Zachary Stockill is an award-winning Canadian researcher and writer. He is most known for his book, Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy.
What advice would you give to your 20-year old self?
When I was 20 I was a naive college student, fumbling his way through his first serious relationship, and taking himself way too seriously in the process. If I could talk to that 20-year old today, I might pour him a drink, wrap an arm around him, and tell him: “Lighten up. Don’t expect so much of others, or yourself.
Remember you’re human, and so are the people around you; you will make mistakes, and so will they. But don’t beat yourself up, and don’t beat others up: the only thing to do is learn.
You will encounter enormous challenges over the next decade, and achieve other, unexpected successes you can’t dream of now. Through it all, remember that love, compassion, and appreciation are the keys to the good life. Enjoy yourself, and remember that the only thing you control in life is where you decide to focus your energy.”
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
It’s not a “bad” recommendation, but I think it’s often misunderstood: “Communication is everything in relationships.”
Of course, communication is extremely important, telling the truth even more so. But many people—myself included, on occasion—use “the truth” as a weapon. Other times, we may mistake “communication” for “over-communication.”
So we can ask ourselves: does our intimate partner really need to know everything about us, every dark impulse, every insecurity, every wayward thought? Probably not.
A big part of what keeps two people drawn to each other over the long term is the element of mystery. “Who on Earth is this creature sitting across from me?” Cultivating this curiosity is crucial, for both ourselves and our partner, and indulging in emotional vomiting is the antidote to maintaining intrigue and curiosity in a relationship.
Good communication is crucial for a good relationship, but don’t use an attempt at “unlimited, honest communication” as an excuse to air all of the grievances and insecurities of your lesser self.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How did you come out of it and what you learned from it?
I’m currently experiencing the most challenging period of my young life: I lost my mother a couple of months ago.
I was enormously fortunate to have an incredible Mum: loving, giving, compassionate, the best friend anyone could ask for. The void she left behind seems unbearable some days. I will need more time and distance to get the necessary perspective, but my biggest revelation so far is the simple fact of the preciousness and precariousness of life.
One day you wake up and have a mother; in a matter of hours, you don’t. I realize now, in a new way, that there’s no time to waste. We cannot afford to let ego, distance, or sheer “busy-ness” interfere with our ability to express our love and appreciation for the important people in our lives.
Mum taught me, in a way no one else ever has, that life is all too short, and summoning the courage to love is the only answer.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I am a very curious person, and this has served me well in both my personal and professional life. It’s easy for me to maintain close connections with friends because I’m genuinely curious about their ins and outs of their lives, and the way they see the world.
It’s easy for me to remain curious about my girlfriend because I always want to better understand who she is, and what she wants, and that kind of exploration can take a lifetime.
My curiosity pushes me to read, take courses, and learn new things, which has benefitted my writing, and my business, immeasurably. I read for at least a couple of hours every day, and have for a long time. This type of wide-ranging, self-directed education builds up over time, and accumulates compound interest.
For example: an idea from, say, a novel I read six months ago might pollinate another idea from a new business book I’m reading, which relates to a history book I once read, which could inspire a blog post, a new product, a marketing campaign, etc. etc.
It’s important for me to read widely, and explore seemingly disparate topics. Aside from the intellectual cross-pollination I mentioned earlier, I become very boring when I’m only reading books about self-improvement. So I make a conscious effort to supplement those books with novels, non-fiction, history.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
It’s painfully cliched, but meditation has changed my life more than any other practice. Having this tool, this tonic, has made me calmer, humbler, and a clearer thinker, as well as—I think—a better friend and partner.
Everyone tells you to meditate, though, and I don’t want to come off as just another yoga-mat-touting-chakra-cleansing loudmouth “seeker.” But what non-meditators often don’t recognize is that you can easily become a meditator without the yoga mat and Tibetan malas and chakra cleanses. You can be a meditator and still be a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist, whatever.
If you don’t care to venture down the “spiritual” path, meditation can simply serve as a valuable life-improvement tool, that’s it. All you really need is ten spare minutes, a quiet space, and an open mind.
Meditation is another one of those practices that accumulates compound interest, and only gets more valuable, more rewarding, more impactful over time. But it’s also something you can never really “sell” adequately; it’s up to the individual to experience and explore those benefits for him or herself.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
I am far from some kind of uber-optimized, Four Hour Work Week, Bulletproof-coffee-chugging productivity ninja. However, I do maintain an Evernote list of tasks to be completed this week, this month, this quarter, which helps to keep me focused. The list changes over time—some tasks get eliminated, new ones are always being added—but there is something very nice about having a to-do list as a “north star” when you’re trying to get work done.
Before I start to go down the YouTube cat video rabbithole, I pull up my list and remember “Oh yeah, I actually have things to do today,” which tends to get me back on track. And it’s very satisfying checking things off that list.
When I feel overwhelmed I try to meditate. My practice has been sporadic lately, which makes getting “back into it” a challenge, but it really does help. I also make an effort to consume less information, which means eliminating or strictly limiting social media, no YouTube, no movies.
I try to step into the silence, poke around, and see what’s there. I ask myself: what’s the problem here? Where’s the anxiety coming from? What am I afraid of? What’s the worst case scenario if I continue to go down this road? How can I change this situation for the better? What’s in my control, here, and what isn’t? The answers usually become clear quickly.
I also find great relief by getting into my body as much as possible, whether that’s lifting weights, playing guitar, taking a swim, going for a walk. I’m a very sensual person, and it’s fun to train your mind and body to focus intensely on the internal sensations you’re experiencing in any given moment.
Diving into a cool pool can be an enormously satisfying and rejuvenating experience if you’re really paying attention; breathing in some clean mountain air, and watching the light change in the evening equally so. There’s so much to be grateful for. Paying close attention to each sensation, and the galaxy of pleasure around me helps me remember that.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida had a profound influence on me when I first read it. I was about 20, and I remember lugging a dog-eared copy around India for the following year, taking it everywhere I went.
That was the first book I read that really got me thinking about my own masculinity, the type of man I want to be, and how I can best show up for the women in my life. It was enormously refreshing to read about the differences between men and women, and masculine and feminine polarity, without the misogyny and bitterness that colours so much male dating advice online.
It can be a touch new-agey in certain sections, but I’d recommend it to any young man who wants to own his masculinity more, set goals for himself, and improve his relationships with women. The path it lays out isn’t easy, but is so incredibly rewarding the longer you stick with it.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“The best revenge is living well.”
I think about this quote a lot whenever I start to feel angry, disappointed, or betrayed by someone. We’re all just apes making the best decisions we can with what we know at the time—remembering this helps me take a more charitable, understanding view of others. And we’ve all hurt others, betrayed others, let people down. We will experience the same from others throughout our lives.
So what’s the solution when people hurt us? Hold onto our grudges? Try to make others “pay” for hurting us, or letting us down?
The Buddha said that holding onto anger was like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Instead, let’s try to enjoy ourselves, and soak up every single moment of this precious gift called life. And remember that everyone around us is fighting a private battle we can never understand.