How to Read: Start Many Books, Finish Few

When I studied music in college, I listened a lot.

As music majors, my friends and I treated it like a job. We listening to all kinds of things with a fury and a passion unlike anything I’ve experienced since. We immersed ourselves in the things we loved, always on the hunt for something new and interesting. We listened to anything– mostly jazz and classical music, but also blues, R&B, hip hop, funk, rock, and country. When you dig deeply, it’s incredible how much commonality you discover across wide stylistic and historic diversity.

We didn’t just listen casually, like you might put on the radio while you clean the house or work out. We would sit still in our living room with the lights low, our attention rapt. Instead of a TV, we had a stereo and a record player, and listening to music was it’s own activity. We didn’t do anything while we listened. We just listened.

If one’s personality is in some ways an empty container, then it was my task to fill it with the most beautiful and creative influences I could find. I concentrated deeply on whatever I was listening to, trying to absorb it into my being. When I found something new and excited, it felt like I had conquered it, and I when i finished an album, I would proudly place it on my shelf as a new part of my collection and a new part of my soul. I wasn’t content to absorb the stuff I was listening to. I wanted to devour it.

It was almost a literal hunger, this desire to fill my self with great music, and it became overwhelming. No matter how much I listened, there was always more. Each new artist or album only opened up more possibilities, and each conversation with a musician elicited scores of new recommendations. Great, I though, more shit that I need to research and listen to and study. More money that I need to spend on iTunes.

Once, I told a friend how it depressed me that there is so much great music in the world, and that I will never find time to listen to and appreciate all of it. He told me it didn’t make him sad. Just the opposite, in fact; he loved that no matter how long he lived, music would always be a deep well of happiness and inspiration that would never run dry.

It took me years to understand what he meant, but now I get it. I imagine the entire collection of the world’s music as the ocean. I realize now that I was trying to drink it and make it all mine, which is impossible. I wanted to own it. My friend made me realize that the right thing to do is to swim in it.

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I don’t study music anymore, but I think about this a lot when I read.

In the past two weeks, I’ve started five or six new books. Most were terrible. I’m only reading one now, because I put the rest of them on the shelf or I abandonned them on the subway. I do this in hopes that someone else might enjoy them. Sometimes if they’re really bad, I’ll actually throw them away.

Here’s the thing that most people don’t understand about books: The function of reading is

  1. to educate, and
  2. to entertain.

If a book is doing just one of those things,that’s a good start, but don’t force it.

If it’s doing both in some combination, congratulations. You like this book. Keep reading.

If it isn’t doing either, then it’s time to give up and try something else.

This is not rocket science. Books are meant to be enjoyed and they’re meant to teach you things. If you are not learning about something that interests you– human behavior, psychology, philosophy, birdwatching, Spanish, Grover Cleveland, whatever—and you’re not having a blast doing it, put the book down. Step away. Then pick up another book and start reading that one. It’s OK to be picky.

But this is not easy. It requires your ego to take a blow, since you have to face an uncomfortable fact: If not finishing a book doesn’t make you stupid, then likewise simply finishing a book does not make you smart.

The truth is, it’s not unnatural or shameful to give up on a book, it just seems that way because we’ve all spent so much time in academia, where we’re forced to read books in a very particular way: front-to-back, dryly, at the teacher’s pace and not our own. Reading any other way is literally cheating. Throughout all our education, it never once mattered whether we liked the book or not. The professor had a syllabus that she had to stick to, and she only had a few short months to do it.

This approach requires a certain amount of unlearning. You’re not in school now, and there’s no syllabus for your own education. You can read whatever you want, however you want. There are no rules. Read the Sparknotes first. Ruin the ending. Read the chapters out of order, if it makes the task easier. Who’s going to tell you you’re doing it wrong? Any way to digest a book and figure out the author’s message is the right way to do it. And be sure to quit whenever you get bored.

Smart people know this. Montaigne, one of the most influential writers and intellectuals in history wrote:

“If I encounter difficulties in reading, I do not gnaw my nails over them; I leave them there. I do nothing without gaiety.”

He meant that if he wasn’t enjoying something he read, he had no problem with moving on. He knew that most books are terrible, or at least ill-suited to him at that particular moment. He wasn’t afraid to put a book down, and that sentiment is echoed by some of the smartest and most interesting people the world has known.

Do you realize how many books there are? Almost 130 million, according to Google. If I read at my current pace–about 100 books per year– for the rest of my life, I’ll have read only 6,000 books, or 0.004% of all books in existence.

My advice: It’s largely a matter of quantity. You need to be starting a lot of books, but only finishing the really good ones. Take lots of little tastes of material that you thing might be a interesting or useful to you, and spit most of them out. What is the sense in getting bogged down in a single book, when there are so many others out there waiting to be discovered?

Don’t try to conquer the books you read. Don’t feel proud when you finish them. Don’t use books merely as bulky physical tokens of how smart you are. They are not trophies. They are tools. Be proud only once you find a way to apply what you’ve learned. Be a doer and not merely a scholar.

Don’t feel bad when you don’t finish them. Brush up against the books that you love. Don’t try to own them or make them yours. Just let the dust from their covers rub off and permeate your thoughts, then move on to the next one.

Don’t try to drink the ocean. Just swim.

Story Appeal – Case Study

Behold this ad from Southern Comfort:

Funny, right?

This ad played at the beginning of a YouTube video, and I was instantly hooked. Unlike the millions of other pre-video YouTube ads I’ve seen, this one compelled me to watch. Maybe it was the direct, head-on eye contact right at the beginning. Or maybe the instinctual appeal of physically violent gestures that grabbed my attention. Or maybe it’s just that I really like the song that plays.

It doesn’t matter one bit that it has nothing to do with Southern Comfort– ads that are not descriptive are the norm at this point. What matters is that this ad grabbed my attention, and found a way to pull itself up from the countless boring YouTube ads that I’m compelled to watch every week.

This ad has what David Ogilvy calls “story appeal.” In his brilliant book about advertising imagery and copywriting, he says explains it this way:

The kind of pho­tographs which work hard­est are those which arouse the reader’s curi­ousity.  He glances at the pho­to­graph and says to him­self, ‘What goes on here?’  Then he reads your copy to find out.  Harold Rudolph called this magic ele­ment ‘Story Appeal,’ and demon­strated that the more of it you inject into your pho­tographs, the more people look at your advertisements.

Never mind that there is no copy to go along with this ad. Isn’t it obvious that it was designed purely to pique the viewer’s curiosity? You watch the video and there are so many questions unanswered: Who is this guy? Why is he doing karate? Why is he in a lady’s hair salon? Why is he so serious? Why do the women applaud, and not awkwardly turn away like normal people? Where the hell does he get that glass of SoCo? Any why is he drinking SoCo anyway?

The sole purpose of this ad was to prevent me from switching to another browser tab as I waited for my YouTube video to start, and it succeeded. I did exactly what Ovilgy suggested a good ad would make me do. I watched the ad from beginning to end because my curiosity was enganged and I wanted more information about the unusual spectacle that I was seeing. I never got it at the end, but it doeesn’t matter at all. The point is that I watched it and I know it was about Southern Comfort.

A better question might be: If I hadn’t studied this ad so thoroughly, would I remember that it was an ad for Southern Comfort? I’ve seen plenty of ads that I thought were funny, but there didn’t match the brand’s identity and although I might have remembered the ad long afterwards, I had no clue what it was actually trying to sell me.

My deep suspicion is that this ad would still have been effective. I would have remembered it as a SoCo ad, and not just a funny liquor ad. This karate guy is exactly the kind of man who I imagine would actually drink Southern Comfort. It has elements of quirky post-modernity, but it also looks like something that might have happened in 1976. In my mind, Southern Comfort is aesthetically equal to The Big Lebowski, and in that way, this ad is perfectly cohesive.

Nice work, Southern Comfort.

Blank Page Blues

There is a simple law of success: whoever can tolerate a certain amount of discomfort longest will win. In sports and situations of pure physical endurance, it’s obvious– no pain, no gain. You’ve heard that before. But the same is true in creative or intellectual work of any kind. Whether you’re talking about writers staring down a blank page, readers mired in a dense 18th century text, or students in the middle of a tough chemistry problem set, there is a fundamental inner war going on between temporary discomfort and our natural need for immediate gratification and pleasure.

Take writers for an example. Actor/comedian/Monty Python-er John Cleese admits that he, like everyone else, feels anxiety when sitting down to write. All writers have the same sensation, that nagging feeling of discomfort and unease when they’re at work, especially when they’re just getting started. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Open a word processor and look at the blank page for a minute and think of something to write about. That’s the feeling. The best writers, says Cleese, are the ones are simply able to tolerate that feeling for longer. They’re able to sit with a blank page, and later a rough draft, and rework it enough times that it starts to take shape and eventually express what they’re trying to say. The discomfort is completely impossible to avoid; you need to be prepared to accept it for as long as it persists. Good work is is difficult. It has to be.

You’ll note that this flies in the face of artists who claim that their craft just flows from their fingertips naturally and effortlessly. There are a lot of these types of people. They want you to believe that their work is easy. Inevitable, even. They can’t help but be great, like it’s just their natural state of being.

Artists who say that are liars. They might do great work, but if it’s really that easy then they’re either full of shit or egomaniacal.

You need to accept that it’s going to be a struggle and plan for it. It funny how you can  sit down to work on some project, but almost immediately you lose focus and your mind wanders. You start to crave novelty, and you want to do something else. It’s like you have two personalities– the one that decides to do something, and the one that actually carries out the task— and they don’t play really get along. The first has good intentions, but it’s naive. The second isn’t exactly malicious, but it’s undisciplined. It can’t concentrate. Yin and yang. And that is why your novel remains unfinished.

Another way to look at it: Everyone makes strategic plans, but they fail when it comes time to execute, precisely because they can’t tolerate the anxiety. They second-guess themselves. They think that the pain means they’re doing it wrong. But tolerating the pain, the discomfort, the anxiety– that is what makes you good. Whoever learns to fall in love with this feeling, even seek it out, will win in the end. So practice feeling it when you’re looking at the blank page, or when you’re stuck. Observe the hesitation in your stomach, the compulsion to switch tabs and check Facebook. Familiarize yourself with it.

It’s the essence of meditation. The whole idea idea of meditation is to become aware of your thoughts without trying to force them. Just observe them and see where they wander. When you start to lose focus on your breath or on your mantra, gently guide your mind back to its proper focal point. It’s just the same with creative work. Notice your mind drifting and notice the discomfort that comes with any creative act, and then learn to accept it and live with it. Accept that the first draft will suck, but the first rewrite will be better. And the second rewrite will be even better. Observe this as predictable behavior of your silly mind. Embrace it.

Some people don’t get this. They thing that if something is uncomfortable, then it must be bad. They listen to all those idiotic artists who preach that their art is like a free-flowing fountain of rainbows and expression, and they think there’s something to it. Forcing it will just hurt you.

Pay these people no mind. Fighting through the discomfort is a good thing. It means you’re pushing yourself and growing. It means you’re doing it right.

Reading in Bars

I love reading in bars. Especially books. It’s an uncommon habit, but I would love it if more people understood my love for this activity. I usually read books, but newspapers and magazines seem a little more conventional. Reading and drinking– what a perfect twofer.

Coffee shops are always packed with grad students, freelances, and other people reading and studying. Why aren’t bars the same way?

Sometimes I get nervous when I do it, like people are watching me and making judgements. I feel my face getting warm and my vision narrows. I make jumpy eye contact.

Am I an asshole because I read in bars? Do I even care? I don’t know why I get so nervous. Next time I do it, I’m going to move slowly and confidently, making everything an act of deliberation. With dignity and self-respect, and with a deep attention to the moment. I’m going to look people in the eye and speak confidently and clearly. A person’s eyes show the strength of his soul. My eyes will convey a casual confidence to whoever catches it. Everything will be done with attention, clarity, decisiveness, and grace.

I will get my drink and sit quietly. If anyone asks what I’m reading, I will speak slowly and unselfconsciously. I will be interested only in the other person, and I will feel no need to make excuses or offer nervous explanations as to why I’m reading a particular book.

In an age when nobody seems to read anymore, they fact that you’re reading probably piques their curiosity, and they want to learn more about you. Let them learn.

Yes And

The number one rule of improv acting is something called “Yes, and . . .” It means that when you’re doing a scene, you have to answer every line delivered by your partners with the phrase “Yes, and . . .”You don’t need to say those exact words, of course, but the point is your response must carry the same open-endedness that is implied by those two words. Responding this way forces you to do two things: (1) you must accept whatever they’re saying and (2) you must expand on it.

Improv actors know that the best way to kill a scene and ruin the mood is to greet a person’s idea with a big fat NO. Especially in an anxiety-inducing area such as an improvised scene with spectators, ideas are fragile little things. They die if you don’t treat them with love, and your partner will feel like a failure if the idea doesn’t survive. There’s a certain buzz in the air that amplifies all emotions. Negativity is not one you want to encourage.

I had a professor in college who understood this rule. The class was early English Lit, and whenever someone raised their hand to give some boneheaded piece of commentary, she would invariably respond with an emphatic “Yeah! And it’s the same way with…. ” or “Sure, and that also means….” No matter how stupid or tangential the comment, she made sure everything was a launching point toward something else– that is, the thing she actually wanted to talk about. She was an expert at directing the conversation toward the point she was trying to make, but she did it without ever telling anyone they were wrong. If teaching is, to some extent, the act of selling a product to the students, and convincing them that the subject and the teacher’s ideas are worth contemplation and study, then the last thing you want to do, like in any business situation, is bruise the customer’s ego by making them feel stupid. It will only make them tense up and tune out. Offend them and they won’t buy what you’re selling.

In my life, my instinct is always to disagree. In conversation, even if I’m in complete agreement with someone, as soon as they display a shred of arrogance or even simple confidence in their opinion, I snap to attention and take the opposite side. Politics, religion, art, music, culture, style, food, whatever.  I can’t help it. I love to play devil’s advocate. I enjoy the mental strain of holding a position that I might disagree with. I love thinking about the logic of their argument and try to poke a hole in it. Taking ideas to their extreme conclusions, exercising the highest form of rationality I can muster– it gets me excited. I value consistency and rigor, and I can be too unforgiving when people don’t share those values.

Some say these types of rhetorical gymnastics are a valuable skill, and I don’t disagree. When I’m alone in my room, reading a book, I wouldn’t have it any other way than to scrutinize the ideas I’m consuming. Or when I’m having an earnest discussion about business or art or culture with a friend,this type of analysis is the rule of the day. I play it like a game, defending some awful stance on economics, for instance, not necessarily because I agree, but because it’s interesting.

But sometimes I find myself lacking in the tact department. I forget that there’s a time to be intellectually rigorous and honest about my thoughts (usually when I’m alone), and there’s a time to be nice, diplomatic, and just be a good conversationalist and make people feel good (usually every other time).  All too often, my need to disagree just annoys people and causes me to put my foot in my mouth. The truth is I don’t even like talking about hot-button issues like politics. It’s generally polarizing and unproductive, and it’s especially awkward when I catch myself defending a position that I don’t even agree with. Like an actor who misses his line or who flubs an opportunity for a funny ad lib, the conversation grinds to a halt. The air escapes from the balloon, and the discourse flatlines. Elvis leaves the building. Most people just take my opinions at face value, because why the hell wouldn’t they? So  I misrepresent myself and I look foolish.

My solution is to evoke the “Yes and…” rule, and apply it to my life. Even though I’m not an actor or a salesman, it’s a useful tool. Any time I’m not trying to change someone’s mind (most of the time), I respond to everything with positivity and excitement, no matter what my true feelings. I can nerd out and be pedantic later. I can keep my opinions to myself. For now, the rules are:  be enthusiastic, be accepting of their ideas no matter how irrational, and always respond with “Yes, and…”

Is it lying? Maybe, but people seem to like it. It makes people feel understood, which is all anyone really wants anyway.

Role Models

When you think of the future you want for yourself, you naturally model it after celebrities, personalities, people you’ve read people you know, or people you want to know. To live is to be influenced. This much is a given. But how you absorb that influence makes all the difference.

Two way:

  1. You see Don Draper and you decide you want to be an ad executive. You see Nikki Minaj and you want to be a dancer. You remember your college professor who just had the most enviable sense of humor, who seemed to like his job and you want to teach English at a college. You want to be a writer not because you want to write, but because you want the lifestyle that you think a writer lives. You’re bound to struggle along the way, and when you arrive, if you ever do, it won’t be what you expected. Be careful that the likeness you’re after is not only superficial. Go deeper.
  2. There is another option. You observe the people you admire and you ask yourself why you admire them. Why they’re worth or admiration. You start to realize that you aren’t really attracted to the lives they lead, but to the principles that they lead them by. They can be things like freedom, authority, curiosity, erudition, efficiency, or sincerity. I can look at someone like Taleb or Ryan Holiday and see this all over them. But it doesn’t mean I need to be a trader or a marketer. Once you grasp the underlying principles, you’re free to pursue them in your own way. If I’m thinking deeper, I can admire a man like Richard Feynman and want to be like him without wanting to be a physicist. If I’m thinking superficially, I can’t.

The first way is rooted in fantasy. You allow yourself to buy into the deception of appearances. These deceptions are not always intentional, but they always are there trying to trip you up. The second approach is based firmly in reality. You see through the facades and understand just how it would feel to live a certain way.

Method 1

Why do you want to be an astronaut?

Because I want to be like John Glenn. He’s an American hero.

OK, that’s super vague, but whatever. If you’re thinking this way, the minute ‘astronaut’ gets ruled out because you don’t get the job, or you don’t have the right degree, or your eyesight isn’t good enough, you’re back to square one, feeling lost. Your dream was robbed from you.

Method 2

Why do you want to be an astronaut?

Because I want a life that is rich, mathematical, glamorous, and adventurous.

It’s a tall order, for sure, but if the whole astronaut thing doesn’t work out, you at least have a direction forward. Now in order to achieve your dream, you just need to steer your lifestyle toward the rich, mathemaical, glamourous, and adventurous.

See the difference?

Strong Man

The strong man is the one who can take a step back and look at himself as if he were looking at someone else. He stands somewhere off to the side, observing his figure in the cold, fluorescent, clinical light of harsh realism, like he’s observing a science experiment or a dissected animal. Emotions are absent. Rationality is paramount. His heart is of no use; his only asset is his mind.

He assesses the terrain. He thinks about what kind of man he has become, and what kind of man he wants to become. He is familiar with this tension that we all experience, the difference between who he is and who he knows he can be. He knows what steps need to be taken, and he resolves to take them.
But as soon as the decision is made, as soon as he swings into action, his emotions reappear. It’s involuntary, and it’s nearly instantaneous. They whisper evil things into his ear, and they try to run the show. Feelings of doubt, futility, fear, insecurity, boredom, even physical pain start to appear. He procrastinates. He gets distracted. He turns to alcohol, his girlfriend, or an episode of Mad Men. They’re all equally destructive insofar as they prevent him from doing what needs to be done. He looses the focus that he had when he was planning and observing.
The strong man is the one who does not pay any attention to these emotions, who can resist the discomfort of meaningful action. The strong man is the one who thinks deeply about his course of action, taking care to articulate his objective, but knows that once the gears are set into motion, his body and mind are nothing but a machine that has been tasked with performing a set of actions. Like flipping a switch, any trace of uncertainty disappears, and he is on autopilot, dutifully swallowing the pill he prescribed himself with decisiveness and confidence.

Strategy and Work

In life, there are two states. These are the two modes of being, acting, and observing in the world.

The first is called Strategy. This the mode in which you’re thinking about goals, angle of approach, networking, next steps. You’re thinking about your big dreams, ambitions, and you’re thinking about what actions you should take to hit your target fastest and easily. Strategy is sexy, because it’s sort of ambiguous. Strategy is what executives, generals, and leaders do behind closed doors. There is an element of mystery and romance to it. For this reason, everyone is an armchair strategist. Everyone fancies himself a strategist. It’s easy to look at a complicated situation and breezily announce what ought to be done.

Then there’s Work. Work is what happens once you make a decision in the Strategy mode. Strategy makes you say “I want thing A, and I have to do thing B to get it.” But thing B only actually gets done in Work mode. This is far less sexy than Strategy. You will start your project, and almost instantly, you will begin to doubt your decision. You will try to perform Strategy, but you’re not in Strategy mode, and it will fail. Work is hard and painful, and your Strategies will be subject to emotions and irrationality.

You know that saying “There are no atheists in foxholes?” It’s not because people suddenly see the glory of Christ, like most people who quote it intend for it to mean– it’s because you can’t think clearly while you’re hugging your best friend, shrapnel hitting the scrap of wood you’re crouched under, your life flashing before your eyes. It’s the same way, when you’re in the middle of a project. You just can’t think Strategy. You’re too emotional.

So keep your head down until you reach some sort of conclusion. Ideally, it’s the point you told yourself you would stop at in the beginning. Then you can shift back to Strategy mode and make your next decision. It’s like walking across stepping stones. You can’t have your eye on a stone two moves ahead when you’re feet are in the air. Strategy happens in hops and leaps, not in a smooth line. Mathematically, strategy is a discontinuous function. You can only evaluate your progress at the point of discontinuity. To try to evaluate your position  But trying to live in both modes simultaneously is a serious error, and you won’t get a damn thing done.

Emotions have absolutely no place in Work mode. They have no place in Strategy either, but that’s a less common problem. Work is clean, clear, cold, ruthless, efficient, and unemotional. This is a feeling I’ve longed for for years; only now am I finding a way to articulate it.

“She was one of his most ruthlessly competent employees; her manner of performing her duties suggested the kind of rational cleanliness that would consider any element of emotion, while at work, as an unpardonable immorality” – Atlas Shrugged

This is the ideal. Of course, it’s way too easy to shift back to Strategy, to feel self-doubt, impatience, discomfort, uncertainty. It’s so hard to assign yourself a task, and then accept it as if it were assigned to you by another person and hence outside of your control. But that’s the only way to progress. When I’m working on some project and I get stuck with the desire to do Strategy instead of Work, I often try to tell myself to be confident, to try harder. That it’s a matter of having the right emotions. I’m starting to think this is wrong– that instead, when I notice these feelings start to bubble up, I should disregard them entirely because they are emotional, and emotions have no place in work. They can be discarded, ignored.

Strategy is the long-view, the high altitude. Work is tunnel vision. Strategy is head-up, observing the landscape. Work is head-down, obsessive.

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One last thing– it’s easy to think that because you’re thinking about Strategy at times, you’re exempt from Work. You look at people who are working hard, who seem to be toiling needlessly or in the wrong areas and you get arrogant. You start to think you’re smarter than them. Know this: Strategy is not a shortcut. You must Work with intensity equal to or greater than those who do not understand Strategy. A worker without Strategy is a drone; a strategist without Work is a man of inaction.

Sourcing

Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.

Richard Branson said this, although it might be apocryphal.The internet is like the Wild West of quote sourcing, which I find discomforting. I saw this one on BrainyQuote.com or some other such trash pile of unattributed quotations, but it was impossible to find a source. Why is it so hard to figure out if and where Branson said this? Give me a magazine issue, a link, anything.

Some might say it doesn’t matter where a quote came from, because the words themselves may still be powerful. But that’s only half the story. The quote’s content is only interesting when you consider the context. A profound statement by an ancient source is a profound spectacle. Coming from a modern source, it’s a platitude.

All that aside, I love the quote above, whether it comes from Branson or not. I know next to nothing about the man, but he seems interesting enough. I’ve turn to those words so many times when I feel like I’m not working hard enough or not learning fast enough, and it reminds me to slow down and be patient. Sometimes I discover someone I really want to reach out to or a type of work I want to do, but at the same time I know I’m not ready. Those words remind me to chill out, there will be another thing to jump on later. I’m still young, and ideas don’t just dry up after you have a set amount. They keep flowing through you.

Here’s another one from the brain of Branson:

My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it.
And when he says huge, he means huge. The man started an airline in the middle of a successful career in media, for crying out loud. How the hell does that work?
It makes sense though. It’s a formulation of the most basic rule of strategy: You must know where you’re going, what you’re trying to achieve. But setting a really ambitious objective, you free yourself of a multitude of minor details and hangups all along the way. You simply ask yourself, at each stage along the way, “Is this going to bring me closer to starting my airline?” Decisions become simpler, action becomes more forceful.

Inner Power

“Nothing is more pathetic than people who run around in circles, ‘delving into the things that lie beneath,’ and conducting investigations into the souls of the people around them, never realizing that all you have to do is be attentive to the power inside you and worship it sincerely.” — Marcus Aurelius

 

The inner power he’s talking about is nothing big or grandiose. It’s a quiet power that flows like a gentle stream. It’s the feeling you have when you wake up at 5:30am and start your day while everyone else is asleep– you are a step ahead and a mile above the rest of humanity. You are prepared for anything, ready for whatever happens. You know you can handle it, and nothing can knock you off balance.

The inner power breeds confidence and sure-footedness. The minute you realize that it’s completely within your ability to accomplish your objectives and to change your life for the better, shit gets serious. You realize that it’s not just wishful thinking, and it’s not just a game– you feel an obligation and a duty to carry out the task which you’ve assigned yourself.

Once you see your goal to completion it’s tempting to look back and say say that was a self-fulfilling prophecy, this whole inner power business. You did the impossible only because you played a trick on yourself. It was positive thinking, you say, that made the impossible possible.

But somehow this feels cheap, like to say that is to sell yourself short. The power was inside you the whole time. Just because you didn’t notice it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.