through smacks maybe- by life. The big lesson today is that the greatest success is to become a person. He tells me how he tried to become a squash world champion with two essential slogans: “Nothing replaces hard work” and “The harder I work, the more success I have.”  He trained longer hours and harder than his world champion friend Jansher Khan. His youthful folly ended in multiple injury by muscle fatigue, but it vaccinated him against unrelenting perfectionism and led him towards positive psychology -let,s call it common-sense-, that he shares with us.Excerpts from an interview by Lluis Amiguet for La Contra, La Vanguardia


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