Who’s in charge?

But then [Seneca] gives the real reason: “The body should be treated more rigorously that it may not be disobedient to the mind.” I think about that every morning just before I crank the knob. Who is in charge? The courageous side of me or the cowardly side? The side that doesn’t flinch at discomfort or the side that desires to always be comfortable? The side that does the hard thing or the side that takes the easy way?

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/do-something-that-scares-you-every-day/

This made me think. Usually, I share others’ writing because I thought highly of it. In this case, I’m hesitant to say this, however: I’ve never thought my body was in charge.

Certainly(!) I have reflexes and bodily functions or urges which my mind has no control over. Certainly flinching (under cold water for example) is something you can learn to reduce. I’ve always thought of my mind as the one who’s not always the best captain of the ship. I don’t need to train to put my mind in charge of my body.

Recently I hurt my back. The story begins with my doing some truly pathetic, free-weight exercises to strengthen my back. I over did it. Then I ate poorly and wound up bloated and a few pounds heavier. Then I went rock climbing and worked on a problem (a challenging combination of moves and skills, in an easy to access location rather than 2 hours up some mountain, so one can spend time with it) that involved maximum–strength pulling with my arms while pushing with my legs. Boink! Ow, my back. I managed to calmly pack my 20 pounds of things into my pack, walk back to the car and drive myself 3 hours home. There were a myriad of things that could have set me off in the moment, on the drive, and in the coming days: acute pain, inability to sleep well, the inability to reach my feet or wipe my butt, the fact that I did it all to myself while trying to improve my body, drivers on the highways and people who tried to talk to me, the overall setback, … so many things. But instead, I was reasonable with everyone. I did what I could do, rested and recovered. A week later—just as I knew I would be—I’m back to where I was before I picked up the free-weights. Ready to try again at improving myself (and planning an even more gradual start.)

So I’m inclined to say: My mind is clearly in charge, even under duress.

What I was thinking about, in that first sentence here, was if I have trained to put my mind in charge, that means there’s room for more training.

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Expansive

Normally, we think of these difficulties and frustrations as something wrong with us, the other person, or the world. With this kind of view, every failure is another reason to feel bad about ourselves. Every frustration with someone else is a reason to shut down to them or lash out at them. Everything wrong with the world is another reason to feel discouraged.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/practiceground/

I recently read a discription of one’s mindset that used the term “expansive.” Having a “growth mindset,” or a “positive attitude,” are other turns of phrase in the same vein. Thinking expansively leads you to find opportunities. For 6+ years I’ve been tinkering on the Movers Mindset project, and a legitimate question comes up: What is the mindset of a mover?

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Physical it’s not

This phenomenon—winning or losing something in your mind before you win or lose it in reality—is what tennis player and coach W. Timothy Gallwey first called “the Inner Game” in his book The Inner Game of Tennis. Gallwey wrote the book in the 1970s when people viewed sport as a purely physical matter. Athletes focused on their muscles, not their mindsets. Today, we know that psychology is in fact of the utmost importance.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/01/inner-game-of-tennis/

Somewhere I saw a great interview with Gallwey. (Try TouYube?) Some of the insights from his work—for example, that psychology is critical to success in sports—now seem obvious. But 50 years ago, this was not only “not obvious” but was literally unheard of. (Insert my peewee-baseball story from the late 70s. *shudder*) There’s a lot more worth gleaning from Gallwey’s work. Positive thinking doesn’t work! Worse, it’s a hinderance as bad as negative thinking. *gasp* This insight is also 50-years old, but from my conversations with athletes, it doesn’t appear that it’s percolated as thoroughly.

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Conflagration

Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces—to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp. What’s thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed, consumed by it—and makes it burn still higher.

~ Marcus Aurelius

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More reason to worry

For even peace itself will supply more reason for worry. Not even safe circumstances will bring you confidence once your mind has been shocked—once it gets in the habit of blind panic, it can’t provide for its own safety. For it doesn’t really avoid danger, it just runs away. Yet we are exposed to greater danger with our backs turned.

~ Seneca

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Yes, relax

This is the training. Relax the narrative, loosen your view, and drop into the openness of the present moment. Breathe deeply, and relax your body. Relax the jaw, relax the muscles in your torso. Feel the openness in this moment.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/relaxed/

It took me a long time to understand that the only source of stress in my life is myself.

I’ve been in two car crashes where I’ve instantly gone from automobile operator to roller-coaster rider. I’ve been absolutely wiped out, in countless variations, in martial arts context. I’ve discovered mid-air that I’ve been launched off my mountain bike. I’ve been obliterated while skiing. I’ve had too many—I’m refusing to count—nearly serious automobile accidents where my driving skills, applied consciously with to-the-inch and to-the-split-second accuracy saved the day. I’ve had bones broken. I’ve been fallen upon, by a poor fellow who was saved from an 8-foot, head first, fall onto concrete… by the flex of my rib cage. I’ve been hit in the face with a max-power, line-drive, point-blank soccer ball penalty kick. I’ve been flattened by a skull-to-skull running-speed impact. Sucker-punched in the gut. T-boned into the sticker-bushes at high speed on a bicycle. Beaned by a 2×6 board. I once fell 12 feet from a tree with my head being the first thing to land… on a tree root. I’ve been clipped by a truck, and blown a bicycle tire at high speed, ending up happy to reach the ditch rather than the asphalt. I rear-ended a car at speed (on my bicycle.) I’ve been banged up, flipped over, slammed into, … but also yelled at, and put upon. I had someone angrily invoke the name of my dead father in an attempt to shame my actions. I’ve been laughed at, and picked last in gym class. I’ve run out of money and bummed rides to work. I’ve been chewed out by a boss. I’ve had my credit card declined while in public. I’ve been scammed by street hustlers, lied to by various people, and pre-judged in various dimensions.

…and I can now truthfuly say: The only source of stress in my life is myself.

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Those who understand

The cucumber is bitter? Then throw it out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around them. That’s all you need to know. Nothing more. Don’t demand to know, “why such things exist.” Anyone who understands the world will laugh at you, just as a carpenter would if you seemed shocked at finding sawdust in his workshop, or a shoemaker at scraps of leather left over from work.

~ Marcus Aurelius

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Impressions

Nothing but what you get from first impressions. That someone has insulted you for instance. That —but not that it’s done you any harm. The fact that my son is sick —that I can see. But, “that he might die of it,” no. Stick with first impressions. Don’t extrapolate. And nothing can happen to you. Or extrapolate. From a knowledge of all that can happen in the world.

~ Marcus Aurelius

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Doing premortems

Premortems encourage people to use “prospective hindsight,” or, more accurately, to talk in “future perfect tense.” Instead of thinking, “we will devote the next six months to implementing a new HR software initiative,” for example, we travel to the future and think, “we have devoted six months to implementing a new HR software package.”

~ Bob Sutton from, https://fs.blog/2014/01/kahneman-better-decisions/

Positive thinking is dangerous. Negative thinking is also dangerous. But since, as humans, we are so prone to positive thinking—go read that little article which is just a taster-sized summary of Sutton’s book—that intentionally doing some negative visualization is a wise counter-balance.

Balance.

Don’t hope the wind will change.

Don’t whine that the wind will never blow from the direction you want.

Decide if sailing today is wise based on the conditions and forecast, and then adjust the sails.

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