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Soulful Sundays: Keep Swimming

"I don't know where I'm going, but I know exactly how to get there." -The Lion Tracker's Guide to Life


"Just keep swimming." -Dory, Finding Nemo




In our lives, there are projects (tasks we engage in with known time horizons), and then there are Projects (journeys of infinite scale). The second type of project is, by definition, expansive, inconquerable, and existential in nature. The more mastery we gain here, the more we realize how little we actually know. Developing virtue, artistic ability, relationships, faith, and purpose are potent examples of Projects. If we are approaching them correctly, we will never arrive at completion, nor would we want to. They work best when they are engaged as practices to be enjoyed, rather than tasks to be completed. What happens when enjoyment is the last emotion that we have in mind? What happens when doing what we know to be right is in conflict with our motivation to do so? The simple answer is that we just need to keep swimming.


If we truly desire to become a force for good and not evil, then there is only one thing that can stand in our way. Doubt. It is the slayer of goals and ambitions. Just a single molecule of doubt can poison the whole water supply. Our egos create doubt as an antidote to resistance. The ego hates to struggle and would much rather fail and remain in the known landscape of our current abilities than succeed and face more uncertainty. If we wish to increase our personal power we must both embrace struggle and the reality that as we grow in ability, we will be challenged further. This cycle will be never-ending.


There are many ways of conquering doubt, and I will share a few here. One way is to burn your ships. When there is something that you want, that you know that you must do, don't give yourself an excuse. Be like the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae who voluntarily put themselves between the enemy and a cliff, or the Spaniards who conquered the Aztec empire. They burnt their ships, they put everything that they had into their goal, and we still remember their efforts today. Obviously, you don't have to get that extreme, but you can use these examples as models.


Going a little overboard might even be preferable if you are starting from scratch. If you want to start running, buy the most expensive shoes. If you want to start weight training hire an expensive coach. If you want to give up eating bad food, throw out (or donate) all of your old food. All of these will leverage the built-in loss aversion that we possess naturally as humans. Asking yourself, "What would I do if I could not fail," will ignite action and stimulate creativity. Going the extra mile upfront and investing in yourself can make you more committed, but only if you have a plan.


Creating a roadmap to bettering yourself has been the obsession of humanity since long before the Bible. Humans have always been interested in the best way to live, and it shows in every aspect of our society. There is a reason that self-help books and blogs (cough, cough) are the single largest genre in popular media. As a species, we are constantly looking for improvement, and there is no lack of people who are willing to share their models. We can capitalize on the work of others by treating them as gifts, not dogmas. Be very choosy about what plan you implement, but once you pick one follow it adamantly. Look for plans that have produced the effects (and people) that you aspire to, and (most importantly) that can change with you over time.


With any plan that you put into action, there will be resistance somewhere along the way. For some it might be in the first few weeks when implementing a practice becomes too distracting from other habits (in which case the person didn't value the practice in the first place). For others, resistance comes when the work of following the plan forces us to grow (and we begin to doubt why growth needs to be so difficult). Remind yourself in these moments that challenge is what we need. It is the fire of transformation that creates personal power.


The last way of conquering doubt is perhaps the most sublime. Just ignore it. Rather, delay reacting to it. I do this all of the time in my own life when I know I should work out, wake up, write, or do some other task that I have deemed necessary. I have already invested time and money in accomplishing the task. I have set the time aside and secured the necessary ingredients and have a plan in place that includes this task, but I am still unmotivated. In these cases, I hijack the doubt loop by simply refusing to respond to it immediately. I don't treat tasks that I must do as decisions. They are absolutes. They are concrete.


When I feel doubt I move forward with a project in some small way, and then the next small way, so on and so forth, until I am actually doing the thing that I wanted to accomplish. Once I start the cycle of inertia towards my goal, the doubt drops away as if it wasn't even there. The more you practice ignoring doubt, the quieter it will become. This is what I mean by "just keep swimming." Continue forward even during tough times. What you seek is just on the other side.

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