Originally published by Stephen Guise on his personal website.
“If you want to be tougher mentally, it is simple: Be tougher. Don’t meditate on it.” These words of Jocko’s helped one listener — a drug addict — get sober after many failed attempts. The simple logic struck a chord: “Being tougher” was, more than anything, a decision to be tougher. It’s possible to immediately “be tougher,” starting with your next decision.”
-Tim Ferriss and Jocko Willink in Tools of Titans
Imagine a superhero who can fly, become invisible, and turn dirt into blueberry pancakes. Amazing powers, right? But what if this person never used their powers? What if they visibly walked on dirt instead of invisibly flying around eating pancakes?
Why would they choose to do that?
Well, we could ask ourselves the same question, because that person is you and me. Okay, I admit we don’t have those particular superpowers, but we do have enormous power to change the trajectory of our mood, day, and life. We don’t always use it because we forget about it and fall into old routines of passivity.
Passive Minds Can’t Break Free
Stop thinking about what you’ve done wrong recently. Stop thinking about how you can’t exercise or improve your skills because you’re too undisciplined. Stop thinking that you should be in a better position than you currently are. Stop believing that you’re stuck — there’s a wide open lane to your left and you just have to decide to take it.
Problem: a passive mind can’t think beyond what it has already experienced.
A passive mind won’t consider new and exciting possibilities. A passive mind won’t think about breaking its own limiting rules. A passive mind can’t grow and become greater, it can only wallow through and regurgitate its own past. That’s because passive minds don’t create new things, they merely observe and comment.
Nobody is immune to having a passive mind, and nobody is sentenced to carry it their whole lives. We all have the ability to overcome this life-sapping way of thinking.
Your Superpower: Choice
Photo by Twenty20.
Beautiful scene, isn’t it? Any time you see something desirable, whether it’s a nice picture, a nice life, or a nice career, remember that you can choose to take steps to obtain it for yourself.
The superpower we all have is choice. Even as you read that, you’re probably underestimating it. Let me make it clearer.
You know that thing you’ve been struggling with? You know that huge frustration in your life that you can’t seem to get over? You know that thing you’re supposed be doing but haven’t been doing?
You can CHOOSE to conquer it, and by doing so, you will.
Like the quote at the start of this article suggests, if you want to be mentally tougher, decide to be mentally tougher. If you want to be able to exercise, decide to exercise today. If you don’t want to procrastinate, decide to work. You’re mentally and physically capable of doing all of these things, but you will struggle mightily if you let yourself “go with the flow” of your thoughts, circumstances, and feelings. You will fail often if you give up your ultimate power of choice to less meaningful factors.
How to Become a More Powerful Person
Those who think passively believe they are weaker than they actually are. With a small shift in perspective, they can really take control of their lives. I want to nail down the difference in these perspectives, so I’m going to give some thought examples. If the passive thinking examples resemble your thinking today, imagine how your behavior might change if you decided to think like the powerful example.
Passive thinking: I should exercise today, but I’m a little tired and, oh, maybe I should do laundry. I should have done it yesterday. Are my new shoes coming in today?
Powerful thinking: I will exercise today no matter what.
The Difference: Passive thinking is predictably unpredictable, distracted, more concerned with the past and future than right now, and it’s easily influenced by internal and external factors. Powerful thinking is simple, clear, concise, and focused on making valuable decisions in the present moment, and it isn’t influenced at all by external factors. The only internal factor that matters to a powerful thinker is their choice, what they decide to do.
Passive thinking: Wow, I’ve been in such a rut lately. Ugh, I should be doing better than this. I just feel so drained, and now I’m in a bad mood, which makes me feel even worse. Uggghhhhhh. Why can’t my life be [better, different, like his/hers, etc.]? What am I doing wrong?
Powerful thinking: That’s not how I wanted to start the day, but what’s done is done. I’m going to salvage the day (choice). I’ll work on the spreadsheets, meditate for 5 minutes, call James and Tim, and then head to the gym (all deliberate choices).
The Difference: Passive thinking focuses on their feelings of shame, disappointment, and inadequacy. It’s weak on solutions and strong on excuses. Negative feelings will loop, because it feels bad to feel bad. Comparison is also common, to another person’s life or to what they feel life should be like. Powerful thinking, however, may acknowledge a slow or undesired recent past, but then the mind will quickly recognize that these events have expired and are no longer worth thinking about. The powerful thinker will quickly begin making choices to shape their day into something they want.
Passive thinkers observe their life and comment on it. They’re passengers.
Powerful thinkers actively shape their lifestyle by making firm choices. They’re drivers.
It’s important to point out that this change goes beyond to taking action. As the initial quote states, your power of choice can be used to increase your mental toughness, be more courageous, and so on. Many choices are erroneously labeled as emotions. Toughness is not defined by macho emotionlessness, though it is often depicted in that way. Toughness is when you feel torn apart and choose to put yourself back together. Toughness is when you feel hurt and weak and helpless and continue to fight regardless.
You don’t always choose what happens to you and the emotions you feel, but you always choose your response to said events and emotions. Emotion is not the end of a sequence, it is the beginning. When you feel sad, angry, lost, inadequate, and/or completely defeated, that’s when the game begins. That’s when you can use your superpower of choice to create a new chapter in your story. Just like any good movie, negative beginnings set up for sweeter ending, as long as the protagonist keeps fighting for it.
Ask Yourself: What Do I Choose to Do Today?
Photo by Twenty20.
Your answer should not contain if/but conditionals. It should be unambiguous and explicit. Examples:
“I am going to [do XYZ] at [time] at [place].”
“I am going to do 50 push-ups sometime today at home.”
“I am going to show up at the gym today after I digest my lunch.”
“I am going to write 173 words for my book at 4:23 PM.”
“I am going to brainstorm 15 business ideas in Microsoft Word before I go to sleep tonight.”
As for me, I did get off to a slow start today, but you can bet the house that I’m going to dominate the rest of it. Why? Because I’ve made choices that I’m not leaving it up to interpretation, circumstance, or chance. They’re as good as done, and it really does feel like a superpower if you’ve been a wishy-washy passive thinker in the past (as I have).
Time is Active, Opportunities Abound
One second just passed. And two. And three…
Every new second is a brand new opportunity for you to make a powerful choice to change the course of your day. Don’t get hung up on missed opportunities — new ones are available in abundance. There are 86,400 seconds per day, meaning there are 86,400 opportunities per day for you to make a critical, day-changing decision.
If you utilize your power of choice every day, you can change the course of your entire life. Stop leaving your life up to what you ate for breakfast and which way the wind blows. Pick a direction, and don’t let anything stop you from going that way.
You DO NOT have to do what you most feel like doing.
You DO NOT have to do what you’ve “come to expect from yourself.”
You DO NOT have to follow any precedents or rules.
You DO NOT have to listen to your internal objections.
You DO NOT have to care what society thinks of you and your choices.
You DO NOT have to wait for a better time.
You DO NOT have to finish poorly just because you started poorly.
You DO NOT have to limit yourself in any way for any reason.
You have the power to choose your actions and trailblaze a brand new path.
This power is not conditional to anything. It’s always available to you. Will you use it?