What I meant to get at in Part 3 of this series was the essence of how to make a foundation (a core rule or guiding principle to follow in order to achieve a certain end) stick. How can we rise to and maintain the standards we set for ourselves? I ended up exploring how Subjective Reality and beliefs work, via a rather heavy monologue of a person who has come to question a dangerous belief he has long held to without much thought.
My job here, in part four, is to bring that monologue into the conversation of using and adhering to foundations.
Believing In) What Works
A very basic idea at play here is that you will only do what you believe works. On the surface, there appears to be two parts to this: 1. Believing that a certain course of action will actually produce the results you want, and 2. Believing that you are capable of taking that course of action.
However, at the core of this is, more simply, what you want. A certain course of action works or does not work based on what you want. What you want is basically a result of what you believe. Beliefs justify and perpetuate themselves. Because a belief inherently considers itself to be correct, any action which upholds the belief is also correct.
People always believe that they are justified in the actions they take. I have written before that there are few things we believe or disbelieve 100%-- the realm of beliefs is ruled, rather, by gray area. If you believed something with your absolute whole being, you would embody that belief 100% of the time. Indeed, you do embody a belief in gravity 100% of the time. Up to this point, you have been completely bound to it your whole life (except, perhaps, in dreams).
On the flipside, you might like to think you believe in the importance of kindness with unquestioning totality, but if you look back on the last week you will find a moment where you regarded an exception to kindness as justified.
You might not see that action or event as justified now. But at the moment it happened, you did. Beliefs need but a moment of your approval to come to live. They’re sneaky little fellas.
You will take action on something only if you believe it works. You believe something works only if it helps you to get what you want in any given moment. The circle completes itself by the fact that what you want is determined by what you believe.
Again, because beliefs are not black-and-white, desires are not either. Sometimes you will feel desires that seem to run contrary to your primary desires peek through. Perhaps you have been hardily focused on making money and becoming famous, and suddenly you begin to wonder if pulling back and simply having fun, regardless of whether it’s profitable, might be more gratifying.
Elsewhere, I have used the terms “true desires” and “false desires.” False desires are those that other people lead you to think you should want. If you would just engage in some honest introspection, you would see that you don’t care very much for these things after all—they just don’t bring much of a sense of fulfillment. On a deeper level, these things aren’t important to you. But, through social conditioning, you have thought that they are important indeed. False desires tend to include having a lot of money, being famous, having a lot of expensive possessions (particularly a house and a car), climbing to the top of the corporate latter, and working toward retirement. It’s not that these things are bad—they just tend to be overrated based on how much lasting gratification they actually tend to bring.
True desires, on the other hand are recognizable when you look at life through beliefs you have consciously chosen yourself. Everyone has caught a glimpse of such an outlook of the world at some point. Something within them asks, “What if I looked at all of this differently?” and a sense of possibility arises.
The Long Game of Desire
Beliefs and desires work together. They grow together by leading a person to develop each in accordance with each other. Perhaps you have cleaned only a single speck on your eyeglass, through which you can see the world through beliefs you have chosen. The rest is all social conditioning and fear. However, it may be through that one speck that a genuine desire begins to grow.
The desire comes out from the back of your mind and gives you a knock through your conscious thoughts from time to time. At first, you dismiss it, regarding it as impossible or just not viable right now. But it comes back, and you start to entertain the idea. Maybe it wouldn’t be viable, or it at least would be very difficult, but it’s intriguing. Steadily, you are reminded of the desire more and more often, and you consider more and more how it might be turned into a reality. It still seems strange and even a bit frightening to you, but it’s exciting. You aren’t totally sure why you want it, but soon enough you snap and say, “What the hell—let’s give this a try!”
When you look back to the first thoughts which resembled the desire, you see that this process plays out at least over a few months, though it can easily be up to several years or even decades. I first became aware of the desire to run competitively at the age of 4. I wanted to be on a track team, and run races where I had to go over hurdles. I didn’t do anything substantial about this desire until the age of 12, when I joined my school’s cross country and track teams. It took 8 years for that desire to come to fruition. It mostly stuck around in the background up until the end of elementary school, when I finally saw the desire as being possible to attain, but it was always there. When I look back now, I can see it.
As for the desire to run a race with hurdles, that didn’t come to pass until I was 17, in my senior year of high school. That’s a whole 13 years. When I look back now on my secondary school running career, I can see bits and pieces of this desire cropping up- it was definitely there by age 14- but I seemed to think it just couldn’t happen. I thought that I was tied down to other events, and I simply couldn’t make room to “goof off” and try something different.
It was only once I slowed down and became unimportant to the team pointwise that I decided I could shift my focus and bring this desire to life. And damn, was it desirable indeed.
The desire took form through two events: the 400 meter hurdles (which I did once), and the 2000m steeplechase (which became 3000m in college). What I’ve really liked about these races is that slacking off is nearly impossible—at least, it’s much harder than in a typical race. You have to sustain high, consistent momentum throughout the race—otherwise you won’t make it over the barriers. You have to run your fastest in the few paces right before the barriers. At this point, it can be easy to get derailed by fear, and slow down. But, you have to charge into that thing. You have to own it.
In high school, this challenge brought out the best I could give at the time. It led me to thrive. But in college, this challenge crushed me. Every barrier was killer. It was painful and embarrassing. And yet, I still appreciated the challenge. There seems to be something deeply joyful in being asked for my best, whether I’m able to give it or I nearly die trying. This became evident through my attempt to run a 100 mile race at the start of 2015, where it took me 6 hours to get from mile 50 to mile 62.5, where I dropped out (that’s a pace of roughly 2 miles/hour—slower than a leisurely walk). Somehow, for some reason, I need to go back.
When I reflect on these desires, I see a longing to create conditions which absolutely require that I do my best. Thrive or die. Entering a 100 mile race with a 30-hour time limit isn’t a bad start. Perhaps it’d be better if it went through a remote wilderness area, where dropping out isn’t really an option.
Desire Reveals Belief
To bring beliefs back into the conversation, I never totally understand why I have a certain desire when I first become aware of it. When I first heard about cross country at the end of 6th grade, I didn’t consider how running competitively would make me a healthier, more disciplined, and all-around more intelligent person. I was super excited, but I didn’t really ask myself why. The only why I gave myself before the season started was, “This will be awesome!”
So, am I suggesting that some sort of belief related to running laid dormant in me for pretty much my whole life? And I wouldn’t be able to understand what it was until I started running? Perhaps. Perhaps running itself isn’t really the point of the belief/belief system, but that has been the best way it could express itself through and reveal itself to me (I am genuinely weirded out by the words I am typing right now, just so you know).
The thing is, it’s hard to reflect on my past desires without the lenses of my current beliefs coloring those desires. I did say that beliefs justify and perpetuate themselves. So, when I look back on my past, won’t I just see a reinforcement of my beliefs in the present? Won’t I automatically be looking for those beliefs in my past? That is likely. Is there any way I could not see them?
Well, I’ll put it like this. It’s possible I still don’t understand what this running is all for. There are certainly pieces to the puzzle I have not found and set down yet. I know—I’m likely building the puzzle that I expect to be building, based upon my current beliefs.
But, let’s put that last thought to the side for a minute. I have had some ideas that I certainly didn’t several years ago. When I look back on my life, I see within myself what I currently consider the central desire of my life, which is to find out how reality works. I believe that evolution- particularly, the evolution of consciousness- is central to the workings of reality. So, where I see that central desire within myself, I also see an inclination to evolve. I believe that my evolution as an intelligent, conscious being is at the root of all my desires, running included.
Being an athlete lends itself well to figuring out how I work. It leads me to contemplate the connection between the body and mind, how to best interact with the emotions, and the potential of the body. In this way, athleticism is another mode of figuring out how reality and intelligence work. After all, I am an expression of intelligence, as well as the simultaneous creator and observer of my reality.
So, am I suggesting that a belief in the importance of the evolution of consciousness to the workings of reality has always existed within me? I like to think some inkling of the idea has always been there. But, beliefs are choices. They don’t always seem that way because we may have made the initial choice long ago, and from there it only made sense to continually choose (and thus further develop) the belief. While they are choices, they are choices which tend to perpetuate themselves.
But are desires chosen? Is there some higher power beyond the existence of individual human beings that determines our desires? Well, the point of desires is to serve as an expression of a certain belief. If I believe growth (evolution) is inherent to live, then I will have desires which lead me to grow.
Beliefs and desires appear to be things that we uncover. In truth, they are created and discovered simultaneously.
What Do You Really Want?
Let me return to the core of this article. What works and what does not work are subjective measures, based on what you want. What you want is based on what you believe. What you believe is what you think works.
So, if you want to copy me and follow a diet that is food additive-free (to return to Part One of this series), but you keep eating Twinkies and Cheez-Its for dinner, it’s because you believe that this course of action works. There is some end aside from improving your diet that makes this behavior functional: there is something you value more than eating healthily.
You are overwhelmed by a desire to overexcite your taste buds. You are ruled by a desire to stay the same. You want to continue to be as you always have been. Assuming everyone around you also eats Twinkies and Cheez-Its, you want to fit in. You have decided that these things are more important than health. That is why you choose them. That is why the foundation of your diet is not to avoid food additives, but instead- if you have a foundation at all- it is to have what everyone else is having. Ultimately, it is to do things the way you have always done them, without question.
Why would you do things the way you always have? Because you have been following the circular logic of your beliefs for a long, long time. You have been walking in the same circle for so long that you have created a trench which reaches 6 feet underground. You’re in so deep that you can see no path but this one, and you can’t imagine that there’s a way out. There appears to be no other way.
Now, this returns us to Part Three, where you take your belief and turn it on its head. You ask yourself, What if I shouldn’t do things the way I always have? What if I should eat nothing that everyone else is eating? What if every time someone offers to buy or make me food, I should say no?
I have said before that a foundation will not stick unless you cannot accept the consequences of violating it. This means that failing to meet your rule, guiding principle, or standards means that you are not getting the results you want, and the actions you are taking are not working.
When you do something that violates the foundation you want to establish, you must acknowledge the fact. Recognize that your actions are not working. Your actions are serving your previous ends, which included comforting yourself, distracting yourself, pleasing others, fitting in, and maintaining the status quo. Recognize that, in this moment, you have chosen to value those old ends over your new ones, which include increasing your energy, clearing your mind, improving your focus, reversing and preventing disease, and speeding up bodily recovery. With these improvements in health, you will be better able to do things even more important to you, such as get in touch with and act on your desires, increase the quality and volume of your work output, spend time with and care for people you love, go on adventures, and overall feel more alive and have more fun.
Understand that, in this moment, you have the ability to choose again. In fact, you have no choice but to choose. What are you choosing right now—comfort, or health? What do you really want—to be alive, or to shorten your path to death?
What if health and growth became familiar? What if eating and living healthily became your default setting? Do you believe it’s possible? Do you want it to be possible? What beliefs are your attempt at laying this foundation based on anyway? Is it a belief that changing your diet will improve your quality of life? Or is it a belief that changing your diet will impress other people? Which one of those have you valued more? Has this value helped or hindered your attempts to make this change and lay the foundation? Do you really want to value this, or do you think there is something that might work better?
A Good Reason to Change
I’m not trying to convince you to a certain side. I can’t. That was the reason for the dialogue in Part Three—no one can convince you as to why you should change. You need a good reason to change. But that reason can come only from yourself. You have to decide upon that reason for yourself. You may first hear about it from other people. But, ultimately, it is yours to embody. It is yours to become.
That’s the way to change. You take a good reason for change, and you become that reason.
In the areas of my life where I am stuck and am experiencing a lot of problems, it’s because I haven’t decided on a good reason for change. Sure, I tell myself that I want to change. I tell myself that all the time. Why don’t I, then? Because, I don’t mean it… Not really. I haven’t found reason enough to want different results. I think about those different results. I fantasize about them. But I don’t really understand them. I don’t get them. My whole self is not convinced to them. There is a part of me that doesn’t understand why I would want them. I don’t totally believe they would serve what I think my best interests are at this point. So, at the end of the day, I don’t really even try to make changes in those areas. There is no try. Maybe I’ve given myself the appearance of trying, but I’m not really.
An option here is to look at the areas of my life where I have been consistently making positive changes. In regard to those areas, I can see that a desire to raise my standards has been internalized. Whenever I up the ante in my running regimen, I know I’ll rise to the challenge. When I seriously consider that eating a certain food is not in my best interest, I know that I’ll stop eating it (or, at least, eat much less of it) soon enough. There’s really no question as to what I’ll do. I know I’ll make it.
Some introspection might really come in handy here. What do I believe that leads me to change consistently in these areas? How can I bring this attitude to the areas of my life that aren’t working as well? I recently went from having an always-messy bedroom to one that is now consistently clean and organized (thanks to the foundation of, Give every object a place to call home). What prompted me to make that change? Underneath the surface, what happened?
My exploration of that question will be the stuff of Part 5. Stay tuned. ;)
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