Attaching a Value to Can’t

In the book Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey wrote about one of the life lessons he learned as a boy. The first time he was “whupped” was for responding to Matt. He was told that he was not named after a doormat. The second time was for saying, “I hate you.” The third for saying can’t. The fourth for lying about stealing a pizza. It wasn’t the stealing that warranted the punishment but getting caught and then lying about it. What was the lesson he learned from these instances?

I only ever got in real trouble for the using or doing of the words that could harm me. Words that hurt. The words that helped engineer who I am because they were more than just words; they were expectations and consequences. They were values.

Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey

I have written in the past about the value of a name and on the virtue of Justice, which includes lying. But the use of the word can’t, this one hit the mark. Words have value. So, what is the value of this one?

Alec likes to use the word can’t frequently. If it is too difficult, too hard to understand, or requires too much effort, the default statement is, “I can’t.” I have never spanked him for saying this, unlike McConaughey’s punishment, but it has crossed my mind. He is too young to be setting artificial boundaries on his abilities.

Can’t means not possible. The value is concrete. When we overutilize this word, we put too much concrete around us. We put up barriers to what is within our abilities. Can’t is the governor on a Ferrari that reduces the car’s maximum speed from over 200 to 150 miles per hour, it is the speed limit that sets its maximum legal speed to 70, and it is the poor maintenance on the tires that further reduces it down to a safe speed of 30. Can’t is the boundaries that takes a supercar designed for speed and reduces it down to a substandard vehicle barely safe for the road.

Why put limitations on yourself by saying you can’t do it? This word has power, but it is not the kind you want to wield. Instead of saying can’t think of what it would take to make it happen. Maybe it is not possible today. But with the training, effort, and a different perspective, it could be possible tomorrow. As Les Brown said, “Life has no limitations except the ones you make.”

A Fruitful Mind

The dark soil. The kind you can see the richness of without even touching it. And when you do touch it, you can feel its potential. Imagine the years it took to get its composition. Whatever is planted in it would surely thrive.

Then there is the other soil. It is not perfect, but it is not bad either. It can be conditioned to maximize its potential. What you put into it will determine what you get out of it. It will take some work, but you can plant in it and still get good results.

Your mind is like the soil. Most of us are not born with the super-rich mixture, but what we do have is still good. We can condition it and add nutrients to it. And the more wholesome the nutrients, the higher the quality our minds become. You will be able to plant almost anything in it. Once it is planted, keep watering it. Give it plenty of sunshine and air. If those tender shoots start to wilt, fertilize it with some emotion. You are the farmer. It is your job to bring that seedling of hope into a fruitful reality.

Photo by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash

Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become reality.

Earl Nightingale

A Simple What-If

It begins with a “what-if.” What if I choose to do this or that? What would be the outcome?

From the “what-if” comes the choice. The choice is all about the work involved and the value gained.

We are all presented with the what-if’s and the subsequent choices. It does not matter our stations in life or the environment in which we live. It is the same with our age -it does not matter.

Anybody can what-if the possibilities of a new future. Anybody can make the choice to act based on that what-if.

According to Thoreau, the ability to elevate one’s life by a what-if and a choice is an unquestionable fact. For a moment, let it sink in. A better future can await us. Ask the question. Consider the possibilities. Make the choice.

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. -Henry David Thoreau

Ready, Aim, Fire, and Then Repeat

Who doesn’t want to reach their goals? I know I do. And when it comes to goals, it seems like I have one for almost every area of my life. You name it, I probably have a goal for it: personal, professional, fitness, writing, financial, and spiritual. Yep, this list could go on. And though I want to conquer all of them, sometimes it is just not achievable. If I was a perfectionist, this would drive me crazy. Thank God I am not and no longer pretend to be. Instead of perfection, I am more interested in progression. Like the Taoist proverb says, “The journey is the reward.”

One of my main fitness goals these days has to do with rowing. I want to see how fast I can go and how high I can move up in the rankings for my age and weight. To reach my targets, I am rowing nearly every day. My mind is almost completely consumed with this and many of my decisions in other areas of my life depend on whether or not it will make me a better rower. Will I eat this or drink that? I don’t’ know, will it slow me down. Should I go to bed or can I stay up a little longer? Hmm, will I feel rested enough and be able to get up before 4 in the morning?

How likely is it that I can reach all my rowing goals? Probably not very, but I do know it won’t be from a lack of trying. And what happens if I don’t? My ego might take a blow, but everything else (fitness, discipline, nutrition, etc.) will be at a higher level. To progress in those areas without reaching my goal would still be worth it.

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at. -Bruce Lee

I would invite you today to prepare your mind and ready your soul by choosing a difficult goal. Set your aim on it and make it all consuming. And then fire. Fire toward that goal with all you got. Fire with discipline, courage, and an unrelenting resolve. Keep firing. Keep hammering with all the physical and mental force you can muster. There are no cheat codes or short-cuts here, well except for maybe one.

Get after it and farewell.

Be the Change

Think of the great revolutionaries of the past. They were people who wanted to change the world and that is what they did so. Moses pulled his people out of a 430 year span of slavery and created the catalyst for establishing a new nation in the Promised Land. Jesus established his kingdom, not on this earth but in heaven (a message that billions of people have believed in over the last two millennia). Mahatma Gandhi led a movement that ended up in an India free of British rule. Nelson Mandela, the same for South Africa.

The above are good examples of people who have changed the world. Many dream of changing the world, but only a few actually succeed. Do you have such aspirations? If you do, then…

DON’T –meet injustice with injustice. Is there anything worse than seeing one tyrant get replaced by another tyrant? The name at the top may change, but the world is never better for it.

DO –demonstrate a better way to do things. This may mean sacrificing yourself (or your ego) in order to get the message across. I’m always reminded of the Buddhist monk, Thích Quảng Đức. In 1963, he burned himself to death in a protest against persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. His self-immolation was captured on film on a crowded street in Saigon. He never cried out but sat there meditating the whole time. This was the ultimate statement of protest.

Photograph by Malcolm Browne, Associated Press
Photograph by Malcolm Browne, Associated Press

DON’T –sit back and pass the blame. You have to move from “it is somebody else’s fault and problem” to “this is our problem.” When I was younger and an up and coming retail manager, I had the opportunity to work for some really horrible bosses. In their own unique ways, they were toxic elements within their organization. I didn’t know how to handle it. I knew it wasn’t fair to the people who worked under them, but I didn’t think I had to power to affect any changes. Only from experience and through a continuous education have I learned that I wasn’t a victim in these circumstances. These were obstacles with the opportunity to make a difference. Unfortunately at the time, I wasn’t ready. Whether on a global or an organizational scale, real change is made when we take ownership of the problems.

Do –lead by example. Jesus didn’t tell others to carry the cross with no intention of carrying His own. Gandhi didn’t suggest for others to suffer while he stayed safe. No. Instead they set the example for others to follow. It isn’t always easy holding ourselves to the highest standards possible, but it is necessary.

This week, I listened to The Tim Ferriss Show with Hugh Jackman (#444). Hugh made an interesting comment about his father that really resonated with me. His father pointed out that instead of making an outward show of your religion (bumper stickers and such), you have to wear your religion on the inside. How you act will always outweigh what you say. Who washes only the outside of the cup, when the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence (Luke 11:39)? Rather than giving the appearance of something we are not in order to change the world, we need to work on making those internal changes. Or as Mahatma Gandhi once said, and even better demonstrated, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Today is a good day to reflect on the changes I would like to see in the world and in my own life. I have to start with myself and who I really want to be. Once I become that, maybe I can succeed in changing some part of this world for the better.

Have a good day.

Getting Acquainted with a Stranger

Last week I had the chance to catch the March 17, 2020 Ed Mylett Show: Revolutionize Your Life w/Steven Kotler. This podcast episode really got the gears in my head turning. It was a wide-ranging interview that went from achieving “flow state” to the future which is much closer than we think. The interview was so good that after listening to it, I bought Steven Kotler’s latest book.

Twenty pages into this unbelievable page-turner, I came across the following paragraphs:

It’s not easy for any of us. Studies done with fMRI show that when we project ourselves into the future something peculiar happens: The medial prefrontal cortex shuts down. This is a part of the brain that activates when we think about ourselves. When we think about other people, the inverse happens: It deactivates. And when we think about absolute strangers, it deactivates even more.

You’d expect that thinking about our future selves would excite the medial prefrontal cortex. Yet the opposite happens. It starts to shut down, meaning the brain treats the person we’re going to become as a stranger. And the farther you project into the future, the more of a stranger you become. If, a few paragraphs back, you took the time to think about how the transportation revolution would impact future you, the you that you were thinking of was literally not you. – The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives by Peter H. Diamandis, Steven Kotler

Visualize your future self and part of your brain shuts down. You’ve got to be kidding me! How much time have I spent with part of my brain turned off? But the more I think about it, the more it starts to make sense. Thinking about my future self is fuzzy. Of course I have an idea of the path I want to travel, but who will I be when I get there?

In Ed Mylett’s May 19th episode: Visualize Your Victory w/ Phil Mickelson, I had the opportunity to hear one of the all-time great golfers discuss his visualization techniques. Here is a man who knew what he wanted to do since the age of eight. Before his tournaments and individual rounds, he visualizes what he is going to do. Then he goes out, and more often than not, does it. How do you visualize victory and who is in the vision? Is it you or the stranger also known as the future you?

Once again, the wheels started turning, but this time I was thinking of a colleague I met in Munich. Sergei is on his way to becoming a big boss for a major luxury car company. When he was eighteen he signed a fifty year contract with the company. Fifty years! Growing up in the U.S., I never heard of such a thing. I’ve known people who worked for the same organization their whole lives, but never did I hear of them signing a contract to do it. Could you imagine professional athletes doing that today?

Sergei had the plan from a young age that he was going to go to the top. Much like Phil Mickelson, he had the plan and then he took the steps in the right direction. It is a stark contrast compared to many of the people I have worked with in the past.

For many, their current career is only a temporary point along their projected path. They work their day jobs hoping for something better to come along. There is nothing wrong with that, unless the temporary becomes permanent and the growth becomes stagnant. These workers never envisioned spending their whole lives working for the same company, because they’ve always dreamed of being somewhere else. But what could they have achieved if they put all their efforts into their current situation? What opportunities could have abounded if instead of looking to the unforeseeable future, they put their focus on the tasks needed to make today a success? How many organizations would benefit from wholly invested employees rather than the wayfarers only on a temporary stop?

I would not give a fig for the young man in business who does not already see himself a partner, or the head of a firm. –Andrew Carnegie

Oh the possibilities if we could only realize the vision! If only we didn’t have a prefrontal media cortex shut down every time we imagined our future selves! How do we become acquainted with this stranger we have yet to meet?

I’m still trying to work that one out. I think I see my future. At least, I think I have a vision of the direction I want to go. Who will I be when I get there? No idea. That part comes down to hope. I hope that through personal growth and a constant effort towards living a virtuous life, my future self is a juggernaut of wisdom. Here’s to hope!

I might not know who I will be when I get there, but I have an idea of how I am going to get there. I am going to allow my mind’s eye to see both near and far. Like Phil Mickelson, I am going to visualize the short-term victories. I already do this to some extent picturing my workouts before they happen. Twenty minutes before I come into the factory, I sit in the parking lot setting my intention for the day. And like Sergei, I am going to look far into the future and set my sights towards that path. That means creating the milestones and then doing everything in my power to hit them. It means adapting, overcoming, and being relentless in the pursuit.

To pay the rent on this post, I leave you once again with the words of Seneca from his 39th Letter to Lucilius:

No man of exalted gifts is pleased with that which is low and mean; the vision of great achievement summons him and uplifts him. –On Noble Aspirations

Alexander, my prayer and hope is that you will achieve what you see within your mind’s eye. Create the vision, heed its calling, and let your dreams become a reality leading you to the heights of your own personal greatness.

Dream Time

Begin with the end in mind.

I have heard the above quote before, but I was reminded of it this week while listening to The Art of Manliness Podcast #607  with Stephen M.R. Covey covering his father’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

What is the ultimate end? Death. For a moment, consider what might be said at your funeral. How will you be remembered by your spouse, children, co-workers, and community? What would you like them to say about you? That is your end. And if your goal is to get them to say what you would like them to say, then it would be best if you begin planning and working on it now.

In the same fashion, you could imagine where you want to be in 5, 10, or even 20 years. Once the seed is planted in the imagination, we must begin the cultivation process and allow that seed to grow into reality. Start at the end, draw out the blueprints, lay the foundation, and then complete the project.

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. -T.E. Lawrence

As long as we have breath in our bodies, we can set a new goal. We can have the waking dreams that make us dangerous in the good way. In the book Super Brain by Rudolph E. Tanzi and Deepak Chopra, we learn that cells are dynamic. As long as they keep moving, they live. But once they stop, they die. Even into our later years, we can continue moving. It is only when we become stagnant that we lose the dynamic ability to achieve new growth. The key is to keep growing, to keep improving.

For some of us, we suddenly have more time on our hands than ever before. What will you do with this time? If you have nothing to keep you occupied, it might be a good time to start dreaming. Set a new goal. Dream a new dream. Become the person you want to be known as when you come to your journey’s end.

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. –C.S. Lewis

Towards the Sun

When we retire to our beds at night, we take it on faith that the sun will rise again in the morning. Of course science will tell you that there will be another morning, but our faith is in believing in the things we can’t see, like the sun on the other side of the earth.

When the sun rises, it brings with it new possibilities. We can feel its warmth even on the coldest days. Its effect permeates into the very fabric of our beings. Our bodies recharge and become healthier. Our minds awake and become more alert and more focused. Our souls, freed from the shackles of yesterday’s worries, gravitates toward the hope that a new day offers.

We can only feel the effects of the sun when we expose ourselves to it. Take a moment to bathe yourself in its light. Face towards it and offer a silent prayer of gratitude for this blessing. In that moment, you will realize no shadows are before you. No darkness, only light.

Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you. –Walt Whitman

Sunshine Bath by Zac Durant
Sunshine Bath by Zac Durant courtesy of Unsplash

Stretching to New Limits

As children, we are naturally flexible. But as we age, we tend to lose that flexibility. In death, we become totally stiff, otherwise known as rigor mortis.

A way to offset this stiffness is through stretching. We can push ourselves slightly past our comfort zones. Do this often enough, and we can regain some of the flexibility of our youth.

If we lay in the bed or sit on the couch too long, for example when we are sick, our muscle fibers shorten and we become stiff. Our bodies become dormant and the ability to move becomes more difficult. Bodies in rest tend to stay in rest. And if this is true, then the opposite is true. Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Motion leads to greater flexibility.

It is not just in our bodies that we can lose our flexibility. We allow ourselves to slip into routines. We mold ourselves into boundary sets (principles, standards, and ideals) that in time become difficult to break. If we become too afraid to step out of our comfort zones, our whole beings will stiffen. We will become dead to new possibilities.

Stiffness is thus a companion of death; flexibility a companion of life. –Lao Tzu

Our hope is to find the courage to move beyond the known. Beyond the safe and the comfortable. It is in this, we will find growth. We will find motion and in time become more flexible.

The Challenge of Big Goals

Sometimes I will watch my son Alec play a game. The game is way too easy, and he wins every time. I will ask him why he plays it. He simply responds that it is something he enjoys.

If a game is too challenging, he will get frustrated and stop playing. If it is too hard, it isn’t very fun for this seven year old. Ideally the goal of any game is to win and to have fun. Alec is not going to willingly challenge his mental capacities for the sake of challenging his mental capacities. At his age, that is not enough of an incentive to play the game.

As we get older, our motivations become more complex. Of course, we like to have fun, and we want to win. But we also have to add in elements of “it needs to be done” or “it will make us better.” We lose the simplicity of our childhood for the higher purpose of necessity. We force ourselves to do what we think is in our best interests. It is why we set resolutions at the beginning of the year in hopes of some monumental change. There is an inner desire to become better, to put it on paper, and commit to it. By the way, how are those resolutions going?

The commission from the church came in. They approached the candidates and asked for their proposals. They wanted something spectacular, something worthy to adorn the temple of God. They wanted a masterpiece to grace the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Imagine if Michelangelo gave them a simple proposal. Picture him saying, “Well, I can maybe paint a cross on a blue background with a couple of clouds floating in the distance.” Could you imagine the response from the ceiling committee? They would have passed on him and went to the next artist. They didn’t want basic. They wanted something that would inspire wonder in the hearts of their parishioners. Michelangelo took the job and painted the ceiling in about four years. His work would last for centuries and be replicated in hundreds of different ways so that the masses could place a reminder of it in their homes.

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our goal is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. –Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s work on that ceiling was an enormous project. His goals in the beginning were no small thing. He challenged himself, and he completed it. When it comes to goal setting, his example would be the gold standard of shooting for the moon. And what would have happened if he never finished it? What if he died in the last year of the project? I don’t think he would have been overly disappointed. Yes, of course he would have wanted to finish it, but it would not have been for a lack of effort on his part.

The opposite of the gold standard for goal setting would be to make set them too low. It would be like playing a game that is way too easy. Those type of goals do not make us better people. They don’t push us to see what we are capable of accomplishing. Today, I am going to take a moment and look at the goals I am setting for myself. Are they going to challenge me or are they going to give me a false sense of accomplishment? Am I working to become better or am I choosing to remain stagnant?

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. -Les Brown