Upon analysis, I have always found that the biggest Mindset crippler is denial. Denial of the very real fact that your aren’t all that special, that your impact at the macro level is laughable, and that the Universe doesn’t owe you a fucking thing.– Jonny
Just so we get off on the right foot, I am going to disclose that this article is going to talk about positive mindset, Taoism, nuclear blasts, unicorns, balisong knives, leprechauns and low-drag general purpose bombs. All of these fit into what I would call my “life philosophy”, which fuels my core values and general ethos.
My personal mission statement is – as you may know – “I will be the person I wish I had,” and while this statement is admittedly broad, at least on person that I wish I had was someone to tell me that most of the goals that fall under the “American Dream” are absolute hogwash, what society tells you is important often centers around historical norms (read: political agendas), and, at the end of the day, every single thing we do, regardless of whether is is labeled as good or bad, will eventually fade into absolute nothingness, given a long enough timeline. This isn’t a negative life philosophy, although I can see ho it gets misconstrued as such, and that phenomenon is something I will touch upon later. This philosophy, to me, is absolutely gorgeous and refreshing because it leads me to the following:
Stop worrying about what other people tell you is success and simply do the best you can with what you have, because we ain’t getting out of here alive and forever is a really shitty gamble. Be you. DO YOU. And leave whatever mark you’d like to, but don’t fret about that too much, because it will all return back to the source eventually.
This is a good way to live and I like this philosophy. Also, it’s better than yours because yours is fucking boring, or predicated on what you assume society wants…or people you emulate. Don’t do that. Just. Stop. I wasted a great chunk of my life doing this and had nothing to show for it.
For the longest time, now, I’ve been tiptoeing around talking about my life philosophy. It’s something that I think is important, particularly for people looking to he coached by me. To talk about this encroaches on spirituality and, worse, occasionally religion, so for the sake of business I have traditionally avoided this. Of course, if you re-read the last two paragraphs, it’s evident that I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t do this. C’est la vie. I don’t know that I’m arrogant enough to suggest that there are lessons to take away from this, but if you get any utility out if this – aside from printing it out and wiping your ass with it – I’d like to think you’d leave here realizing that you need to be working/living/operating in a place where you can be who you are, on your terms, without having to modify your entire persona out of fear of losing money. If you’re a fitpro, this should sound quite familiar. Congruity is important, so if you are being someone that is aligned with your values
As I mentioned, I’m going to talk about Taoism, at some point in this article, but first I’m going to rampage a bit, so grab a beer or glass of wine or an OJ, if that’s your thing. If you find yourself thinking: “Hey, isn’t rampaging kinda diametrically opposed to Taoism?” that’s a good thing, because within that irony lies the ultimate point I’m trying to make about life. At least from the perspective I’ve gained. Of course, I’m sure I’ve confused some of you already. Then again, those you you who are familiar with the tents of Taoism are already smiling and nodding your heads.
I had a degree in Applied Sport Psychology before most people knew it was a “thing”, and I was actually applying principles of Motivation Theory and Mindset to leadership and team building, in a military context, before I knew they were “things”, and I did all of that shit long before I coached or trained anyone in a fitness context. So, in essence, I was walking the walk long before I knew there was a walk to be walked, and, dare I say, I might even know what the fuck I’m talking about.
For a very short while I did this in the context of online fitness coaching and utterly failed at it, most likely due to the fact that by the time I got around to packaging it into something even remotely marketable, the fitness industry had already tried to guru-rig the entire concept of Mindset, Goal-Setting, and Visualization into something it simply isn’t. The good ol’ fake-it-til-you-make-it-mentality is a bit pervasive in this industry and I’m partly to blame, as I knew better and just rolled with it for some reason.
Eventually I walked away from the industry out of frustration couple with incessant nausea and snagged another leadership job as a Clinic Director, verified that I did, in fact, know what the fuck I was talking about, and continued to coach an exclusive group of people in Mindset. By “exclusive” I mean that I coach a small, loyal group of people for a modest sum of money because I like them, they are serious about improvement, and they aren’t assholes. In the months following my departure form the social media kerfuffle, I realized that the issue with “Mindset” coaches is that there is a huge disconnect from what they are attempting to preach, and what is actually reality.
One of the biggest reasons for this disconnect is that the fitness industry – of all places – is bombarding you with a ceaseless spoon-feeding of pseudo-spiritual bullshit. About 10-years ago, this would have been confined to the world of Yoga or other traditional mind/body practices, but now you can’t throw a rock without hitting some idiot on social media that is proclaiming themselves a Mindset master. They usually are a trainer. And don’t know shit And live at home with mom. Oftentimes I have ruminated over the fact the the fitness industry, as a whole, is one big racket: your problems aren’t really all that complex, the industry just needs to overcomplicate things so that they have a problem to fix that involves selling e-books and random affiliate marketing circle-jerks.
Unfortunately, a lot of the Mindset fluff out there is either ridiculously militant (and…lol…perpetuated by people that never served) or full of manifestation-yellow-brick-road-unicorn horseshit. The Unicorn people are possessed of this odd notion that the Universe and/or some higher power provides and that they are special. We see this in the popularity of books like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, or the gag-worthy preaching of Prosperity Gospel folks like Joel Osteen. People flock to this trash because it all seems so simple: give and you’ll get! Think only positive thoughts and the Universe will Manifest things for you!
“Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”Zhuang Zhou
I’d like to think that you can develop enough self-awareness to learn to view things from different angles and through different lenses, because the extent to which you are RIGHT about something often rests on the very weak supports of what society has chosen to label right or wrong, rather than what reality or ethics might suggest. That being said, this entire conversation can be
This was brought home to me one evening as I was walking with friends on W 8th street in New York. We were headed east to eat at a Burger joint near the corner of 8th and 2nd when I noticed a man nestles in a well between two subway entrances. He was ducked low on a piece of cardboard and huffing a can of keyboard cleaner. I found myself having this moment outside of myself where I put myself into his shoes and wondered if perhaps I was, in fact, the one that had it all wrong. Maybe it is us that is huffing on a whole lot of bullshit and calling it reality.
The problem here is that all of this is predicated on the (relatively bad) assumption that human beings are really, really important and are the
In his book Principles, Don talks about this low-grade sort of anxiety that exists in self-aware individuals where they constantly feel as though they are missing something or perhaps feel as though they are failing to see a situation from a particular angle. I remember smirking as I read this because it resonated so well with me.
I remember the George Carlin bit about marketing words. “Zesty”, “Tangy”, etc. Carlin, as only he could, rants about how these aren’t real. Nobody ever really uses those words in a conversation. I can’t do it justice here, just YouTube to bit and watch it. (He was a master at what he did).
This brings me to another buzzword that gets tossed around a lot: “authenticity”. Part of me doesn’t even want to get started on this topic because, really, I’m fucking over it. Another bullshit marketing catch-phrase designed to sell people solutions to problems that they don’t actually have.
What is “authenticity”, anyway? There are a ton of people spewing this garbage, currently, in the wellness sector, and I’m getting the Princess Bride vibe thing going on. Now, if we want to look at definitions, which we normally don’t do if we are trying to keep people from sleeping while they read our books, we would see that it means to be “genuine” or “of undisputed origin”.
If your Rolex is authentic, it is because it can be proven to be real and of actual Rolex manufacture. Well, YOU are real, aren’t you?
You see, If you’re a fucking asshole, and being a fucking asshole is in alignment with your personal values, then that IS your authenticity. If being a snarky, belligerent jackass is who you are, and to deny that is to actually be INAUTHENTIC. This entire concept of is predicated on this assumption that humans are supposed to be “good”, or the behavior isn’t authentic. How does this even make sense? Let’s start by noting how fucking pretentious it is for someone ELSE to tell YOU what constitutes being authentic.
I read this
To further add insult to injury, this type of “coaching” facilitates people putting band-aids on actual problematic behaviors and not actually changing the behavior itself.
Pseudo-spiritual people irk me.
Let me ask you this – and be honest: are you bothered more by someone slightly nihilistic (a.k.a. A REALIST) or by somebody stumbling through life on the “sunshine and rainbows” kick preaching good vibes and totally denying the existence of any type of challenges or other situations they perceive as negative? The latter people are all over and they are just creepy.
Leave it to homo sapiens to think that their swollen-frontal lobe and associated ability to think about d
I’ve done a lot of reading into the psychology behind this, including the role of the evolution of the human brain, and the subject is fascinating
The Denial of Death is a 1973 work by Ernest Becker. It’s a book well worth reading and actually netted him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. In it, Becker argues that what we know as human civilization is just one big reaction to the knowledge that we are mortal. Because we can’t accept that we won’t live forever and ego requires us to attempt to leave our mark
We kill each other over arbitrary missions that dwell within a society we fabricated in an attempt to circumvent death and live forever.
I can’t make this shit up.
So, wait, does this mean I think all is futile?
“But Jonny, it all has to mean something!” They tell me.
Look, Bunky, if you really think this all has to mean something, consider the fact that eventually the Sun is going to run out of gas, become a Red Giant, and boil off the oceans, rendering the Earth unlivable until that wonderful day when it finally consumes the orbit of the planet. And all the tick marks you left scratched into the mountain you chose to live beside are going to be gone and irrelevant as your life was.
Concerned about the “impact” you are making on the planet. Bruh, nothing will be here.
Of course, as it goes with the cosmic gag-reel that is life, elsewhere in the universe, another being will somehow manage to evolve an oversized frontal lobe, gain the gift of existential dread, invent the next Sega Genesis game console, and roam whatever planet it dwells on convinced that it is more important than reality suggests.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m a fairly staunch atheist, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t have some sort of “spirituality” about me. I do. I’m a Licensed Massage Therapist, so a certain degree of “connectivity”, so to speak, comes with the territory. In the past, I have asserted that self-awareness is of foundational importance, and I still have not changed my stance on this. The personal mission statement that you read earlier in this article is the essence of what I want to do on this planet while I’m here and is the culmination of decades of self-exploration, trial and error, meditation, screwing around, and good old-fashioned talk therapy with mental health professionals.
My first real foray into building a personal mission statement came after my first leadership workshop as a Second Class Petty Officer in the US Navy (back in 2002!) and was based off of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (which was published in 1989 and I STILL recommend as one of the more relevant self-help books). Covey does a great job of outlining precisely how to do this, but my first iterations were absolute disasters. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but rather lack of life experience – aka knowing who I was – as I was only 20 or 21 in 2002 and didn’t know my ass from my elbow. Interestingly, I still don’t know my ass from my elbow, but I do know when I’m completely bullshitting myself, which is a handy skill to have when constructing a mission statement.
Over the years, I would find myself returning to the concept of a personal mission statement and really spent a great deal of time grinding these out to get to the root of things. I used to be much more flowery and self-important, so these things used to be multi-page manifestos of complete mediocrity. Seriously, they are painful to read. Self-absorbed and completely arrogant to the point of induing nausea. The elegant one liner you see is the result of years of taking good ol’ Occam’s razor to it, along with many other things in my life. The point I’m trying to make is that developing self awareness is quite easy to read about in a book, but a bit more difficult in practice. Part of the reason for this, as I’ve seen, is that oftentimes something bad needs to happen in order for you to find out what you are really made of. I mean, the shit really needs to hit the fan. Personally, this happened to me during my ex-wife’s sexual assault/leaving the military/going broke combo. Frankly, its quite easy to Occam’s razor your entire life when there isn’t much left but the bare essentials, and by having nothing but the bare essentials, I really learned what matters. As such, I also have to recognize that this is really easier said than done.
In the area of “resiliency” in Sport Psychology, there is a lot of interesting research about this topic, specifically the role of hardships in developing resiliency at a young age. At one point I was diving fairly deeply into the topic of resiliency as it relates to the development of “mental toughness” for sport application, and I eventually through up my arms in frustration because the area was so convoluted. Really:
- The entire construct of “mental toughness” is slippery and there really isn’t a definition.
- Perhaps more importantly: I couldn’t put my finger on any type of developmental program or strategy that could relaibly improve mental toughness in everyone all the time.
Truthfully, a lot of resiliency and mental toughness stems from many intangible factors, and like other psychology areas that are research minefields, it is really hard to find ways to gauge these metrics that are valid. Further adding to the misery is the fact that many life events, all the way back to infancy, can attribute to this. One example: a lot of resilience stems from attitudes that children have. That is, more resilient children who, say, have had abusive parents, tend to not blame themselves, for what their parents did to them, but rather they see their parents as normal, fallible people who make mistakes, are mortal, and are simply doing the best they can with what they have.
There is no “why”
That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?
Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”– Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
At this point, I have to make a brief interlude to address my alleged love affair with the “5 Whys”. If you have ever seen me speak publicly at a seminar, or workshop, or simply heard me rant on a street corner until forcefully removed by local authorities, you have probably heard me talk about the 5 whys. For those of you that are new to my antics, the 5 whys is generally attributed to Sakichi Toyoda, yes, the Toyota automobile guy. Essentially, it is used to explore cause and effect and attempt to get to the roots of an issue. In the case of Toyotas, obviously, we would be looking to troubleshoot some sort of mechanical issues. When using this with sentient organic lifeforms (aka: people), this obviously can lead to a bit of oversimplification. The solenoid on a starter, for instance, could fail to “motivate” the flywheel to turn, thus failing to start the engine. Human motivation theory is a bit more complex than that.*
The problem here is one of linguistics, or I should say, differing nuances of “why”. Being that I am fairly terrible in all areas of linguistics, I won’t dive too deeply into this one. To put this as simply as possible, and avoid being chastised by people smarter than me, there are different levels to “why”.
“Why doesn’t my car start?” is a much simpler question than “Why do I wake up with gas at 2am every Thursday?”, which is WAY easier to answer than “Why did my sister get Leukemia when she was 2 and nearly die?”
For the latter, we are stepping out of the realm of basic cause-and-effect (arguably), and getting into a more esoteric realm where the assumption is made (again with the assumptions) that there needs to be a reason why things are happening. Or, more specifically and arrogantly, there needs to be a reason why things are happening TO US.
In this context, there is what I call the “seeker attitude” of repeatedly asking “why”. NOT for the sake of troubleshooting, but rather looking for a selfish explanation for the occurance of a complex even. In which case “CHANCE” is usually a fine answer, but people again are too self-important to admit that luck has a lot to do with the events of their lives. On this topic, I don’t feel the need to go on any longer, as there are countless Sam Harris videos and clips where he does this far more eloquently than me.
To stomp, once again, on the pseudo-spiritual people, there seems to be this preponderance of people that think things happen to them. This is similar to the other subset of fundamentalist who believe that their God does things for them, and I am tempted to speculate some sort of relationship between these two lines of thought. In yet another book I love The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, the author invites us to think about: “What if everything is exactly as it should be?” In other words, the world doesn’t do things to us or for us. The world is just there. As Dethmer puts it: “what if the world just shows up?”
And, really, it does. Part of the seeker attitude is rooted in this odd fear that we lack control. This isn’t so much a fear that we lack control so much as it is an absolute fact. Hell, for the most part we don’t even have free will. At least, we don’t have free will to the extent that we have been led to believe. Another mindset area that I find myself constantly in with clients is understanding the importance of learning to LET GO.
Central to this is the idea of effortless action, which I will talk about soon.
NOTE: I don’t like to conflate philosophy and spirituality. That misguided practice is one of the reasons I have to sit here and write this piece in the first place. In the end, let me be clear that I am still a staunch atheist and a believer in science. That being said, as a philosophical (and even moral) compass, I find Taoism and most Eastern thought to be the type that resonates with me and it is my hope to demystify this.
The Tao and the De
The Yin and the Yang
While most westerners are generally familiar with the above image, and a whole helluva lot of them even have it tattooed on them (I’m one of these people), not many actually understand the concepts of Taoism/Yin Yang Theory outside of “how cool it looks”.
As such, the constant transformation, opposition and consumption lead this to be a symbol that is perpetually in motion and constantly blending to produce both the extremes of life and the grey areas of reality. Those of you already familiar with my writing are probably making the connection as to where the title for the website partially came from: the grey areas that are reality. (And, if you were wondering, it is also a play on words for “grey matter” which is also an integral part of my focus and interest with regards to coaching/leadership). The problem I have run into when explaining the basics of Yin Yang theory is that this can be extremely hard to conceptualize for Westerners who aren’t at least semi-well-read in the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, and other well-known Chinese texts.
As a symptom of our big brain affliction, another thing we just love to do is classify things. We love labels and we live to organize things. And it totally fucks us over. We label things “good” or “bad”, but those classifications are only based on our perceptions, or societal norms. All of these things, moments, events, etc are good or bad or anything. They simply are until we place a label on them. As I just stated, when looking at the Tai Chi (what we would call the “Yin Yang” symbol), Westerns tend to see a stationary symbol. Black and White. Eastern thought, however, recognizes that this symbol is ever evolving. In the Taoist sense there is not good and bad, as they constantly blend and become one another. Night makes way for the day, the scorched wood fertilizes the Earth and nourishes the new growth. Fire tempers the steel. Hate allows one to understand love. In a very real sense, in a way that is in tune with nature, the extremes CANNOT EXIST without one another. In fact the mere existence of one extreme suggest the existence of the other extreme, even if is not readily apparent.
So explain to me how your denial of problems and your insistence on rejecting anyone who doesn’t conform to your “good-vibes-only” mantra facilitates growth… It doesn’t. It doesn’t facilitate anything. You are stunted. And fucking eBooks can’t save you. Another one of my favorite books is Thick Face, Black Heart. It deals a lot with he Easter concept of Dharma. If you’re into rainbows and manifestation and Eckhart Toll, please do yourself a favor and DON’T read it. In fact, stop reading this, too. Also, go fuck yourself.
Taoism has a concept called Wu Wei, or “Effortless Action”. What is the basis of my mindset: stop fighting. Stop denying.
By and large, one of the biggest adjustments I need to make with people is getting them to understand that only in Western thought is there this confusion that all facets of life are linear at all times. This post is going to be long enough, so I’m not going to go off on a tangent about the political and economic reasons why western countries tended to linear thinking, but this is pervasive enough that even religious belief of the west is rooted in a more linear format. In Christianity, for example, the belief is that one is born, lives, and (if accepting of Christ) goes to heaven for eternity. This, upon examination, is quite linear, with the concept of “eternity” simply being and extension of the straight line. Contrast this with most Eastern thought, and we see more cyclical themes. The entirety of Taoist thought is cyclical and rooted in a near never-ending cycle of death/rebirth, destruction/creation. This type of thinking bleeds over into most aspects of life in this country, which creates a minefield for most anyone in a leadership position, but especially in the domain of fitness. In the context of any goal-setting, a mastery orientation is going to be the desired mindset (as opposed to ego orientation, which I’ve written about ad nauseam), but this is compounded by the extreme obsession with linear progression that simply isn’t in sync with actual reality.
As a for instance: a client and I were on a coaching call when the topic of “sustainable fat loss” came up. This has always been problematic for me because, relative to an extended timeline, nothing is sustainable. Of course, timelines are all relative, but if we are looking at the concept over overall health, strength and vitality over the course of a normal human lifespan, the concept of sustainable fat loss can range from “meh” to preposterous depending on the instance. In fact, one of the larger problems with aesthetic competitors, especially first time competitors with no experience in maintaining or losing weight, is that they attempt to sustain the rigors of a contest diet long after getting off the stage. Granted, there are a ton of other physical and psychological factors that contribute to this, but this though process that it is sustainable is a big factor. That and sheer stupidity, but we will be dealing with Peter’s Principle and Dunning-Kruger at later time.
If you have ever actually worked with an athlete in these sports (and you’ve done your job correctly), there really shouldn’t be more fat to lose. So where, pray tell, does sustainability come in? Additionally, please note that I’m not even going to crack open the can of worms that is “maintenance” phase. I’m not a physiologist, but when factoring in ALL of the variables and variance associated with the lifecycle of the average bipedal, hairless, ape, could it be possible that we are never actually maintaining, but rather are in a constant and endless state of flux. (I could argue this entropy continues beyond death, but I don’t want to REALLY start pissing people off. Yet.)
And yes, this is admittedly an oversimplified analogy, but you can see where I am going with this: everything is a cycle. Or should be. And this isn’t dogma, but rather it is simply the way things are. You see, thats the thing when you are dealing with a natural way of thinking.
Again, I can circle this back to the Western, linear way of thinking where everything is a constant press of improvement and upward mobility, without rest, ad infinitum. Or, at least, until you have a heart attack at 55 and “go to heaven”. I have no choice but to circle back here when I am trying develop employees in a society where any time of mistake or setback is viewed as an utter failure instead of a LEARNING EXPERIENCE. I’ve written approximately 4,537 articles about how flummoxed I am that we refuse to make mistakes in America or “take the L” when making mistakes is precisely what is needed to improve and move forward. As many neurologist with much more intelligence than I have pointed out: the very act of motor control is LEARNED THROUGH FAILURE. To fail is natural. To fail is to learn. Why do we fight this?
And I’ve not yet even gotten to the concept of mastery. I place that occurs, as George Leonard pointed out in his wonderful book Mastery
The way of nature doesn’t require belief. It just is. Using Christianity as an example (simply because I grew up Catholic and am most familiar with it), you need to BELIEVE in certain unverifiable things.
*But, really, it’s fucking not. Social media jockeys love to sit at their computer all day with their abstracts and split hairs over the theoretical nuances or Organismic Integration Theory, but you can strip down Self-Determination Theory and all of its sub theories to:
- Give people the freedom to follow their path.
- Make people feel like they are a contributing part of something bigger than they are.
- Stop making people feel like they are stupid.
Please RE-READ #3 if you are a Social Media Jockey that rides the internet debate keyboard all day. Thanks.
Taoism tends to be a sort of “anti-west” school of philosophy. Although there are elements of it that were “religionized”, by and large there really isn’t a higher being aspect to it, even though there still are some pretty odd legends that surround it, particularly concerning Lao Tzu, who wrote the Tao Te Ching. Like, as in allegedly he was in his mom’s womb for 62 years, and whatnot.
Anyway, if there is at all a higher-power aspect of Taoism, it is more related to the genesis of the universe. This can be ascribed to “Wu Chi”…kinda.
Wu Chi translates, literally to “no ridgepole”. There are many translations that sound in the ball park, or even veer off a bit depending on the time period and the status of Taoism/Confucianism/Etc. in China. For some reason I like Adler’s (1999) translation of “Non-Polar”. This is probably because it has a connotation which Westerners can more easily resonate with. This, or “celestial pole”, which suggests the farthest points in the universe, seem to make me smile.
Either way, Wu Chi, as depicted above, represents nothingness from which all came. It is depicted as an airy, broken or dotted line.
The problem with the concept of effortless action is that many people misinterpret it to mean “do nothing”, which is totally incorrect. In reality, context is needed, and that context is this: effortless action means to do nothing that would go against the Tao
The Cycle, The Circle