You *Can’t* Do Whatever You Set Your Mind To

This message is sponsored by Reality.

You can’t do whatever you set your mind to. You don’t have “infinite potential”. You aren’t going to be successful at whatever you try.

Can’t, Don’t, and Aren’t (Oh My!) Them’s some dirty words among personal development gurus.

But here’s a little more from our friend Reality.

Your potential may not be infinite, but no one (you included) has any idea what’s in there that can be tapped.

You may not be able to accomplish whatever you set your mind to, but no one (you included) has any idea what you *can* accomplish with a little (or a lot of) perseverance.

You may not be successful at everything you try, but no one (you included) has any idea of what heights you could reach in the domain you want to apply yourself to.

You can’t go beyond your real limits. But if you’re alive, you can blow past the bullshit limits that you and others have placed on you.

Personally, I find this to be much more impressive than if you were a “spiritual being with infinite potential.” If a creature like that accomplishes something, who gives a shit?

But take a finite, corporeal, relatively weak entity, and watch it blast through obstacles and rocket beyond the limits it thought it had?

Now that’s pretty cool.

 

Grow or Deteriorate

“When you are uncertain whether you should do something or not, just think whether doing it you will grow or deteriorate, and act accordingly.” — Theron Q. Dumont

OK, so I know I’ve been on a bit of Brian Johnson kick lately… but there is a way to get me to stop. Just tell him to stop putting out so much great stuff to comment on!

This morning I was reading his Philosopher’s Note on The Power of Concentration by Theron Dumont. When I came across that quote in the note the truth of it hit me over the head like a pile of … something really heavy.

Everything we do either helps us to grow or to deteriorate.

And in every moment, we can choose which we want to do.

This doesn’t mean that we are going to make “perfect” (whatever that means) choices every moment of every day. Sometimes we are honestly mistaken about what will promote growth. Sometimes we are blinded by our own defects. Sometimes we know that what we are about to do isn’t good for us, but we go ahead and do it anyway.

Bottom line – sometimes we choose wrongly. In my opinion, as long as we maintain a sincere desire to move into growth on a regular basis, we’ll find a way. We’ll grow in wisdom, so that we won’t be mistaken as often and won’t be as blind as often. We’ll grow in discipline, so we have the strength to make those choices that are best for us.

Abraham Maslow said something similar:

“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” (source)

Let’s step forward into growth today. Again. And Again. And Again.

 

Calluses of the Mind

Something else I’ve picked up from David Goggins, and another reason that we should follow the path of most resistance, is to build up “callus our mind”.

Our bodies are amazing things, fragile as hell yet able to toughen themselves as need be. Calluses develop on our skin (mainly our hands and feet) when it constantly rubs against something that it normally doesn’t come into contact with.

They develop in order to protect us – and so that the rubbing can continue without pain.

But the process itself involves pain. Sometimes calluses start as blisters and pop, spewing pus everywhere…. and the callus making process starts all over again. Not a fun processes.

Calluses of the mind work the same way.

Doing something different, something beyond our current level of comfort, by definition involves pain – sometimes mental, sometimes physical, usually both.

Calluses of the mind only develop when we come into contact with mental discomfort, over and over and over again.

Sometimes mental blisters develop and sometimes mental pus oozes. But if we keep at it, the calluses develop. And lo and behold, that thing that was soooo mentally painful no longer causes the discomfort it once did.

When you are deciding if you are going to to do something outside of your comfort zone, there’s always at least one excellent reason to do it.

In order to callus your mind.

 

Bring It On!

Facebook post from May 7, 2017: "There isn't much that annoys me more than coming across what seems like an excellent personal development resource, then finding out it's endorsed by Oz and Paltrow. Whoops, glad I didn't step into that horseshit."

That’s a Facebook post I made about a year and a half ago.

Sometimes I’m wrong.

It’s not that I’m going to join Goop or start trying every snake oil product that Dr. Oz shills for. But I was (mostly) wrong about the product that I’m referring to above: The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower–and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels.

I’ve got a bit of a love/hate relationship with the ideas in this book and it’s follow up (if you couldn’t tell already.) I’ve found some value in some of what Stutz and Michels offer, but at the same time both books are so full of woo-woo nonsense that they can be difficult for someone with my mindset to get through. The signal to noise ratio really rides the line with these guys.

But… these two books (the first one especially) came so highly recommended by Brian Johnson (my perpetual personal development crush) of Optimize.me, that I did finally give them a break and try out their stuff.

And the very first tool – The Reversal of Desire – is something that I can say has helped more than anything to get me past fear and pain.

I’ll let Brian tell you more about it:

So the next time you feel fear, see pain on the horizon that you want to avoid, or are already in the shit and are want to quit, don’t forget:

  1. Bring It On!
  2. I Love Pain!
  3. Pain Sets Me Free!

Again. And again. And again.

 

Who The Fuck Are You?

“No, really, Lyman. Who the fuck are you to be writing this shit?”

“What qualifies you to write about Stoicism, ACT, Mental Health, or any of the other bullshit that you spout.”

I’m drawn to this stuff. Whatever the reason, I’m pulled toward expressing my ideas on personal development and how people can create better lives for themselves.

No matter how many times I quit, no matter how many blogs I’ve deleted, no matter how much criticism I get… I keep coming back for more.

For a while there, I started thinking that there was really something wrong with me. I thought I was one of those pathetic people who would just keep buying book after book, seminar after seminar, course after course… looking for that one thing that would finally make me ok.

Guess what. I was right. That’s exactly who I was. Still am to some degree. Probably always will be on some level.

But something kind of cool has happened. I gained a lot of knowledge. Knowledge is good. It’s one of the very few things out there where more is always better than less.

Some of the knowledge that I’ve gained is the knowledge that there’s a whole lotta bullshit out there in the world of self improvement. So many things that we thought were true when it comes to personal development were either just plain made up or put out there with only anecdotal evidence.

I like to think of it as a signal to noise ratio. And the noise in the self-help world can be deafening.

So who am I? I’m a guy who dabbled in almost every form of self help that you can imagine. A guy who can tell you what has worked for him and what hasn’t. A guy who can point people in the direction of those experts with a high ratio. A guy who, because he hated himself so much, was brought to the brink of death by his own hand, but is still here. And still kicking.

That’s who the fuck I am.

 

 

The Path of Most Resistance

I’m currently reading “Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds” by David Goggins. I’d seen the book floating around out there, but it didn’t interest me much. I thought it was just another “military guy has a rough time of it but succeeds in the end” kind of book. Yeah, they can be inspiring, but they don’t always have a whole lot of original, actionable material.

Then I came across this comment on Reddit, which pointed me to this video, which convinced me to find a copy of the book, read a few pages, and buy it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about the book. I’m about a quarter of the way in, and it’s fucking fantastic. But this article isn’t about that.

This article is about a single idea that I picked up in the video.

The idea of taking the Path of Most Resistance.

Normally, we hear and talk about the path of least resistance. It’s how water and electricity move. We design aqueducts and wire homes to take advantage of this.

Human beings default to the path of least resistance as well. I really like the idea that it’s an evolutionary trait – we aren’t lazy, we’re just conserving energy because who knows when a lion or that asshole from the other tribe is gonna leap out from the bushes? You better be ready.

In order to conserve that energy, we design our lives to take advantage of this property.

This isn’t a bad idea. Simplifying is a great example of taking the path of least resistance – get all of that crap out of your life so that you can focus on what really matters.

The problem we have now is that we’ve created lives that are so easy when compared to the lives that the majority of people lived just a hundred years ago, it’s almost laughable.

Not that people don’t have problems. When everything is difficult, *of course* you should take the path of lease resistance. You don’t need to train for life when every day is a constant struggle for survival – the race itself is the training.

But that’s not what (most of) our lives are like right now. Most of the people in the society we live in (I’m assuming you have at least a few creature comforts if you are reading this) have an essentially zero chance of being surprised by a mountain lion, and a very small chance of being physically attacked by a member of another tribe in the in the near future.

“Wait a minute, buddy. You obviously don’t live in my neighborhood if you think that I only have a ‘very small chance’ of being physically attacked.”

Right. But it’s not going to happen *constantly*, unless you live in a literal war zone. So even in a “bad neighborhood” situation, how much time do you think you need to rest, and how many calories do you need to pack on (without immediately using them properly) to be ready?

Not as much or as many as we are, that’s for sure.

We relax. We “conserve energy.” We consume mass amounts of readily available calories because our caveperson brains think that it may be the last time that we see food. Then we get mesmerized by the media that convinces us just how dangerous the world is, repeating the cycle. And to satisfy the need we have for adventure, we live our lives through our screens, watching others do the things that we want to do instead of doing it ourselves.

And it’s killing us.

Taking The Path Most Resistance, whenever possible, is a solution. Start taking it. On purpose. When you don’t have to. Whether it’s connected to a major goal or not.

It will make you stronger.

That’s why people go to the gym or hit the trails for a run. To get stronger. We don’t have to. We do it in order to feel better, in order to look better, in order to be able to say “Yeah, I can do that.”

Make your life your gym. Take the path of most resistance as often as you can.

Of course that dish in the sink isn’t going to hurt anything by being there. Rinse it out and put in the dishwasher anyway.

Of course it’s more reasonable to drive the mile to the grocery store. Why waste your energy walking and carrying the stuff back?

What’s the point of talking to that attractive person and asking them out, when you know you are going to get shot down?

It isn’t only about getting the sink clean or taking care of the shopping or being in a relationship with a particular person.

It’s about your ability to get shit done that needs to get done. And the more you can make getting shit done a habit, the more shit you’ll get done. And maybe (maybe!) you’ll have a clean sink, a well stocked fridge, and your dream partner in the process.

Take the path of most resistance more frequently today. It doesn’t have to be be huge at first. When you feel fear, discomfort, or laziness when facing the prospect of doing something that you want or need to do, recognize that this is path of most resistance. And take it.

 

Six. Teen. Years.

So I’m reading Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Note on Pete Carroll this morning. I haven’t finished it yet. I was so struck by one of the early ideas in it that I had to jump on here and write down my thoughts.

Even though I’m “sports stupid” (and I almost skipped this note because of it) I do know who John Wooden is, and I’ve always been inspired by his success coaching the UCLA Bruins. Wooden is considered to be the greatest sports coach ever (the arguably more well known Vince Lombardi came in second.)

I knew that Wooden led the Bruins to 10 championships over 12 years. What I didn’t know was the he was coaching the Bruins for sixteen years before they won the first of those championships.

Six. Teen. Years.

One of the things that Wooden is known for is starting his players off by teaching them how to put on their socks.

Intellectually, I understood the principle behind this – drill down to the most basic fundamentals, make incremental progress, and that’s what makes a champion a champion. But I figured it was a couple of years of doing this, and BOOM! Champions. Then Champions. Then Champions. Again and again and again.

But this morning I had an emotional reaction to this idea (thus this brain dump). I could see the six years. No, no I couldn’t. Writing even that seems like too long a time.

I never would have guessed that it took

Six

Teen

Years.

American (maybe I could go so far as Western) culture celebrates the “overnight” success. We look these people like they won the lottery – and even love stories about those who have. We don’t see the

Six. Teen. Years

of hard work that can go into getting the results that we want.

Combine this with our fascination with the outward examples of success – the fame, the money, the power – and we have a recipe for failure.

Whatever your idea of success is, for most of us it takes some (alot of!) time to get there. While there is some luck involved (genetics and environment often play more of a role than self-help gurus want to admit), when we focus on those things that we *do* have control over (like how we “put on our socks”), our chances at reaching our goals increase exponentially.

So… maybe it’s time to remind ourselves that real success isn’t going to come overnight. Figure out a system, stick to it while keeping an eye on what’s working and what isn’t, and give that bamboo plant time to break through the surface.

Again…

Six. Teen. Years.

 

New Project: maybethiswillhelp.me

This is difficult – I’ve already shared it on Twitter and Facebook with a sense of dread.

But that’s OK – a la ACT, I am/I have accepted the feelings and have moved/continue to move in a valued direction.

A few months ago, I started a new website at https://maybethiswillhelp.me/

I busted out an outline and introduction, but haven’t worked on it again until today.

Once again, feelings of dread and fear of ridicule are all up in this Lyman – “Goddamn, you suck.” “What a load of bullshit.” “Who do you think you are?” “And now you’re talking about it here? Fucking fool.” “Jesus Christ, now he’s writing publicly about his feelings!!!! You aren’t actually going to bother people with this crap, are you?”

Plus the ones that I’m not about to share publicly.

“Thanks, Mind!”

“Listen to that, it’s Radio Lyman.”

Yes, I am writing about it here.  It’s something that I have that I’m able to share with the world – an honest look at what has worked in my struggle for sanity.

Do with it what you will: https://maybethiswillhelp.me/

 

Is That So

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer…

Wait – I’ll let Alan Watts tell the story, since he’s much smarter, funnier, and better looking than I am (plus he has a cool British accent):


Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer who lost a horse. It ran away. And all the neighbors came around that evening and said, “That’s too bad.” And he said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse came back and brought seven wild horses with it. All the neighbors came around and said, “Why, that’s great isn’t it.” and he said, “Maybe.”

The next day his son was attempting to tame one of these horses and was riding it. He was thrown and broke his leg. All the neighbors came around in the evening and said, “Well that’s too bad, isn’t it.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the conscription officers came around looking for people for the army. They rejected his son because he had a broken leg. All the neighbors came around that evening and said, “Isn’t that wonderful!” He said, “Maybe.”

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity. It is really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad because you never know what will be the consequences of the misfortune, or you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.


An excellent example of this happening today – “… the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards says nearly a third of lottery winners declare bankruptcy meaning they were worse off than before they became rich.”1

I’m pretty sure family, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers came around and said “Isn’t that wonderful!” to those lottery winners. Many of them probably also said or thought “Can I have some?”

Then there are those who, without the failures (and just plain old horribleness) in their lives, may not have become as successful as they did – even if it was only because the direction of their life changed. I’m sure their family, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers also said to them “Well that’s too bad, isn’t it.” Many of them probably also said or thought “Call me when things get better.”

My personal favorite “had a ridiculous amount difficulty in life” story is the life of Abraham Lincoln.

(Well shit… maybe he wasn’t such a failure after all. I wonder where believing in – and then not believing in – the Lincoln glurge will take me?)

It’s important to maintain our equanimity in the face of both failures *and* successes, because we never know where they’ll lead us. Not that we should go through life like zombies or robots, numbly accepting the things that happen to us and around us. I’m sure the Chinese farmer, when his son first broke his leg, didn’t just say “Oh well, c’est la vie.” (and not just because he probably didn’t know French.)

And he was probably thrilled when the draft board said “Hard pass.”

Acknowledge the emotions that come up. Celebrate and cry. Maybe even spend a few days in bed or partying. But try to remember:

“The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity. It is really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad because you never know what will be the consequences of the misfortune, or you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.”

 

Karma Is Real – You Were What You Were

You are what you are right now because of your genetics, your environment, and the choices you’ve made. You couldn’t be anything else.

All of those past experiences? The environment you lived in? The momentary expression of those genes? The choices you’ve made?

Gone. Completely, utterly gone.

Their bones are the state of your mind, body, life, and universe right now.

The person you were when you started reading this post? Gone. Replaced by someone with a brain that’s been wired slightly differently, with different cells in their body, different molecules of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases feeding those cells.

The person you were when you started reading that last paragraph?

Gone.

The person you are now (and now and now and now) was and is partly created by that previous person, partly by factors outside of that previous person’s control. The mix will be different depending on a near infinite number of factors. The percentage of that mix that is made up of your own choices is impossible (considering the current capacity of human beings) to calculate accurately.

But it exists – your own choices make up a non-zero percentage of the quality of the lives you will lead as you are reborn and reborn and reborn again. Karma is real – at some level, right-now-you is experiencing the effects of the you from a moment, a minute, an hour, a day, a year, a lifetime ago.

No matter what you’ve chosen in those infinite past lives, you can choose differently now. Or not. It’s up to you. Maybe not in a big way, but there is always some tiny little choice you can make to change the direction in which you are headed.

Don’t get me wrong – this shit ain’t easy. It’s like water dripping on solid rock. Yes, eventually you’ll create the Grand Canyon, but it takes a whole lotta time and a whole lotta water. You might die before you make any visible progress. You’ve been programmed over and over and over again, by both your own actions and the actions of those around you. There’s a lot of momentum to work against here.

But every choice matters. Celebrating or berating yourself for past choices is useless. Learning from them isn’t.

Apply what you’ve learned, and make your next choice with as much wisdom as you can muster.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.