The Oxygen Mask Complex: Why You Should Help Yourself Before You Help Others

by Josh Harris

The harsh reality of life is that it is often much more complex than what we see on the surface.

We are hardwired to see reality as good or bad, right or wrong. The problem is that the black-and-white perspective of seeing things drastically distorts reality. In reality, there is proof backed by evidence, and hearsay spread by gossip.

I’m sure the vast majority of readers have traveled on an airplane. If you haven’t, it’s a pleasant experience where one is stripped, herded and propelled from point A to point B.

On an airplane, there is usually a brief video explaining what you should do in the "unlikely" event that the plane must make an emergency landing. However, one of the main points the safety demonstrations make is that you should put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.

Why? The lack of oxygen will kill you before you have time to help the other person (who you will probably only barely save from death). Great.

For the economic buffs out there, this is what’s known as Pareto efficiency, which basically means one person cannot be helped without hurting another in the process.

In the hyper-connected and hypersensitive world of 2014, we are constantly pressured to think in a group context and #tag along with the crowd, even when it is not to our advantage.

The paradox is, anyone who has achieved measurable success will tell you that in order to be successful, you have to be objective about the direction of your own life.

That means taking the time to consciously think about the path you’re on, and if you don’t like it, you need to do something about it.

The way I see it, modern society is akin to a giant game of poker. The sheep are here to consume for today, whilst the wolves are investing in tomorrow. The beauty of modern society is that ultimately, it is up to you and you alone to realize what the bluff is and stake your chips on your future.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion. – Muhammed Ali

The term neuroplasticity comes to mind. Without analyzing the science of it, the proof of neuroplasticity means that all of those motivational quotes you’ve read have an element of truth behind them. You possess the power to change your life because you possess the power to rewire your brain.

As the investor Tai Lopez pointed out to me, species don’t learn via the senses, they learn via osmosis. The mother cow does not sit the baby cow down and do a SWOT analysis on the ways to eat grass; the mother cow simply begins eating grass and the baby cow takes note of it.

This is why it is fundamentally important to put yourself in a position where you can learn from someone who has achieved success in whatever field you are interested.

Networking is a lot easier than you think and most people who have "made it" went through the same struggles as you, so they will be able to point you in the right direction.

This is something you have to do by yourself. Every single human on this planet has a vision of what he or she could be, what he or she might be if this or if that happened.

Unfortunately, what the self-help books don’t tell you is that the journey is tough and whilst motivation might get you started, it is the repeated discipline of following through on basic tasks that creates momentum.

If you aren’t investing in yourself, this is not going to happen. Put a plan in place to talk, email, tweet or Google hang out with someone successful and execute it.

The first question you need to ask yourself should always read, is what I’m doing today going to benefit me tomorrow? Remember, no one is going to come and put the oxygen mask on for you.

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