flinch: /flinCH/ – verb (used without object)
to draw back or shrink, as from what is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant.
to shrink under pain; wince.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been taking cold showers every day. I did not mean to, it just happened. The geyser broke, and instead of getting it fixed, I thought to myself, Benjamin Hardy has this whole thing about cold showers and why they are important. Apparently, taking cold showers everyday helps to build discipline. So instead of fixing the situation and returning to the cozy warm showers I’m used to, I decided to let it be, and dive into the experience of cold showers.
At first it was quite hard. Then it got a bit easier. Now when I go to take a shower, I switch the tap on, and dive in immediately. No time to think about how cold it is, and how uncomfortable it is. I don’t even let my mind start, I just dive in and embrace the pain. The first few seconds are tough, the sharp cold water hitting my skin, lungs hyperventilating, the burst of millions of neurons firing off in my brain during the experience. Eventually, it gets easier, and soon enough I forget that the water is cold, I’m deep in it by that point.
The aftermath is a bit interesting too, that feeling of being alive. The same feeling after you finish from the gym. That sensation that you tackled something tough and came out the other side. You are not as soft, you are a little harder, a little tougher, you lose your fear of the cold. Where others shrink back, you move boldly forward. You are a warrior.
There’s the idea of ‘The Flinch’ which I read about for the first time back in 2011. Julien Smith, the author of the book by the same name refers to the flinch as that instinctive fear that pops up once we have to take uncomfortable action. The fear evolved over thousands of years, keeping our ancestors alive in the savannah plains as they navigated a harsh and unforgiving world. That knee jerk reaction to any semblance of danger was many times the line between life and death, the difference between being the hunter and being the prey.
But we don’t live in that ancient dangerous and precarious world anymore. We live in general safety now. And even though there is a lot of bad, and there is a lot to worry about, things are on the whole better than they have ever been. But the flinch remains. It shows up as the lump in your throat as you contemplate talking to the attractive girl at the bar, the pounding in your chest as you think to raise your opinion in the board meeting. All echoes of our evolutionary programming.
We let this flinch metastasize into this amorphous fear monster that keeps us locked in our comfort zones and prevents us from taking the action required to move us forward to the next level. In the journey of getting what you want, at some point the rubber must actually hit the road. You must actually do the things and take action. And that is where many of us fail. Because it is nice to talk about it, it is nice to dream, it is nice to make the plans and hold the intention. Actually taking action and doing the thing is tough. But it can be done, and we must do it.
Know the flinch for what it is, a specter, a ghost. Meet it with bold action and find that it quickly dissipates. Get into the habit of the zero second rule. When you wake up in the morning, get right up, don’t hit snooze, don’t think about it, just get up. Remove the amount of dilly dallying in your life. You finish eating a meal, wash the dishes right away, don’t let them sit in the sink and fester away. You have a task to do, don’t procrastinate, get it done now, or do something to move it forward. You need to make a call, make that call. Don’t think about it, just pick up the phone and do it.
It will feel hard, but it will get easier. The more you do and step outside your comfort zone, the better you get at it. You will feel your discipline getting stronger. The things that were so hard will get progressively easier and you will get addicted to the feeling, soon enough you are climbing higher and tackling harder things.
Your flinch has become your worst enemy. It should be a summoning, a challenge to push forward. – Smith, Julien (The Flinch)
I was thinking about fear the other day, and if it was possible to reframe the feeling to help us instead of holding us back. What if we looked at that sensation, the feeling of adrenaline coursing through our veins, the thumping in the chest as something exciting as opposed to something to be scared of? What if we pushed forward through it? What if we learned to crave that feeling, and actually began to seek it out, going after the things that we fear so that we can feel that high? What if we turned fear into fuel?
Imagine how incredible that would be and what it would do for your life. Imagine your comfort zone expanding to cover a vast amount of things and experiences. Imagine the possibilities.
Train yourself to flinch forward, and your world changes radically. You respond to challenges by pushing ahead instead of shrinking back. – Smith, Julien (The Flinch)
I have a friend who is amazing at meeting new people. He would go out night after night by himself to new places and just strike up conversations with people. That’s the sort of thing most people are absolutely terrified of doing. But for some reason, it fuels him. It was never his default setting, he had to learn it, to deal with the fear, to embrace the excitement of new experiences and just get out there.
It was with him in mind that I recently went to a client party by myself. I walked in only knowing the client and the boss, in a party of about 50 people. I was absolutely terrified by the prospect, but I just went. It was incredibly awkward at first, but eventually I struck up a conversation with a 40-something year old man and his colleague, then eventually ended up hanging out with another group of people and making new friends. At the end of the night I was tearing up the dance floor with strangers. People I usually won’t be interacting with. And it turned out to be a fun and fulfilling night.
One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the book – The 50th law by Robert Greene and 50 Cent. It is actually inscribed on the back of the book, it says ‘nihil timendum est’ which translates directly from latin as ‘Nothing is frightening’ or more colloquially as ‘Fear Nothing’. It inspires me to remember that fear is not real, it is all about how we perceive and interpret events. And as fear falls away, we grow our own power to deal with things and affect the change we want, and even where we can’t, we learn not be mentally tormented by these things but to maintain our peace and equanimity about things.
Face the flinch, and defeat it, everything you want is on the other side of fear.
I was watching Thor Ragnarok again the other day, and started to think about superheroes, the entire pantheon of characters that fascinate and entertain us. The big kick of watching these shows / movies is the Hero’s Journey, the protagonist being called to a seemingly impossible quest to save something or stop something else. What makes superhero stories more exciting (at least for me) is the fact they are superhuman. They have an ability or skill that sets them apart. And when you bring an entire team of remarkable individuals like this together, they can fight the battles and do the things we could never.
You have a quest, the quest of getting what you want. You are pursuing your goals and desires. They might seem intimidating and far-fetched right now, but you have been gifted powers too, powers to help you. Your gifts are in the form of innate strengths and inclinations. They might be obvious to you, or they may be lying dormant, waiting to be tapped into. They provide a hint to what your purpose is and the gift you must give to the world.
We have discussed the need to know yourself in the quest to getting what you want. On the road there, knowing and leveraging your ‘special powers’ is an invaluable resource. It provides that competitive advantage. And so, you have to ask yourself, what are those things you excel at, or execute easily? The things that come so naturally to you, they are basically second nature. Things you do so well, you take for granted that not everyone can do those things. Those are your powers, those are your strengths. And often, if you think back, you can trace them as far back as your childhood.
Strengths are not activities you’re good at, they’re activities that strengthen you. A strength is an activity that before you’re doing it you look forward to doing it; while you’re doing it, time goes by quickly and you can concentrate; after you’ve done it, it seems to fulfil a need of yours.
– Marcus Buckingham
In those formative years, there are the things we were inexplicably drawn to, avenues that sparked curiosity and boundless energy to explore. For me, it was arts, I found quick wins learning to draw, make art, write plays and poetry. I was learning to use words, imagery and to express ideas. As time goes on, we gain new abilities, new interests, but they are always rooted in something true that has existed since infancy. For me, everything ties back to the joy of creation and expression.
In the bid to conform and succeed, we are sometimes forced to contort ourselves to fit certain roles, and so we lose core parts of ourselves. Your strengths are your golden ticket, your entry key to the life you have the potential to live. Lasting success and fulfilment comes from understanding that everyone has a unique temperament, a peculiar build and It is important to honour yours.
Your powers are not just the obvious things like creative arts, or skill with your hands, they include even the more obscure ones. Powers like empathy – the ability to feel what other people are feeling and see from their perspective. The ability to look at an idea and see all the ways it could be improved and made better. The ability to organize and make a complex endeavor like a live event run smoothly. The ability to learn and adapt quickly. The ability to encourage and inspire. The ability to make people laugh. The ability to persuade people. The ability to diffuse tense situations and help conflicting parties come to satisfactory resolution. The force of will to persevere in dire situations. The ability to plan and break down a big hairy audacious goal to practical steps.
These are all soft skills, and they are all examples of the kind strengths that you can play up in your life and work. When you make use of them, you increase your level of contribution, and you become indispensable. These soft skills are the sort of things that you are very likely to overlook about yourself because, like I said earlier, it is so second nature to you. But these are the things you should think about what you are considering the direction you wish to take. Whether you are deciding what school to go to, what industry to enter, what role to take in an organization, and so on. You can build a life aligned to your powers.
But your strengths will often not be enough.
In the road to get what you want, in your quest for success, you will not have all the skills and powers you need to achieve your goal. You would need to work with other super heroes. Your powers complement each other and make the team far stronger than any of the individuals. Your job is to understand your strengths and bring that fully to the table.
Now for every yin, there is a yang. The fact that you have strengths means that you also have weaknesses. You might be even more familiar with those. Those things that you are just no good at, or that are harder for you than most people. I’m personally great at mapping out high-level vision, I suck at focusing on the details. I could tell you what the general plot of a book I read was, I couldn’t tell you the specific names of the people or places. I can learn to do it of course; my point is it is not my natural inclination.
What do we do about these? Some people say, go all in on your strengths, don’t worry about your weaknesses. Other schools of thought make the argument that you should work hard to improve your weaknesses, even to the point of turning said weakness into strength.
I would say, your strengths tend to tie in with your natural inclinations and passions, and then with your vision, your reason for being. So, you should definitely go all in on your strengths. You have the easiest potential of becoming great and world class if you work to your strengths. You already have an early advantage, double down on that by building real skill and craft on top of that. Be committed to continually improving and you will reap great rewards.
At the same time, have a balanced and practical idea of what it takes to get what you want. Your weaknesses can be your Achilles’ heel. They can make the process harder or even possible, so you can’t completely discount them. You have two options. You can work to become better at your weakness or you can partner with people who are strong where you are weak.
I’d recommend both, you can choose the relative weighting you would give to each line of action. Working to be better at your weakness allows you to balance out your skills. Working hard to acquire skill does much to increase our self-confidence when we succeed. Engaging with people who are strong where you are weak allows you to let those important things be handled well, while you focus on going deeper and extracting more value from your strengths.
Handle your weaknesses as far as they affect you getting what you want or living a happy and fulfilled life. But otherwise, ignore them. If it has no real impact on your life, why worry about what you are not good at. Go all in on what you are great at. You will have your greatest results along that line.
You have a lot to give, and you would get what you want faster if you embraced who you are. Own your strengths, manage your weaknesses and be a super hero you are meant to be.
Over the past 21 months, I have been steadily working on some things. Working to put together, package and present what I do to the world. Working to climb out of holes I dug myself into, working to manoeuver out of corners I backed myself into. In this time, I’ve been soaking up the wisdom and insights of the many people who are our modern-day voices of self-development and growth, of philosophy and spirituality. And there among many truths I’ve discovered, there is yet another one that is foundational to getting what you want – Everything is learnable.
Human beings are adaptation machines. This is the reason why we have survived for however long we have been on earth, why we live and thrive across diverse terrain and climate conditions. It is the reason why a baby is born a blank slate and grows into a fully functioning person speaking, walking, writing, reasoning, moving, doing, creating. We are designed to adapt, we are built to learn.
Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that is beyond the power of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also. – Marcus Aurelius
There are many things we deem great and impressive. They include the physical feats, the accomplishments in careers, in art, in business. The building of happy lives and relationships. It is easy to look at them or the people who attain them when we have not and then despair or regard them as unattainable for us. We believe subconsciously that they are well beyond our reach because we are not worthy, or because we do not have the skills or the resources to get them ourselves. It is this fear, this assumption that makes us hesitate, that stunts our action for the BHAG.
But the truth is everything is learnable. The surgeon who deftly cuts out the tumor from his patient brain did not come out the womb wielding a scalpel, she was trained, she studied diligently over years, she learned. The entrepreneur who starts, successfully runs and sells companies over and over again may have had some inclination as a child towards business. But it is his persistent study, practice, action, and learning that has turned him into a skilled entrepreneur. He learned.
Everyone who made it, learned the skills they needed to make it happen. And so can you.
Once you take a hold of this idea and truly believe it – that everything is learnable, nothing is impossible. You embrace the growth mindset, the one that says I may not be there right now, but if I’m diligent and consistent in working at it, I can get there.
If everything is truly learnable, then you can become whoever you want/need to become. The thing to do then, is to reverse engineer your desires. Look at the things you want to achieve, attain and do and consider, what would it take for you to be able to get it done? What skills do you have to learn? What knowledge do you have to acquire? And then pursue those.
But it starts with the belief that it can be done, and a willingness to be patient and invest in the process.
21 months ago, I did not know much about business. It was literally painful to spend more than 10 minutes discussing business strategy, models or case studies. I mean it, like my head would literally hurt and I would need to go do something more comfortable like watch music videos or series. Today it is much easier to hold those type of conversations, I am able to give insight and ideas on strategy with my clients and associates. In 5 years, it will become second nature.
Understanding that everything is learnable opens up possibilities. It’s not just about business or skills. Even the things that make life worth living or fun are learnable. You can learn to build better relationships. You can learn to network, to connect better with strangers. You can learn to let go and have fun and stop being so uptight. You can learn to work harder and stop being so lazy. You can learn to think better. You can learn to manage your emotions. You can learn to meditate. You can learn to be at peace.
All of a sudden, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to keep getting better. You just have to learn. What pressure dissipated, what a weight lifted off our shoulders. What a chance to let go of the ego and focus on the pleasure of the journey, of the process. If everything is learnable, you can give up your excuses of not being good enough, of not knowing this or that. You can focus on getting good enough, you can focus on learning, you can focus on becoming.
In a world where the only constant is change, the most important skill is that of learning.
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. – Alvin Toffler
Sure, learning is hard, it hurt learning to walk. You fell countless times, but you persisted. To learn something new means pushing through the resistance and fighting the urge to ease up on the pain, to do something more comfortable. Tackling new concepts and wrestling with new material is hard. Deliberate practice is hard, but it must be done. As with all things great, the price must be paid. But it’s a price that is worth it. The pleasure and ease of a skill learned and the opportunities it opens up is worth much more than the pain. I mean you don’t even remember the pain of learning to walk right. But now if you are able bodied, you probably take it for granted.
If everything is learnable, and we have reverse engineered the things we must learn, we then come to the question of how to learn. For all the years of ‘education’ we are mercilessly subjected to, the very key skill of ‘how to learn’ is unaddressed and yet it is the foundational skill that underpins all others. Worse still, the long tedium of the system spoils the sweet taste of real learning and makes most people shun it after leaving school. You must reconnect with the joy of learning, of discovery and embrace it as a life-long practice.
We all learn in different ways. Some like to read, some like to explore and experiment. Others like to be instructed, others simply need to observe or listen. Each of us has a dominant learning style, and once we understand what it is, we can leverage it in our quest to acquire knowledge and skills. But it is important to learn how to learn. Once you master that skill, the ball is fully in your court. You have the control. You decide the direction you wish to go. You can tackle projects, amassing skills and knowledge, growing in your contribution and your value.
Everything is learnable, you can become the person you need to become to get what you want. If you want to learn a thing, learn it. You don’t need the permission of an institution or an individual. The information is literally at your fingertips, and there are usually no laws against discovery. Go out there and learn.
The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward. – Amelia Earhart
In 1965, an American psychologist named Martin Seligman did some experiments with dogs on conditioning, administering light shocks to dogs right after ringing a bell. After a few times, the dogs reacted once the bell had been rung, even though they had not been shocked yet. In a second experiment, the dogs were placed in a crate with a low fence in the middle. The side of the crate the dogs were on was electrified, the other was not. Seligman administered another light shock expecting the dogs to jump over to the other side. To his surprise, the dogs simply laid down. They had been conditioned that there was nothing they could do about the shocks but simply bear it.
This is the story of learned helplessness. I’ve talked about it before – the story of the monkeys in the cage in the Zoo. In this case the monkeys are not shocked, they simply live in the zoo getting everything done for them. The first time they land in there, they try all kinds of things to escape, eventually they give up and end up sitting around or swinging around all day. At set times each day, their food gets dropped in to the cage. Their needs are taken care of. What happens when one of these monkeys escapes to the wild and is finally free to roam the jungle as it was evolved to. It dies quickly enough. It does not know how to fend for itself. It learned, it was conditioned to be helpless and dependent on the zoo keepers.
The idea here is to illustrate that in many ways, we have also been conditioned by society, media and our upbringing in subtle ways to be helpless. Life is a wonderful thing, but life can also be tough. We are filled with such longing and desire, to do, to have, to be more. And this is the thing that drives us forward as agents of life. But it can also feel frustrating. There are many things you want to do and achieve. And there are also all these reasons you can’t get it. You made a mistake that cost you. Your gender or skin color makes it difficult to navigate certain spaces. The economy is in the tank and you can’t seem to find a job no matter how hard you try. Life can be full of obstacles.
But you have more control than you think. It is easier to sit back and hope that something happens. It is easier to wait to be saved, for someone else to come to the rescue and lift you from this insurmountable obstacle. We deplore our leaders, we decry the poor state of infrastructure or delivery, we deride the harsh living and business conditions we exist in. But in the back of our minds, we are always waiting for someone else to step up and do something about it. And sometimes that happens, heroes and angels walk amongst us. Sometimes revolutions happen, someone fights for us, someone comes with the solution that turns the whole thing around.
But what if your hero was you?
There is a lot you can’t control sure enough. You can’t control completely what other people do? You can’t control the weather, you can’t control the economy. You can’t even control the things that happen to you. So, when things go awry, or things are a little difficult, it is easy to blame something else. And the fucked-up thing about it all is that, it is true. Your excuse is true. But you do have control over one thing – your reaction. And that is all you need. Control how you process your emotion and control the action you take.
When nice things happen to us, they make us happy, even if it’s for a moment. When bad things happen, they make us feel terrible, a feeling that sometimes seems to last even longer. But things are just things, they are neither good or bad. We do not have enough context or knowledge of all the factors to outright judge a thing as good or bad. Who knows, maybe that accident you had that wrote off your car but miraculously left you alive is the wake-up call that sparks you towards your destiny. Maybe that spilled coffee on your white blouse on the same freaking morning you had to give that important presentation which you then missed because you had to go change, maybe that was the thing that kept you from being hit by a bus. We never know, we can never tell. Things aren’t good or bad, they are just things. It is our perception, the story we weave around the facts that give us the meaning.
On a long enough timeline, you can innovate your way out of any problem.
Imagine that insurmountable problem, that one that is at the edge of your ability. You have no idea how you will get over it, you don’t know what to do. Now accept it, embrace it, stop fighting it. You are here, there is a problem, so what?
What if you stopped wishing for better cards, and just focused on playing the hell out of the ones you were dealt?
What is truly going on around you? I’m sure if you really sat down, quieten your fear / intimidation of the problem, you can begin to get creative again. With focused attention, you could generate at least 5 different ways to tackle that seemingly insurmountable problem. Fear creates noise in your head and in your spirit, it clouds your vision and makes it hard to access the creative potential in your spirit, the one who will lead you to the right answer.
Connect with the brave core inside yourself. How can you turn your present situation around to your advantage? What opportunities lie around you in plain sight? Who are the people you can engage with? Who can you serve? What can you give? What action can you take?
If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door – Milton Berle
You not getting a job. Send out 10X more CVs. Learn to craft better CVs and interview better. Email 100 people who have jobs that you have now and ask them how they got into that field, and what it takes to get there. Focus on getting better.
You couldn’t go to school because you had no funds? Get a laptop, get some internet connection, sign up for free courses. It is never been easier to learn, there is an entire world of information out there. Start a side hustle. Build a blog, share your learning, volunteer, intern, provide value. Very soon all of that will compound and lead you to some interesting opportunities.
You don’t know stuff or have skills? Learn. Learn. Everything is learnable. Anyone who is human like you and doing something you find so incredibly awesome and out of your reach, know that they had to learn it too. No one comes out the womb finished. Sure, you might have predilections, your genetics may favor certain activities, but most things are more learnable than you think. You can learn to be an entrepreneur, a manager, a designer, a coder. You can learn to think big, to love yourself, to nurture your relationships, to change. You are a living breathing adaptation machine.
At the end of the day, it really comes down to you. Life is hard, and full of obstacles. But they make us better, they make us strong, they help us become happy. So, don’t give in to excuses. Don’t give in to learned helplessness. Be proactive and do something. You have more control than you think.
There is just something undeniably awesome about someone who is incredibly good at what they do. That shit is attractive.
In a fast-paced world like ours, the pressure is always on to deliver with speed and move on to the next. We can quickly become spread across too many things, too many deliverables to be able to spend real amounts of time working on, building and refining a thing. We lose the art of craftsmanship.
At the same time, there are still many instances of craftsmanship around us, and at various scales. The products handmade with love, you know, the craft beer, the artisanal coffee, the quirky furniture. There are also the ubiquitous, mass produced products that are just simply made to a high standard – the iPhone, the Boeing engine, etc. It is craftsmanship applied at scale.
On the road to getting what you want, you would have identified who you are, what makes you come alive, as well as what you want to accomplish. You would count the cost, cultivate burning desire, set your goals and build your systems. You would hone in on the one thing that is most important and you would go deep on that, giving it the time, energy, and attention, it deserves. In those moments of work, executing and building, you must hold the craftsman’s mentality in mind.
The craftsman’s mentality is that of love, exacting standards and insatiable drive. The craftsman loves what she does and will go to great lengths to do it the very best she can. Good enough isn’t good enough. It must be absolutely incredible.
Sure, there are many people and companies who come out with ‘just good enough’ products and services. You can cash out quickly by going to market with something that ‘just works’, promote the hell out of it and make your money. But there is a special pantheon for things of beauty, and high-quality attention to detail. The things that are made with love, with a high level of conscientiousness. It is just a different experience when you interact with the work of craftsmen. You can tell that the people behind this actually gave a damn.
Consider the mentality of the craftsman as a precursor to excellence. It will improve your quality of life and be an invaluable resource on the road to getting what you want. The craftsman enjoys the pleasure of doing a thing well for its sake. Becoming a craftsman means taking responsibility for your work and making sure it is executed with care and due diligence.
The craftsman takes pride in his work and sees it as an extension of himself. The thrill for him is in the pursuit of excellence. He loves working on the thing, making it better and better every time. He loves learning, he is prolific, weaving in exploration and practice in to the process as he executes and delivers. He digs in and puts in the time.
The craftsman mentality is more than just making excellent products or work, it is a mindset you bring to life, to daily tasks and daily actions. It is the spirit of doing the best you can and making sure your thing is dope.
When you have the mindset of a craftsman, you ignite passion. The deeper you dig, the deeper you understand it, the more you enjoy it, the more it propels you, and the more it fulfils you. And as your passion grows, the people who work with you or are served by your skill will clearly see that you deeply care for what you do.
Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men. Proverbs 22:29 (KJV)
People love an excellent product or service. If you have the craftsman mentality, you make things so awesome that they speak for themselves. Word of mouth travels faster and you get exposed to more and more opportunity. There is just something undeniably awesome about someone who is incredibly good at what they do. That shit is attractive.
Adopting the craftsman mentality might be frustrating sometimes, pushing to excellence can be hard work but it leads to a deeply satisfying life. There is a place for ‘work well done’ as a source of happiness on a soul or spiritual level. True happiness comes from purpose. And there are few purposes more noble than working and crafting excellence from our passions and our gifts.
When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. – Henry Ford
There are many true facts about life, but there is one that is particularly uncomfortable to look at and deal with – bad things happen. Sometimes they happen as consequences of our actions, sometimes they just happen. If this is a fact of life, is there a way to embrace and navigate it? Can we learn how to handle misfortune in our pursuit of our success and happiness?
It’s easy enough to look at the bad things that happen as a result of our actions, especially the actions that we are not too proud of. We understand the harm that comes from selfish actions that break trust or damage relationships. We understand the misfortune of failing an exam when we know we really didn’t put in the work required to succeed. There we have a clear set mandate. Stop doing stupid shit.
It’s trickier when bad things happen because of the good things we are trying to do. Embracing the philosophies of the One Thing and Deep Work comes with its own set of trade-offs. Every day, there are demands on our time, things we need to get done, people depending on us or needing us. Choosing to stay the course and go deep on the one thing can mean saying no to all those other things.
The trade-off, another fact of life is inevitable. Going down one path, means forgoing many others. It is never an easy decision choosing between two great things. We do not like disappointing or inconveniencing people. But if you have identified what you want, and have set your course, there is only one thing to really do. Sometimes you have to let bad things happen, so that you get the main thing done. It might mean delaying responding to the other things for a while or it may mean forgoing the other option completely. Many times, the fall-out isn’t so bad that it cannot be managed. A few hours or days delay won’t make the world stop spinning.
Knowing what you are all about and what is most important allows you to make the tough choices and go all-in on the things that will move you forward to your intended destination.
But what happens when bad things happen for seemingly no reason. Sometimes suffering exists and there is nothing you can do about it. The deal falls through, you are involved in a freak accident, other people disappoint you. Shit just happens. It is easy enough when it happens every now and again, it is much harder when it happens regularly or in a long stretch. Life can start to feel like a long series of unfortunate events.
It is tempting then to fold, to cross your arms and sit back. Especially when you have been trying really hard. It is very possible to do everything right and still fail. Sometimes it’s just bad luck, other times it is things completely outside your control. What do you do?
These times call for an exercise in character. Will you fold, or will you hold on? Will you let the emotion, the frustration, the anger, the despair, will you let it all sweep you away? Or will you pause, catch your breath, grit your teeth and continue?
Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records. – William Arthur Ward
You may need to take a step back to reconsider things. Are things going bad because a wrong assumption, or a mistake? Or is this just the equivalent of bad weather? Something completely outside your control? If it is just a bad time, and you are on the right path, doing the things you know you should be doing and investing in, keep pressing on.
It’s hard. I’ve blogged earlier about suffering. Writing about it is one thing, going through it is another. The past two months have sometimes felt like a real-life exercise in eating shit. I don’t have any answers on how to fix it. You just endure it and keep doing your job as best as you can. At first, it’s easy-ish to do it. Wake up every day and press on. After a while, it gets harder to stay upbeat. Eventually it just feels easier to not even try and slip into depression.
So, then you just lay down on the floor and try numbing yourself with your drug of choice. But then you have to get back up and try again. We rest, catch our breath, do some self-care, bandage ourselves up and get back in the ring.
It is easy to freak out, but in the midst of the storm, keep the one thing in mind, keep the prize front and center. Focus on the most important thing and get that done, then move your attention to the next pressing crises and do what you can to fix it. It is never easy, but you get better at it. You get stronger at remaining calm under pressure, you better at coming up with creative solutions on the clutch. You learn how to plan better and anticipate the bumps. You become more resilient.
And then you start to invert and turn the problems on themselves.
There is a book called ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ by Ryan Holiday that gives some insight on how to handle adversity. It goes beyond just dealing with the crises to using the problem as a stepping stone. Is there any way you can turn this shit show into something useful? Can you turn this turd into fertilizer? Maybe you use this problem as a cautionary tale on how to prepare better. Maybe it becomes the chip on your shoulder that you harness as energy to fuel and drive you forward. Maybe you use the time to train some more, to get better. Perhaps you just use it to grow more grit, to become mentally tough. Find the gain in your pain. Find your diamond in the dirt.
It all boils down to a three-part approach to dealing with adversity. Have the discipline of perception. It is easy to get emotional about shit when it goes down. It rips away from our routine and safe bubble. It gives us something new and unexpected to deal with. Fight the urge to react, settle back return to your calm. There is only one thing you can really control, and that is how you react to the things that happen. Strip away the emotion and look at the situation clearly. What is really happening? What caused it? Can I prepare better? Can I handle this, so it never comes up again?
Cultivate the discipline of action. You have steadied your nerves, you have observed the situation clearly and gained your insight. Now take strong consistent action. Do what you must do, keep moving forward. In the midst of this storm, until the sun breaks through the clouds and until the next storm, keep on moving.