9 Counter-intuitive Rules of Life

Life’s a funny thing. So often we take action doing something, that feels like the right and natural thing to do.

But when we do those things it brings us the opposite results we seek.

It could be why so many of us keep doing the same things but we don’t get the results that we want or expect.

I believe the reason for this is because many of life’s lessons are completely counterintuitive.

My first lesson

I remember when I was in University. There was a girl that I liked, let’s call her ‘Sarah’. I had never actually spoken to Sarah before, but I was sure we were destined for each other.

One night out in a terrible nightclub, with ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ playing in the background, I plucked up the courage to go and speak to her. I told her that I liked her. Sarah turned around and walked away from me and refused to speak to me.

Confusion was not the word. I didn’t understand what was going on. Was this not what I was supposed to do? You could say I was embarrassed.

Later that year Sarah and I shared a class and got to know each other. We had a good laugh about what happened in the nightclub. All good, just friends.

One week I was back home in Ireland, Sarah had been text messaging me but as I didn’t have my phone, I didn’t reply. The messages kept flowing, each one making it progressively clearer that she liked me.

When I got back to University and saw my phone. For a second time, Sarah made me confused

It’s that day I discovered the first of many counterintuitive lessons: we all want someone nice that will treat us well. So why do we desire those that reject us?

Counterintuitive lessons

Why are so many true lessons in life counter-intuitive? I believe it’s usually because they’re based on the stories that we’ve been told growing up in society.

Trouble is, that many of these stories are wrong or just outdated.

In this post, I’ll share 9 counterintuitive life lessons I’ve learned over the years.

I’m fascinated by these lessons, if you have any counterintuitive lessons you’ve learned over the years, please share them in the comments below.


1) If you want someone to be interested in you, appear uninterested 

As per the story above involving Sarah.

If we all want someone nice that will treat us well. So why do we desire those that reject us?

But this doesn’t stop at dating. Negotiating sales, investment, jobs etc the list goes on.

To be desired, appear unattainable.

Structure space

2) To have free space in your life, you must have structure

I find my freedom in structure – Lupita Nyong’o

My brain is naturally a pinball machine. If ADHD had been ‘invented’ in Ireland when I was growing up I’m sure I would have been diagnosed with it.

I also hate structure. It makes me feel controlled and physical ill.

I used to go day to day doing different things, whatever was the shiniest object, and I would get nothing done and end up working long hours and feeling dis-satisfied.

It wasn’t until I created routines and structure in my life (which I’ve written about here), particularly around my work that I got more done faster.

This, in turn, created more free space in my life.


3) We do not show vulnerability to others because we are afraid we will look weak. When we see others being vulnerable, we think they are strong.

Recently I spoke at an event where I spoke about many of the challenges I’ve faced in life. The really low times.

I set myself the challenge of being as open and vulnerable as I could be. Nothing held back.

The event was sold out and the room was full.

I was scared.

The moment I sat down from my talk, I felt embarrassed. I wondered what people would think now that they knew my weaknesses? Would they think less of me?

This changed about 2 minutes after the talk when a guy came straight up to me.

His first words?

Thank you for sharing your story, that was so brave.

Guys, in particular, want to look strong at all times. So we rarely show weakness or say we have any problems.

The problem is that is we do this we are living a lie. We all have trouble. We all have problems.

We don’t want to open up and speak to people about our problems, as we believe it will make us look weak.

However when we see others speak about their problems, the first word we use to describe them?


Exercise goodness

4) When you don’t have time to exercise or meditate, is when you need to exercise and meditate the most

You should sit in meditation every day unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour – Zen proverb

I’ve spoken before about my daily routines and how I like to exercise and meditate very day. If I ever don’t meditate or exercise in a day, it’s usually because I believe I don’t have time to.

However the days I meditate exercise every day are the days I get my best, most important work done.

I prioritise things better. I have better willpower to not procrastinate & check Facebook. I dive into the biggest, hardest and most important tasks. I get them done faster and then feel more satisfied.

I may have slightly less time to do them. But I spend that time more effectively an efficiently.

So do I really not have time to not meditate and exercise?

Failure5) Not trying because you are afraid you will fail, will lead you to failure

The biggest risk is not taking any risk….in a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.

– Mark Zuckerberg.

Often there are things I want to do but I don’t do it. It could be starting that business, leaving that job, publishing that article, and ditching that relationship.

I’ve lots of great excuses why I don’t do them, such as waiting till I’m more prepared, or I’m busy (doing less important things of course!).

But the real reason I have not done it because I’m worried about the result if I do it. I’m afraid I would fail.

In the moment, the risk of failing outweighs my excitement of taking action. SO I don’t take action.

However failing is all part of learning and growing. The more I learn and grow, the better I become. Better I become, the ore likely I am to succeed.

If I don’t learn and grow, I will be left behind.

Then I fail.

slip from grasp

6) The more you try and control someone, the further they will slip from your grasp

When people care about someone deeply and are afraid of losing him or her, sometimes we become needy. We end up smothering them. This is a form of control.

No one likes to feel controlled. It makes most people want to escape.

Whenever I’ve felt controlled, it’s made me want to get away.

When people have given me freedom, it makes me want to come back for more

Exercise is good

7) Exercising when you’re tired, gives you energy

If I’m exhausted, the LAST thing I want to do is exercise.

But it’s usually the ONE thing that will wake me up and give me energy.


8) Trying to create a business that appeals to everyone, will appeal to no-one

Think of a fisherman spreading a net. What happens if the net is spread and stretched over a long area?

The holes in the net also get stretched open wide.

What happens if a fishing net holes are stretched open wide?

Fish can swim through it.

One of the most common mistakes I see people make when launching a new business is trying create a product that appeals to everyone.

This thinking is inherited from a time when there were a finite number of people in your local town/village/tribe. It was difficult to reach a larger number of people than that.

The Internet has completely changed that.

Whatever product you have, it will be best suited to a particular type of person. So suited that they’ll look for it, buy it, use it, love it and tell all their friends about it, then buy it again.

Even if that person is one in a million, good news, there is now 3,500 of these people online right now.

Seek approval

9) Doing things to keep others happy, keeps us from happiness

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware writes of the clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”

The no.1 regret people have when dying:

I wish I lived a life that was true to me, not a life others expected of me.

We all make decisions in life, Many of these decisions are to keeps others happy.

Why do we make decisions to keep others happy? Because we care for them, yes. But deep down we believe if we keep them happy, we will be accepted and loved. If we are accepted and loved it will make us happy.

But in the long run, does that bring us closer to happiness or keep us from it?


From the decisions we make to the way we deal with people, life is full of lessons that are completely counterintuitive. Knowing these can help us make the right choices to get the results we want.

Your turn:

What counterintuitive life lesson have you learned? Please share it in the comments below