We all want to be the best that we can become during our given time on earth. Nobody wants to be less than what they could actually be. And what is the key to breaking through the habits, old thought patterns and logistical barriers to become our best selves? We need a big enough WHY, a compelling REASON that gives us no tolerance for anything less than our full potential. Nietzsche said that “He who has a WHY can endure almost any HOW”.
So what is your WHY for reaching your potential? The emotional WHY seems quite obvious- we want to be happy. No matter who we are, where we live or what we believe, we all want to live a life of happiness. Becoming rich, famous, enlightened, masterful- the end result of all these aspirations is happiness. While this WHY is compelling enough for some, for others this emotional WHY becomes obscured by other distracting emotions in the moment such as the temptation to procrastinate, laziness, fear and doubt. Although emotions have a more powerful influence over our behaviours than logic, when our emotional WHY becomes short-circuited by these lesser emotions sometimes we need a clear and self-evident line of logical WHY to back up the emotional WHY. Here is the line of logical reasoning that I’ve recently discovered and have found helpful so I wanted to share it with you guys.
First, you must begin with the end in mind. Project yourself to the end of your life in your mind and visualize what it would look like. Who are the people around you? What would your professional legacy be? Did you live a life that mattered? Most importantly, how much of your potential did you realize and how much of it are you taking with you to the grave? My friend Andrei once told me something that left an impression on my mind:
The definition of hell is this: On the last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.
How painful would it be to go to your grave knowing that you could have been so much more? Even if your life was filled with relaxation, fun and laughter, if that is all you did and you know you could have created and become so much more, could you die with a restful heart? The answer for me would be no. The most important priority for me is to have no regrets at the end of my life. And to have no regrets I would need to live a ‘good life’, not a comfortable life.
And how do I achieve that? To find out, I turned to the wisdom of the ancients. The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that to live the ‘good life’ and have no regrets at its conclusion, you need to live with something he called ‘Arete’. Arete is a concept that can be translated into ‘virtue’ or ‘excellence’ but has a closer meaning to ‘flourishing’ or the ‘full realization of potential’. Arete is a concept that he applied not only to people but to objects and animals as well. To have Arete or to be excellent, the thing, animal or person has to realize the potential specific to itself. For example, as the function and purpose of a knife is to cut, it has Arete to the degree that it is sharp, easy to use and can perform that function. Similarly, a bee is considered to have Arete if it performs to the fullest what a bee must do- pollinate, create honey, bravely defend its hive, etc. As for me, I am a man. So it follows that to express Arete, I must live with Arete specific to a man. But unlike a knife or a bee, the Arete of a man is much more complex and multi-faceted. What does the ‘excellent’ man look like? What are his thoughts? How does he conduct himself within our society?
After some contemplation, I found that at the basic level a man with Arete must be manly, just as the excellent bee must be bee-like. For a man to be manly seems an obvious requisite to his pursuit of excellence. But what does it to be manly, to possess the quality of manliness? Manliness is a concept that has been challenged, questioned and modified in our modern gender-neutral society. The word ‘manliness’ seems to conjure images of masochistic beer-chuggers with big muscles on the way to a UFC bout. But does this image truly represent manliness? To find the answer to this I did what everyone used to do when they needed answers- read.
In the book “Manvotionals” by Brett and Kate McKay, (the team behind the popular website ‘The Art of Manliness‘) 7 essential qualities of manliness are listed. To procure this list they delved extensively into the literature of men who were almost universally thought of as ‘manly’ throughout ancient and modern history such as Jack London, Theodore Roosevelt, Seneca and Samuel Smiles. Although their sample has an admitted Western bend on manliness, they examined these men and deduced qualities that they seemed to share and were admired for. They are:
- Manliness (this to me seems closer to the concept of self-sacrifice)
You might be asking if this list applies equally to women. I am no expert and although there might be some slight differences, I believe that the quality of manliness and womanliness have significant overlap just as excellent tigers and lions will have much in common.
Therefore to possess these qualities is to possess manliness, and only a manly man can be an excellent man. And if I live in harmony with the 7 manly virtues above, I can live a truly ‘good’ life that I will not regret at the end. James A. Garfield once said:
I mean to make myself a man, and if I succeed in that, I shall succeed in everything else.
It must also be remembered that these virtues need to be practiced every single day. Every day is a mini-life, and if you do not practice these virtues every day then it is inconceivable to say that you lived according to them at the end of your life.
Let me summarize the logical WHY here:
You don’t want to regret your life at the end -> to have no regrets you need to live with Arete -> A man’s Arete requires the 7 virtues -> Live the 7 virtues every day.
I’ll call this technique ‘Linear Self-Motivation’, or LSM. Whenever you catch yourself about to procrastinate, snooze or bail out on something you know you should do because of your internal emotional motivation was highjacked, remember the LSM technique. Take a second, close your eyes and think of the logical reason you must do what you know you should do. The line of reasoning will always be consistent and never change like your emotions do. Who knows? Logic might just rescue your own life from regret and misery.