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Substance vs Style - what's the difference, and why does it matter?

I fundamentally believe that the reason so many of us are unhappy, or unfulfilled, is because we're constantly filling up the Style bucket, and rarely, if ever, filling the Substance bucket.


I'll probably write a version of this post many times over the coming months and years, but for now I want to clarify and refine my thesis about why so many of us are unhappy.

We all have two buckets. One for Substance, and one for Style. I believe most of our behavior and what we do in life fills either of these two buckets.

You can think of Substance and Style as a framework, or a lens, to look at the world. It's not the only way. Just one way that helps me categorize a lot of our behaviors.

I'm convinced that to truly wake up feeling excited and go to sleep fulfilled, we need to constantly fill the substance bucket, which is much larger and harder to fill.

Imagine the style bucket, much smaller than the substance bucket, and it's only characterized by immediate pleasure.

Now look at the substance bucket, much, much larger, and a lot of it is filled with momentary discomfort or pain (hard work, long hours, sacrifice). The more we fill the substance bucket, the more likely we are to feel happy - which is what we're after anyway.

We're constantly filling up the style bucket, yet it leaves us feeling empty. No matter how much we fill it, it seems to be a bottomless pit, never giving us what we're truly looking for. Just like money, we know it doesn't buy happiness, yet we still chase after it thinking it will.

Then why do we fill the style bucket? What is our illusion?

I think it comes down to human behavior, and what most of us do on autopilot.

When we go on autopilot and let our minds take over, our happiness is almost always left to chance, dependent on external conditions. Yet when we reclaim our essence, taking control of our environment, our choices, and our decisions, we tend to be more happy.

When we live with conscious intention, our lives reflect that in a positive manner.

But because we're so wired for immediate pleasure (style), we continue to let the forces around us control our actions. We reach for our phones because it's the easy thing to do that fills the time. We know we could be doing something better, something more substantive, like reading a book, learning a new skill, or exercising. But going on Instagram is so much easier. And it feels good in the moment. So we do it again, and again, and again, filling the style bucket, never once filling the substance bucket.

And this is why we're unhappy.

If you look at the opposite - if we do pick up a book for a week, if we do put together a few good workouts, they may feel uncomfortable in the moment, but we start to feel good about ourselves in general, in the off-times. That is, not just in the time that we're doing the thing, but all the time around it.

Then, as the cycle goes, we actually start to enjoy the thing more because we know it's helping us, and it's a self-fulfilling cycle.

Unfortunately, so is binging on junk food, and drugs, and toxic relationships. They give us something we crave in the moment, and as soon as we're without them, we crave them even more, and can't bare to be without them, so we get another fix. We pour energy into the style bucket. This also is a negative cycle, and is where most of us get caught.

Of course, I'm not expecting to be 100% substance 100% of the time, but definitely more than yesterday, and hopefully even more so tomorrow.

As always, thanks for reading and I wish you an amazing day.

Live with substance!


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