Negative Emotions are Healthy

A lot of personal growth advice seems to be based on the assumption that positive emotions (happiness, joy, excitement, etc.) are good and should always be experienced, no matter what circumstances you are living in; and negative emotions (sadness, anxiety, depression, etc.) are evil, harmful and should never be experienced, no matter what your circumstances are.

I happen to disagree. Strongly disagree.

This attitude towards emotions expresses a deep misunderstanding of the role emotions are meant to play in our lives and fails to appreciate the importance of negative emotions in our personal growth.

The Role of Emotions

I’ve seen several personal growth “experts” giving their readers tips on how to be happy, and they boast that you can be happy without a reason to be happy! They try to get people to shrug off negative emotions by shifting their focus towards positive aspects in their lives. They think that they are doing their readers a favor by helping them experience positive emotions and ridding them of negative emotions.

But the question we need to ask is: Why do human beings have the capacity to experience negative emotions?

To help understand the purpose behind negative emotions, we can consider the role of pain in our lives.

Many people consider pain a bad thing, in and of itself. However, pain is a good thing for human beings. It helps keep us alive and our body parts intact and properly functioning. People who lack pain sensors can cause damage to their bodies, without even realizing it!

Pain is a message that tells you that there’s something wrong in your body… and you need to do something!

The pain you experience isn’t the problem. It tells you that you have a problem. Without this message, your problem will go unnoticed, and if it’s neglected, it can cause considerable damage to your body.

Emotions play a similar role. Positive emotions tell you that you’re doing something good and you should continue to do more of it, and negative emotions tell you you’re doing something bad (or avoiding something good) and you need to take action to correct it. Therefore, both positive and negative emotions are important! They convey different messages but with the same intention: To get you to take action for your own well-being.

When you try to silence negative emotions, you’re not doing yourself a favor. You are, in fact, harming yourself. You are shooting the messenger because you don’t like what it’s telling you. You don’t want to take the actions that will support your life. You think that by ignoring the message the problem will go away. If you stick your head in the ground, then you’ll be safe.

But that’s never the right approach to take in life. You need to listen to what the message is, and look for where the problem lies in order to address it properly.

It’s Not Always Healthy to Be Happy

If you are consistently acting and thinking in ways that support your life, then it’s natural to consistently feel happy. However, you shouldn’t try to feel happy by evading the issues you need to deal with. Such happiness is not healthy. It’s an unnatural way to condition your emotions, which will not support you in your life. In the same way that pain-killers can work to numb the pain, happiness that overlooks problems without allowing you to properly deal with them numbs your consciousness, which will allow your problems to grow.

Negative Emotions Help You Grow

Since negative emotions tell you there’s something wrong you need to correct, you should never adjust to negative emotions and feel comfortable experiencing them. Negative emotions tell you that there’s something you need to do for the message to go away. Otherwise, you’re harming yourself and your body will punish you for not properly taking care of it (it doesn’t really want to punish you, but that’s how it feels when it’s trying to tell you something that you don’t want to hear).

While physical pain is more accurate in pin-pointing where the problem lies, negative emotions can sometimes be difficult to decipher. They can tell you that you need to think differently or you need to act differently to move your life forward.

The questions you need to ask yourself, when experiencing negative emotions, are: Why am I experiencing these emotions (i.e. what is the problem my emotions are trying to tell me about)? And what can I do to solve the problem?

You need to shift your focus from the emotions themselves, to the problem you need to tackle. Negative emotions aren’t the problem. They simply point to the problem.

By using negative emotions as sensors for what you need to do, they help you to take the right actions and to move your life forward. That’s one of the best opportunities to grow in life, which you will deprive yourself of if you try to ignore negative emotions in any shape or form.


If You’re On A Diet, You MUST Read This!

To be more precise: You must read this sitting down.

What I’m about to say might come as a shock to you.

I know because I was shocked, too. I couldn’t believe it at first. It went against everything I believed in about diets.

Are you sitting down?


The shocking fact you need to know about diets is this:

Food is good for you!

I hope you didn’t fall off your chair reading that!

When I go on diets, I usually try to cut out as much food as I can. Sometimes I try to skip meals. Sometimes I eat small portions of food that aren’t enough to feed a goldfish!

Why? Because I see food as the enemy. The main culprit behind my excessive weight (where else am I piling on the fat from?).

But the truth of the matter is: food is good for us, and we shouldn’t try to fight against it.

So what is the problem? Why are we gaining weight? And what’s the right approach to losing weight?

Food Is Good

Before we even attempt to go on a diet, it’s important to have the right understanding of food and the role it plays in our lives. We must accept that food is necessary for us. We can’t survive for long without it. Our body needs food to keep it functional.

Therefore, food is good. We love food. It’s one of our best friends.

However, we usually don’t eat in order to supply our body with the nutrients it needs. That’s why most of what we eat isn’t actually good for us (it’s called JUNK food for a reason!), and the amount of food we eat isn’t appropriate to our needs (too much of a good thing is bad for you!). When we don’t eat the right food and in the right amount, our body tries it do the best it can to keep us alive and functioning…

Our Body’s Survival Mechanisms

Although we might hate ourselves for getting fat, but piling on the fat is a beautiful thing. I don’t mean that you should be happy being over-weight, but that you should appreciate what your body is trying to do when it stores fat.

Our body is designed to keep us alive. In many cases, it tries to correct the mistakes that we do. When we don’t take proper care of our body – by making the wrong decisions in what we eat and how much we eat – our body stores the excess as fat (energy storage) for future use. It builds an energy reserve we can use if we need it later. Of course, there’s a thin line between healthy fat storage and unhealthy fat storage.

I said the body was designed to keep us alive. I didn’t say it was very smart in doing it! That’s why it’s up to us to make the right decisions about what we eat.

But it’s important to understand how the body works in order to know what sorts of diet work with our bodies. Eating extra will lead our bodies to store the food as fat (for survival), and eating too little (which is the common approach to dieting, and when we see food as the enemy) will lead our body to retain that extra fat (for survival also!). This reaction to low food-intake is usually referred to as starvation mode: your body assumes that you’re starving (you don’t have enough food to consume), and so it reduces the amount of fat it burns so it can have enough to survive for as long as possible.

This is important to bear in mind, because your dieting can actually force your body to retain fat, rather than burn it!

How to Diet

Given what we’ve mentioned about food and our body’s reaction to it, the best approach to dieting is as follows:

Eat nutritious food: We should only eat in order to feed our body with the nutrients it needs. Eating food because it tastes nice, or because we’re feeling bad (and want food to alter our feelings) isn’t the right approach to take. Ever.

Don’t eat too much: If you’re gaining weight, it means you’re eating more than what your body actually needs. Cutting down on the amount you eat is sensible here, because you’re adjusting to your body’s needs.

Don’t eat too little: Don’t give your body the impression that you don’t have food to eat. Otherwise it’ll cling to whatever fat you have stored for dear life! Therefore, you should never skip meals or reduce the amount of food you eat to the point where you aren’t supplying your body with enough nutrients, and it might suspect that you’re struggling to survive and it ends up entering starvation mode! Create a slightcalorie deficit” (i.e. consume less calories than you burn) so that your body ends up burning the fat you’ve stored and not simply using the food you’ve eaten during the day.

Stay active: Your arms and legs aren’t there for aesthetic reasons. They’re there to be used! Food is meant to supply your body not so you can remain breathing, but so you can remain active! Our default approach in life is to reduce effort as much as possible. Although it’s sensible to be efficient, but we should always try to be active. This includes walking more and being active around the house. Don’t avoid movement because it involves effort.

Weight-loss involves a lot more than what I’ve mentioned, but the key point is to not see food as an enemy, but to consume it in the right way, so that your body makes use of it in a way that supports your life and well-being.

This Site

Me 2 Interview: The Ice-Breaker

This is an interview I conducted with me, hosted by me. It’s the first of many interviews I will be having with me so that you can get to know me and my views a lot better.

Before we dive in the deep end, we’ll start with a casual ice-breaker…


Me: Hello there, me. I hope you’re doing well.

Me: I’m doing great, thanks for asking!

Me: I wanted your readers to get to know you, so this interview is pretty much about you as a person, and why you started the Personal Growth Map site.

Me: Sure, fire away!

Me: First things first. Your name is Haider Al-Mosawi, correct?

Me: That’s right.

Me: And has that always been your name?

Me: As far as I’m aware, yes. And in case you were wondering, I don’t believe in past lives. 😛

Me: I see. And have you always been a man?

Me: Umm, yes… Except on some weekends! Haha! Only kidding!

Me: [carefully notes down the last answer…] I’m sure OK! Magazine will find that amusing…

Me: What’s that?

Me: Never mind. How old are you?

Me: 26. I turn 27 on July 9. In case you were thinking of getting me a birthday gift, you know when to get it. 😉

Me: Great… And don’t you forget my birthday, too! 😀

Me: I won’t.

Me: Fantastic. And where are you from?

Me: Kuwait.

Me: Have you lived anywhere else?

Me: Yes. I lived in Halifax (Canada) for an academic year. That was in the 5th grade. And I lived in London (United Kingdom) from the age of 11 until I finished my university degree, when I was 22.

Me: And now you’re back in Kuwait?

Me: Yes.

Me: Are you married?

Me: Yes. I’ve been married for just under 4 years now.

Me: And do you have any children?

Me: Yes. Twins. A boy (Hussain) and a girl (Bushra). They’re now 2 years and 4 months old.

Me: Sweet. What about siblings. Any brothers and sisters?

Me: Yes. I have 3 brothers and 3 sisters. My youngest sister is from my step-mother.

Me: I see. I think I asked you too many personal questions for a single interview, so let’s move on to personal growth. What got you interested in the subject in the first place?

Me: I think everyone has a flickering interest in personal growth throughout their lives. We all think about ourselves and our capabilities every now and then, with some degree of consciousness and some dosage of determination to actually move in the direction we want. But I can honestly say that I didn’t have a conscious commitment to personal growth until I was 19, when I entered university.

That was a huge change in my life. I was surrounded by a new crowd and a new set of ideas. It gave me the opportunity to break out of the mold I was in, and to begin to examine myself and my life anew.

I come from a fairly religious/conservative background, and had the reputation of being religious myself. But I didn’t like the inconsistencies I noticed in my character and had the strong feeling that I was being a hypocrite. I’d advise people to act one way, but wasn’t following what I preached. I was selective in what moral principles I’d follow based on my own inclinations and personal preferences. The feeling of hypocrisy was so intense that I couldn’t ignore it. I had to do something.

That was the spark that triggered my interest in personal growth. I believe personal growth is ultimately about raising your consciousness and the willingness to see reality (including the truth about yourself) for what it is, rather than hide behind false impressions and assumptions. I was willing to examine my beliefs and to change them, without seeking other people’s approval.

This individuality – to take responsibility for my beliefs and my life – became the foundation for my personal growth efforts. I can’t say that I’ve always made the right decisions since then, or adopted the right beliefs. But it’s all part of the growth process.

Me: And why did you start the Personal Growth Map site? What’s your motivation? And what do you expect to achieve from it?

Me: Well, when I first developed an interest in personal growth, my enthusiasm surpassed my abilities. I wanted to learn everything, right now. I didn’t have realistic expectations or a realistic approach to life. I wanted to change the world in a matter of days rather than years or generations. That left me feeling overwhelmed and under-achieving. I wasn’t able to get things done and it felt crappy. The more I wanted to do, the less I got done.

This impacted every area of my life and my family’s life (especially my wife). I always felt that I had things to get done, but never allowed myself the chance to appreciate the moment, or to realize that life consisted of more than professional accomplishments, or changing the world. There are human needs we need to satisfy on a personal level that changing the entire world will not satisfy. We have to change the way we live.

The Personal Growth Map is about that. It’s about the life we lead on an individual level. After all, the focus of personal growth should be the person. “How can I, as an individual, change my life – and, by extension, the lives of those around me – for the better? What do I need to change in me (internally) to cause the changes I want to see (externally)?”

The Personal Growth Map adds structure to personal growth so that it is more realistic in satisfying our needs as human beings and less overwhelming. It makes life balance more achievable, because we realize the importance of every area of our lives, and not to just focus on a single area. I was too focused on maybe two areas of my life, but ignored all other areas. To my own detriment.

I would like this site to offer people a more holistic approach to personal growth that is based on a sound understanding of human nature, and what we require in order to lead happy, contented lives. Of course, with some humor thrown in for good measure. 😀

Me: Great! That sounds like a noble pursuit, and I wish me all the best.

Me: Thank you.

Me: With that we’ll wrap up our interview, with the hope that we’ll meet again for many more interviews in the future. Thank you for being with me. It’s been fun.

Me: Thank you for having me. Chat soon!

If you have any questions you would like me to ask me in future interviews, please feel free to share them in the comments section!


Get More Done with Artificial Contexts

Although getting things done is simple (if you want it done, take action), there are many psychological obstacles that can stand in the way of us taking action, which is why we struggle with getting things done. It’s, therefore, essential that we become aware of the different psychological factors at play in our lives and what we need to do to create the mental environment most conducive to productivity.

One very important factor we need to be aware of – which I believe is one of the most prominent thieves of productivity – is what is known as The Paradox of Choice.

What is The Paradox of Choice?

Put simply: if you have many options open to you, you will find it more difficult to make a decision and take action than if you had fewer options. If a menu had 30 meals to choose from, you will struggle to decide what to order more than if only 3 meals were available. With fewer options (choices), you will experience less anxiety because the fear of making the wrong decision (i.e. not going for the best choice) will be reduced.

This is why you can be more productive if you had only a few items on your to-do list rather than hundreds of items. Trying to figure out which task to go for will develop anxiety and hesitation, leaving you staring blankly at your to-do list, without getting anything done.

So how can we use our understanding of the paradox of choice to get more done?

There are hundreds of ways. But the one I’d like to share with you here is to create artificial contexts.

Creating Artificial Contexts

A context is a location or tool you need in order to get a task done. If you need to make phone calls, you need a phone. If you need to send emails, you need an Internet connection. If things need to get done at home then – you guessed it – you need to be at home!

These contexts determine what you can and can’t do at any given moment. If you don’t have a phone on you, then you can ignore all tasks to do with calling people (unless you desperately need to get to a phone, which is another story for another day). These contexts help you determine what to do and reduce the options available to you. If you’re familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), then this idea comes as no surprise.

But what are artificial contexts?

Since most of our work involves tools that are with us all the time (phones, computers, Internet, etc), it’s hard for us to reduce the amount of options we have. When we sit in front of the computer, we can work on 20 possible projects we have. So how do we choose which one to work on?

Artificial contexts are ways you categorize your to-do list items to help you reduce the number of options, without there really being an obstacle in getting other tasks done. For example, you can designate your office for working on your professional projects, your living room for leisurely reading, a cafe for learning and your bedroom for relaxing. Although you can take your laptop to your bedroom or read a novel in your office, creating these artificial contexts (associations) will help you reduce the number of options available to you in each context.

Artificial contexts need not be space-bound. You can use different clothing to indicate the type of work you will be doing (and not doing). You can use different web browsers for different types of work (Firefox for web development, Chrome for correspondence, IE for nothing :P).

Be creative in coming up with your own artificial contexts that work best for you and that help you split your to-do list so that it becomes more manageable in every context!


Why Selfishness is a Good Thing

One of the most common moral principles taken for granted to be true, without questioning its validity and consequences, is the principle that selfishness is evil. No matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, it is always our thoughts and our feelings that are brought into question, but never the principle itself. To question the principle is akin to blasphemy.

But just as it was once blasphemous to state that the earth is round, the virtue of selfishness is a fact we must come to accept at one point or another. In other words, those who are still insisting that selflessness is a virtue might as well believe that the earth is flat.

In this article I would like to clear up the confusion surrounding selfishness, and to highlight the fact that not only does the problem with selfishness have nothing to do with selfishness itself, but that selfishness is a necessary quality for personal growth and the foundation for human happiness.

If you think what I just said is nonsense, then I suggest you read on…

The Meaning of Selfishness

Merriam-Webster defines selfish as:

1- concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others
2- arising from concern with one’s own welfare or advantage in disregard of others <a selfish act>‘s definitions are:

1- devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2- characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.

And offers the following definitions:

1-  Concerned chiefly or only with oneself: “Selfish men were . . . trying to make capital for themselves out of the sacred cause of human rights” Maria Weston Chapman.
2- Arising from, characterized by, or showing selfishness: a selfish whim.

In mentioning all these dictionary definitions I don’t intend to clarify the meaning of the word, but to point out the ambiguity in the definitions. All the definitions seem to blend two ideas together:

1- One is selfish if he is concerned primarily with his own well-being
2- If he is selfish, the pursuit of his well-being is at the expense, or with disregard for, the well-being of others

But the two ideas aren’t inherently tied together. And this is where the confusion about selfishness originates. We have been fed the idea that if we pursue our own well-being, then we do so at other people’s expense and, therefore, we must be primarily concerned with other people’s well-being, if we wish to be moral.

The problem with selfishness isn’t the primary concern with our own well-being. That’s never a problem. To identify the root problem with selfishness, it’s important to distinguish between Bad Selfishness and Good Selfishness. As you are about to find out, Bad Selfishness has never and will never serve one’s own well-being, which goes to show that concern for one’s well-being isn’t the root cause of the problems commonly associated with selfishness.

Bad Selfishness

Imagine a person with the following characteristics and behaviors:

  • Not interested in what others have to say, or how they feel
  • Inconsiderate in what he says and speaks his mind, no matter how hurtful his words are
  • Is willing to make a sale at the expense of honesty, either by overlooking the faults in his products or exaggerating the benefits they offer
  • Is willing to take credit for work his colleagues or employees have done
  • Doesn’t care about his partner’s happiness, but only seeks what makes him happy
  • Doesn’t care about social problems or political causes

While all these characteristics are traditionally associated with selfishness, the question we need to ask is this:

Do these characteristics and behaviors advance this person’s well-being?

The short answer is: no. The longer answer is: it may do so in the short-term, but definitely not the long-term.

A person who doesn’t express interest in those around him will find it difficult to gain friends and build lasting relationships. People will avoid him if he is not considerate in how he behaves, and he will quickly lose people’s trust (and his sales) if he is dishonest.

Which leads us to ask a more important question:

How can these characteristics be associated with selfishness, when they do not advance the individual’s well-being?

If selfishness is primary concern for one’s own well-being, then these characteristics shouldn’t be categorized as selfish. It doesn’t matter how they affect other people, the individual himself is sabotaging his own well-being by behaving in such a way.

The problem doesn’t originate with pursuing one’s own well-being, since these characteristics clearly reveal that a “selfish” person isn’t achieving his well-being. The problem with Bad Selfishness is the disregard for the facts of reality and how well-being should be pursued.

Bad Selfishness looks for shortcuts to achieve happiness and success. It is a narrow view of life that blurs out some essential factors for happiness and long-term well-being, because such a person seeks instant gratification, without considering all the consequences of his behavior.

Bad Selfishness is the pursuit and gratification of a whim. It overlooks facts and principles of success. It is based on the outlooks of “I feel, therefore, I do” and “I want, therefore, I must have” without considering the roots of one’s feelings and the proper means of acquiring what one wants. Such a person experiences frustration, anger, resentment, jealousy, short-term gains and long-term losses because he is not respecting the laws of nature and human happiness.

Good Selfishness

Ignoring reality, both the external (i.e. the world in which we live and the people we come into contact with) and the internal (i.e. our nature as human beings and our individual personalities), never leads to well-being. A person who is truly selfish and who truly wishes to achieve his well-being will not act in ways that harm him, either in the short-term or the long-term. To be able to evaluate what is beneficial to us and what is harmful, we need to develop an understanding of reality.

Good Selfishness is based on the most fundamental principle of success and true happiness: Respect reality.

Good Selfishness never seeks shortcuts that have damaging consequences in the long-term. It looks at reality from the widest possible angle, to evaluate all consequences and determine the most appropriate outlook and behavior in any situation.

It is based on the outlook of: “I am, therefore, I think.

I am a human being, therefore, I must think in order to find the best course of action to take, given my surroundings and my nature.

Good Selfishness doesn’t place the interests and well-being of others above one’s own, but recognizes that other people’s well-being contributes to one’s own. This is why Good Selfishness promotes respect, consideration and kindness.

The Golden Rule of Morality: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a selfish principle. It is based on the fact that your behaviors promote and justify to others the way in which to treat you. If you are kind to others, then you encourage kindness in them. If you are mean to others, then you give others permission (by your own conduct) that they treat you with meanness. Therefore, if you wish to advance your well-being, you should treat others the way you want to be treated. Others may not immediately (or ever) follow your example, but you do not give them justification to treat you in a way you do not like to be treated.

Good Selfishness doesn’t associate one’s own well-being with guilt, nor does it demand that other people’s well-being be pursued whenever one’s own well-being is pursued. You do not have to become healthy in order to serve others. Being healthy, being happy, being successful are proper for an individual, and he doesn’t need other people’s permission to achieve them.

The Golden Rule does not state: “Sacrifice yourself for the sake of others.” If it did, then the continuation of the rule would be: “so that they may sacrifice themselves for your sake.” Selflessness carries its own contradiction. If there is a demand that you sacrifice yourself for the sake of others, then you expect others to sacrifice themselves for your sake. But isn’t that selfish of you to expect?

It is selfish, but Bad Selfish. Good Selfishness – in line with the Golden Rule – doesn’t expect others to sacrifice themselves and their happiness for your sake, nor does it place the demand on you to sacrifice yourself for other people’s sake. You may choose to contribute to other people’s happiness, in the same way you would appreciate other people’s contributions to your own happiness. But it doesn’t place a demand on others to sacrifice their own happiness for you. You have a right to be happy and others have a right to be happy. We can work together to achieve happiness, without compromises or sacrifices or condemning one’s own pursuit of his happiness.

To Give Credit…

During my university years I valued selflessness above all other virtues, and considered selfishness to be the most despicable vice known to man. But I was constantly questioning my beliefs and trying to resolve any inconsistencies in my world-view. One of the things that made me uncomfortable about selflessness – which I initially thought was a failure on my part to resolve – was the inherent hypocrisy in the principle. Why is happiness appropriate for others, but not to me? Why should I make others happy and tend to their needs while I neglect my own happiness and needs? Why should I expect others to shoulder the obligation of making me happy, if I wanted them to be happy?

While this remained an issue for me to address, I was introduced to the writings of Ayn Rand, who considered selfishness a virtue. My knee-jerk reaction to her ideas and her writings was to consider her the anti-Christ, and the embodiment of all that is evil. She promoted selfishness and capitalism, which was enough in my book to consider her the devil. I continued to think that selflessness was a virtue and I simply wasn’t able to resolve the contradiction in it. But as I read more of Ayn Rand’s writings – while trying to keep an open mind and seeking to understand her views for what they are and not how they relate to my existing views – I came to realize the misconceptions I held about selfishness and why she considered it a virtue.

I can’t possibly cover Ayn Rand’s writings and philosophy in this blog post, but I highly recommend her books. In particular, you might want to grab Philosophy: Who Needs It and The Virtue of Selfishness. If you’re not convinced by what I have said, then these two books will contribute more material to the discussion.

What’s your take on selfishness? And how do you see it relating to personal growth and human happiness? Share your thoughts in the comments!