I was in Norway (Stavanger) and climbed two mountains last week.
It was physically challenging, because I’d done squats the day before (120 kg x 6 reps).
When we hiked up one of those mountains, my brother told me: “if this was in the U.S, you can be sure they’d have a lift, you know, so the fat and lazy people can get up to the top–and they can feel like they’ve accomplished something worthwhile, without having put in any effort.”
I could only agree.
But what glory is there in getting to the top without making any sacrifice?
Modern society is geared at maintaining homeostasis; it is one big bubble of sustained comfort, easily induced stimulation, and minimized unpredictability and risk.
It’s like Ray Kroc (the guy who built McDonald’s) said in 1977:
Much of this country’s social and political philosophy seems aimed at removing the risks from life one by one. As I told a group of business students in one of the talks I gave at Dartmouth, it is impossible to grant someone happiness. The best you can do, as the Declaration of Independence put it, is to give him the freedom to pursue happiness. Happiness is not a tangible thing, it’s a byproduct–a byproduct of achievement.
Achievement must be made against the possibility of failure, against the risk of defeat. It is no achievement to walk a tightrope laid flat on the floor. Where there is no risk, there can be no pride in achievement and, consequently, no happiness.
Damn. That’s spot on.
A fierce contrast to the pioneering spirit of the early U.S, led by men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin. The founding fathers must be turning in their graves.
The Foundation of Motivation and Well-Being
The dilemma of modern man is twofold:
- We have far more leisure than previous generations,
- but we also have a lot more choice.
–Most people can’t handle it. Henry Ford got it wrong.
Many young people are foolishly led to believe that the meaning of life is to gain as many stimulating experiences as possible. . .
A.K.A the YOLO philosophy.
But, even if maximum pleasure and stimulation was the goal of life, the YOLO philosophy still wouldn’t be the best approach.
Pleasure is not maximized through quantity. It’s maximized through quality, and that is best accomplished by:
- Understanding psychological principles, and using them beneficially (two key ones being that variation and delayed gratification are more potent than overstimulation).
- Improving your concentration, being mindful, and practicing gratitude (via meditation for example).
- Seeking wisdom and accumulating knowledge by learning new things (best accomplished by becoming a comprehensivist).
No Goal = No Motivation to Break out of Homeostasis
The human brain is fundamentally goal-oriented. This means that it always needs a motivation, a reason, an answer to the question “why?”
When you cannot answer this question–whether consciously or unconsciously–you start to lose motivation.
Pushing through the plateau, and breaking out of homeostasis, is exactly like that too: You need a reason to do it.
Why should you do uncomfortable, scary, and physically, mentally, or psychologically demanding stuff for no reason? That doesn’t make sense for the brain, as it is wired to keep energy expenditure down to a minimum.
It was ‘easy’ for primitive man to be motivated, because he had all of these external forces pushing him towards action, and his instincts–his homeostasis–was at that time a reliable guide for survival:
Life for most hunter-gatherers was a day-to-day struggle, with little predictability and security, but with a constant mission: Survival. But today, for modern man, amidst the comfortable routine of city life, motivation is harder to come by, and. . .
. . . homeostasis can no longer be trusted.
If you cannot convince yourself that something is worth the effort, you will not put in that extra energy, or endure the discomfort of pushing through the plateau–not to mention continuing past it.
The ability to convince yourself that it is–indeed–worth the effort, has to do with how much control you can exert over certain parts of your brain.
It requires long-term thinking and empowering beliefs (neocortex), willpower to delay gratification and choosing not to give up (PFC), and associating the temporary pain with the pleasure of a goal (brain’s reward system).
Modern Man Has no Ocean
Being a man is synonymous with AMBITION.
–Expansion. Bravery. Conquest. Pioneering. Exploration.
And curiosity, insatiable curiosity.
Does modern man possess these attributes?
It was easier to be curious in the past–300+ years ago–when there were more mysteries, myths, and legends.
During the times of Alexander the Great (ca 350 BC), the Macedonians and the Greeks believed that the world was like one big body, where the water represented its blood. They thought that all rivers and seas flowed out into one united whole, which they called “the Ocean”.
Alexander wanted to go where no man had ever gone before. . .
He wanted to be the first man to find the Ocean.
He wanted to find the limit of the world–and go beyond it.
Alexander never stopped outdoing himself
First he compared himself to his father, Filip II of Macedon. When Alexander outdid him–by expanding the Macedonian empire further than had ever been done before–he needed a new challenge.
Alexander then started comparing himself to his childhood idol, Achilles.
For years Alexander had kept a copy of the Iliad with him. It was given to him by one of his tutors, Aristotle, who had scribbled notes in the margin. Alexander stored the Iliad in a golden box that he brought with him during campaigns, and read about Achilles’ achievements whenever he had time.
When Alexander finally conquered the fortress which Achilles–according to legend–had failed to conquer, he considered himself superior to Achilles. That meant he needed a new role model.
–So, he chose Heracles (Hercules), the half-god son of Zeus.
Alexander soon outdid the accomplishments of Heracles as well!
Then he started comparing himself to the god Dionysus.
Unfortunately, Alexander’s men did not have the same drive–the same pothos –as he did. So, they eventually initiated a mutiny, and Alexander was forced to turn back to accommodate them, to retain high morale.
Alexander never reached “the Ocean”. . .
[Meanwhile, hundreds of years later in Ancient Rome]
. . . Students of oratory were commonly given this topic to debate–for or against: Should Alexander have kept going toward the Ocean anyway, against the will of his men? Should he have sacrificed their lives for unforetold glory? What would you have done?
What Would Modern Man Say About This?
Nowadays most people would say “no”, because it would be cruel of Alexander to force his men to continue against their will. But people are heavily biased for two reasons:
- They know that “The Ocean” is just a bunch of sea.
- They have a completely different set of (cultural) values.
Also, most people today can’t relate to the wondrous curiosity that Alexander (and the Romans) felt at the thought of reaching the Ocean, or the possibility of going beyond it.
To put things in contrast: is it worth it if some people have to die–as a sacrifice–for mankind to become an interplanetary species, and travel outside the Milky Way?
Most people today have forgotten what it’s like to be in a state of awe.
They’ve become detached and indifferent
In the past it was easier to be in awe; they could just stare up at the stars or go on an exploratory expedition to some unknown place. They didn’t know much, so they were curious and motivated to find out.
Today, what do most people do? Watch TV series? Go to magic shows?
From a mental and motivational perspective, they had it easier in past times than we do now.
From a physical perspective, they had it a lot harder than we do now. . .
. . . But they didn’t let that stop them from making a better life for themselves.
Motivation and morale was never a problem.
–But today, it is: it will be one of the major problems of the 21st century.
How can we motivate people into not being hyperreality-induced homeostasis dwellers?
Mental vs Physical Challenges in Past Times
Even though it was physically challenging to do things in the past, there was no shortage of challenges, quests and missions, or novel things to learn. There was always wars and exploratory expeditions to take part in.
Now, my friend, there are no more Oceans to explore.
–None that are easily found, anyway.
Well, literally, there are–like the Indian Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean–and they’re cool to see, but you wouldn’t be the first.
You’re not a pioneer for seeing them. You’re no Christopher Columbus just because you’re traveling to the U.S by boat. . .
Modern man lives in almost the complete opposite conditions compared to past times, especially compared to primitive man.
[We have a brain which by default is wired for a world of scarcity and risk. But we now live in an environment of abundance and affluence.]
The challenge for the modern man is no longer physical execution. The challenge for the modern man is mental motivation.
It may seem like everything great has already been thought, said, or done. . .
–That there is nothing left to do. No more greatness to be had. No more Oceans left to explore. No more heroic deeds to be done, no more legendary feats to be accomplished, no more hard-won wonders to marvel at in a state of awe.
This is the unstated assumption that haunts modern man from the unexplored depths of his subconscious as he stares with dull, tired, eyes at a computer late at night in an office brightly illuminated by artificial lighting–with enough caffeine in his body to kill a small rodent.
Modern man then pleads defeat–this too unstated–by engaging in spectator-ism, escapism, and overindulgence of instant gratification.
Is this a man capable of reaching the final frontier?
Not like this.
No Pain no Gain: Modern Man Must Commit
Motivation, happiness and pleasure are not found in homeostasis, by doing as little as possible, by clinging to comfort and safety.
You can be stimulated while being unhappy and depressed; most people are.
The principle of “no pain no gain” applies equally to fulfillment as it does to growth. Is this a coincidence? No, it is not–they are synonymous, just different sides of the same coin.
Like Ray Kroc said, happiness comes from pride of achievement. . .
. . . and achievement, in turn, comes from ambition and curiosity.
You need goals that are BIG enough that you are forced to become more resourceful, goals that force you to break out of homeostasis, and reinvent yourself to surpass previous limitations.