Simplest Terms

Even the most difficult problems can be overcome if you approach them in the right way. One of the many life lessons I’ve found to be extremely valuable is the fact that you can parlay success in one area of your life into other areas. The translation into application in a new area may not be direct, but the principle behind your success will arm you with useful starting points in any new challenge you face.

In one of my favorite books on horseback riding, Reflections on Riding and Jumping, the author, William Steinkraus, draws an interesting correlation between two loves of his, music and riding. He describes how a systematic and progressive approach to anything – building a sound foundation and then building upon it – can lead to successful outcomes:

Surprisingly, perhaps, my belief in this approach has been reinforced by my musical experience. People who know that I love music and still play the viola or violin almost every day have often asked me if there was any relationship between my musical activities and my riding. They probably expect me to say something about hands or rhythm; but I’ve never found these things to have much direct relevance per se. What has been relevant, however, is the relationship between position and function, and especially, the method of practicing difficult technical material by isolating all the elements involved, reducing them to their simplest terms, and learning to cope with them on that level before putting them back together. To master a very difficult passage on the violin, fiddle players often practice the actions required by the bow arm and the left hand separately, and invent little ad hoc exercises that accentuate the particular patterns involved. Then they go back to the passage and practice it in slow motion, to give the correct neural paths a chance to establish themselves; and when they finally play the passage at the proper tempo, it’s all there – not miraculously, but mechanically.

Difficult riding problems can be dealt with in exactly the same way. The key to a demanding Grand Prix jumper course is often a particular difficult line involving big fences, difficult distances, a combination and a turn that must be executed with great precision. Yet each of these elements can be isolated and mastered in simpler form in schooling long before we face them all together and in a more complex version during competition.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the difficulty or complexity of a large project you face, you can retrain your first flush of feeling. Where there was panic, there can be poise. Where there was fear, there can be wisdom, if not the state of mind and heart that leads to wisdom if you stop and take the time to think, to analyze the situation and to break it down into its simplest terms.

Protect and Serve

Of all the things that can be in the course of a day, the two most important in my mind relate to protection and service.

What is there to protect? In an nutshell, that which is sacred. Sacred things must be protected from the coarseness of the world. Sacred things cannot be destroyed, however, they are withdrawn or perhaps better put, veiled, in the presence of that which is incompatible with sacredness. Conversely and more importantly, sacredness flourishes in the hearts and minds of those who work diligently to hold sacred things inviolate.

And service? The key to a fulfilling life is found in the direction and intensity of service. Lasting fulfillment comes from vigorous service, directed outward. Egocentrism, on the other hand, may result in the appearance of success, but that which is accumulated or gained in the process is naught but an empty shell of what would have been fulfilling had the direction of service been reversed.

If these two elements are not central in your experience, I daresay that nothing else that you do will add much meaning or value to your life as an individual or to the whole of which you are a part.


The Martial Virtues

Vigilance in watching opportunity; tact and daring in seizing upon opportunity; force and persistence in crowding opportunity to its utmost of possible achievement – these are the martial virtues which must command success.” ~ Austin Phelps

You cannot be vigilant if you are upset by your immediate circumstances or worried about what might happen in the future. You cannot display tact and daring if you do what you do out of fear or reaction. You cannot apply force or persistence in relation to the large opportunities if you’ve failed to martial your forces in relation to the small ones.

Success is optional.

Break the Spell of Frustration

I have unearthed a gem for you that, properly considered, will slingshot you across the no-man’s land of inactivity, doubt and trepidation as you pursue any goal in life. It is simple, yet liberating and revitalizing advice, penned some 75 years ago by Ms. Dorothea Brande:

Act as if it were impossible to fail.

That is the talisman, the formula, the command of right-about-face which turns us from failure towards

Clear out, by an easy imaginative feat, all the distrusts and timidities, all the fears of looking ridiculous which
you may hardly suspect of being treacherous troublemakers in your life. You will find that if you can
imaginatively capture the state of mind which would be yours if you knew you were going towards a
prearranged and inevitable success, the first result will be a tremendous surge of vitality, of freshness. Then
– well, the only way to put it is that it will seem as though your mind gave a great sigh of relief, of gratitude for
the liberation, and stretched itself to its fullest extent. This is the moment where one may be forgiven for
feeling that there is something truly magical about the whole affair. There will appear an extension of
capacity which seems more than normal.

The Smoke Screen of Impossiblity

“The Wright brothers flew through the smoke screen of impossibility.” ~ Dorothea Brande

There are a million and one reasons not to be a finisher of things – be it a simple task or a complicated project – but there is one in particular I wish to expose today for it has stopped a great many people from realizing their full potential. You’ve no doubt witnessed this deceitful approach in yourself or others; it is the tendency to do make just enough effort to say that you tried, but not enough to actually follow through to victory in the face of any obstacle.

I came across this remarkable passage from a book authored by Ms. Brande in 1936 on the topic:

Consider, for instance, that if you try for anything just enough to give yourself some justification for saying that you have tried, you can fold your hands for the rest of your days. You can say humbly that you were tried and found wanting in those qualities which make for real success. This is rather a rare remark, but one of those which can be heard now and then from older failures, usually in a humorously deprecating tone. It will sound very honest and touching; and there is no earthly way in which it can be proved against the complainant that his statement is not fully true. He has saved himself a lifetime of effort by some means, nevertheless. If you join this group you can watch the struggles of others with an eye half-amused, half-envious, enjoying the results of their successes, but perhaps even more – human nature being what it is – the spectacle of those who fail, and who take up their onlookers’ positions beside you.

The only way out of this approach is to begin to be honest with yourself. You may fool those around you, but at the end of the day your life will be more of a self-fulfilling prophesy than actually being fulfilling. When you come to terms with this tendency, you find that fear, not actual limitation, is at the root of most failures.

Overcome fear and you overcome the world.

Flaming Enthusiasm

Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.” ~ Dale Carnegie

Swiss pilot Yves Rossy is making history as the first person to achieve sustained human flight using a jet-powered wing strapped to his back. While his accomplishments to date are impressive, three points in particular stand out to me as being worthy of personal consideration and application.

The first two were points Rossy made during a Fox News interview in 2008. Rossy jets along at an average of 125 mph, with no flight controls beyond subtle movements of his body, and he says that he must work hard to relax in the air because “if you put tension on your body, you start to swing around.” I’ve found this principle to be valuable on many levels. It works mentally, physically, emotionally and is the secret to unlocking genius, original thought and unmistakable self-possession.

The second is similarly instructive: “I’ve had many ‘whoops’ moments,” Rossy said. “My safety is altitude.” Altitude is almost always your friend in aviation. It buys you time to think, time to plan, time to act. The same is true in relation to every phase of living. Your attitude determines your altitude and altitude is your friend. When you are possessed by flaming enthusiasm, when your heart and mind are caught up unto the spirit of victory, you gain a cushion of air that helps you to keep you from crashing to the ground when the usual factors that provide lift in your life fail you.

The final point is Rossy’s brief mention in the TED video clip below of his translation of the principles learned at the controls of the airplanes he’s flown into practical application while he’s wearing the jet pack. Life is full of such synergies, and the more successfully you parlay the breakthroughs and victories in in part of your life into the other, the more likely it is that you will shorten the learning curve in your next endeavor.

I hope that you have a few minutes to enjoy this interview. The feeling might come up in you that Mr. Rossy is crazy and that his enthusiasm borders on madness; such is the fate of an aviation pioneer who is obsessed with defeating the “flying problem.” After all, the Wright brothers were viewed by the locals at Kitty Hawk as two crazy nuts who thought that they could fly.

Your Constant Companion

My father-in-law regularly shares books with me that have inspired him. The latest was “Master your Traits, Master Yourself” by Bob Burg and while I haven’t had the time to get through it yet, there was a riddle written by an anonymous author in the introduction that I thought you would enjoy:

I am your constant companion.

I’m your greatest helper, or your greatest burden.

I will push you onward, or drag you down to failure.

I’m at your command.

Half of the tasks that you do,

You might just as well turn over to me and

I’ll do them quickly and correctly.

I’m easily managed.

You must merely be firm with me.

Show me exactly how you want something done

And after a few lessons, I’ll do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great people and,

Alas, of all failures as well.

Those who are great, I have made great.

And those who are failures, I have made failures.

I’m not a machine but I work with all the

Precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a person.

You may run me for profit or run me for ruin,

It makes no difference to me.

Just take me, train me, be firm with me

And I’ll lay the work at your feet.

But you be easy with me and I’ll destroy you.

Who am I?

If you guessed “habits,” you guessed correctly!

Habits apply torque to the flywheel of your life, thereby filling it with energy. Conversely, habits are the means by which the energy stored in the flywheel of your life is released in relation to some load or effort. The habits you form determine your effectiveness in living more than just about any other factor.

Habits eventually end up controlling your orientation in living, so you are wise to think carefully about the habits you choose to form.

The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.”  ~Feodor Dostoevski