Quote: “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” – St. Augustine
Learning about yourself is one of the hardest things you can do in life. But it will make or break your success and happiness as a man.
Today we’re going to look at why it’s important and how to do it.
A Loss of Direction
Young men are natural adventurers. We constantly yearn for greater pastures. We like to live without compromise, make drastic changes to our lives without a moment’s hesitation, and see what the world beyond our own is really like.
However, in this age of distractions, somewhere along the way was lost an important part of male development: the ability to look inward, learn about ourselves and reflect on the world around us.
All of the greatest men in history would make this time for themselves without fail. Writers like Mark Twain would often talk about how looking inward would lead to an awakening – to realizing truths about all men that you never knew existed.
A part of this shift has probably come from the fact that young men aren’t taught what should be important them as adults. In Ancient Athens, classes ranging from Philosophy to Justice and Honor were taught at Plato’s academy. In Sparta, all young boys underwent the agoge (which you should recognize if you’ve seen 300), a process in which they would learn combat, social skills and higher thought. Even through the romantic period, virtue was a staple of a young man’s education.
But now, not only are we not taught these subjects, most men don’t even think or hear about manly values until stumbling upon articles like this one or sites like this one. But why is any of this stuff still important in our modern age? Let’s take a look at why.
Fear and Solitude
I’ve had many friends over the years tell me that one of the things they are most afraid of in life is being by themselves. This actually seems to be a pretty common fear among people in general. People like to have friends or family around to keep them company, or turn to TV and internet when they find themselves alone.
Why is true solitude so difficult? It’s because of honesty. When you are really by yourself, you can do nothing but tell the truth to yourself. You can lie to the world, you can lie to your family, you can lie to your significant other, but you can never lie to yourself. Whenever you give up distractions, you’re forced to admit your insecurities, shortcomings, frustrations with yourself. Also, there’s always that small part of you that feels inadequate if people aren’t constantly trying to be in your presence.
Being by yourself also forces you to think about the deeper parts of life. It’s funny where your mind will go when it’s not being entertained. You start thinking about the legacy you want to leave, the fact that time is constantly slipping away (and perhaps you haven’t been fully taking advantage of your own), and the troubling problems that face the people around you and the people of the world every day.
All of these things hitting your brain at the same time can be very overwhelming for your mind and for you as a person. But facing these fears and embracing these greater issues is not only healthy, it’s liberating.
I remember a time in which I was travelling through Asia by myself for work and self-enrichment. There was a point in the middle of my travels where I lost all of my money, and virtually all contact with anyone who could help me. It was in this period of time where my self-reflection went deeper than it ever had. I learned about fears I didn’t know I had. I was scared to ask strangers for help because I thought I would be judged or embarrass myself.
I also learned levels of self-reliance that I didn’t know I had. There were many moments where I walked for longer than I care to remember to find supplies and a safe place to rest. There were times where I sang or dance in the street to earn money for a meal or lodging. All the while, I learned the most important aspect of getting through that entire ordeal: the power of a positive attitude.
I used to be a pretty apathetic person, but I’ve learned too many times that your mindset determines your success in nearly any endeavor. So, I promised myself that I would stay positive; instead of brooding over the lower parts of my experience, I thought about everything I appreciated in my life, and I managed to be honest with myself in my future life goals and craft some of my most powerful pieces of writing to date.
Was any of this easy? Not at all. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But this experience, along with the alone time I take for myself, is some of the most important time I have and will ever take in my life. Solitude forces you to pay attention. It forces you to be in tune to the world around you.
Here is a selection from a forceful essay called “The Value of Solitude,” by 19th Century writer and newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane:
“We inflict a piece of advice upon our readers. It is intended especially for the young, who have still to get their growth, whose characters and possibilities are forming.
GET AWAY FROM THE CROWD WHEN YOU CAN. KEEP YOURSELF TO YOURSELF, IF ONLY FOR A FEW HOURS DAILY. —-
Full individual growth, special development, rounded mental operations–all these demand room, separation from others, solitude, self-examination and the self-reliance which solitude gives.
The finest tree stands off by itself in the open plain. Its branches spread wide. It is a complete tree, better than the cramped tree in the crowded forest…
Do you want to succeed? Grow in solitude, work, develop in solitude, with books and thoughts and nature for friends. Then, if you want the crowd to see how fine you are, come back to it and boss it if it will let you.
Here is what Goethe says:
“Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille, doch ein Charakter in dem Strome der Welt.” (Talent is developed in solitude, character in the rush of the world)…
Don’t think hard only when you are trying to remember a popular song or to decide on the color of your Winter overcoat or necktie.
Remember that you are an individual, not a grain of dust or a blade of grass. Don’t be a sheep; be a man. It has taken nature a hundred million years to produce you. Don’t make her sorry she took the time.
Get out in the park and walk and think. Get up in your hall bedroom, read, study, write what you think. Talk more to yourself and less to others. Avoid magazines, avoid excessive newspaper reading.
There is not a man of average ability but could make a striking career if he could but WILL to do the best that is in him.
Proofs of growth due to solitude are endless. Milton’s greatest work was done when blindness, old age and the death of the Puritan government forced him into completest seclusion. Beethoven did his best work in the solitude of deafness.
Bacon would never have been the great leader of scientific thought had not his trial and disgrace forced him from the company of a grand retinue and stupid court to the solitude of his own brain.
“Multum insola fuit anima mea.” (My spirit hath been much alone.) This he said often, and lucky it was for him. Loneliness of spirit made him.
Get a little of it for yourself.
Drop your club, your street corner, your gossipy boarding-house table. Drop your sheep life and try being a man.
It may improve you.”
And here’s how you do it…
Visualization, Meditation, and Definite Purpose
I’m going to outline a powerful set of techniques that are incredibly important to the success and well-being of any young man. In your life, the more you can relax, and stay in tune with yourself and what you want – the happier you’ll be and the more you’ll achieve.
The mind is a truly incredible instrument, and if you use it to even a fraction of its full extent, you can take your abilities and potential to a whole new plane.
My favorite kind of meditation is Zen meditation because it increases your awareness and focus, without the potential of you falling asleep if you’re a beginner.
Sit with your legs crossed, hands resting on your thighs, and eyes open. Focus on deep even breaths in and out of your body. If thoughts come (they will), let them pass and focus on your breath.
Even meditation for 20 minutes a day can increase your awareness and energy.
Some of the greatest men in history took advantage of the power of visualizing exactly what their goals were to bring their great dreams into reality:
- Ben Franklin (when he wasn’t making lists of how to improve himself) would schedule time every day to visualize himself solving common problems, and these visualizations would form the foundations for his inventions
- Teddy Roosevelt would take time at the beginning and end of his days to meditate and visualize the speeches that he needed to give to the public (which he always did with force and fervor).
- Steve Jobs would constantly visualize a prolific computer and technology company that he eventually found
Of course, visualization by itself can’t change everything in your life. However, what it will do is super charge your focus. It will help you feel the exact positive emotions that you’ll experience when your dreams do come true, and it’ll become a source of calm and steady motivation as your pursue your goals.
There are two main methods of conducting powerful visualizations. One requires less direct attention and is to keep you focused on your goals, and one is focused on channeling your deep emotions to change your subconscious and conscious mindsets, and slowly – your everyday actions.
- Create a vision board
A vision board is essentially a collection of pictures of things that you want to attain in the near or distant future. Think about what you want. Do you want to be a notable business figure? Then put up a picture of someone you greatly admire. Do you want to write a book? Then put up a note or drawing of what your book is going to look like when it’s in print.
Whatever is most important to you, pick 5-10 things and put them on your vision board. Then put your vision board in a conspicuous place. A place that you’ll look at often, so that you can be constantly reminded of the tangible goals you are working for.
- Imagine your perfect day
Here’s a brief exercise that will start you off on the path of effective visualization:
- Grab a pen and paper.
- Before you write anything down, take five minutes to breathe deeply and completely clear your mind. Focus on your breath entering and exiting your body, and let your entire awareness stay in the present moment.
- After those five minutes, imagine your perfect day from start to finish
- Write down every single aspect of that day. What are you doing when you wake up? Who are you with? What are doing hour by hour? How are you feeling? Try to get down as much detail into your writing as possible.
Why are the emotions so important?
The ability of our brains to record memories is entirely based on how much adrenaline is running through our systems. This is why it’s so easy to recall traumatic or ecstatic experiences.
What you are doing when you are visualization is giving your brain a “false” experience. You’re mapping out new pathways for it to operate under pressure circumstances by visualizing experiences as if you’ve already lived them. So allowing yourself to see every aspect of your perfect day, or even your life, while experiencing the genuine emotions, is of the utmost importance.
Additionally, an important idea to consider is that in life a lot what prevents your success is not necessarily the fear of failure, but actually the fear of success. A lot of people secretly fear the work, scrutiny, and responsibility that would be placed on their shoulders should they achieve a high level of success.
However, visualization teaches you to conquer your fears within your own mind. There’s a psychological idea that is known as the Law of Attraction. Essentially, it says that the things you think about most will be brought into your life – that goes for both the positive and negative. So, if you utilize visualization and keep your thoughts on positive progress, the tangible effects of making positive progress will inevitably manifest themselves in your life.
Visualization can be an extremely powerful tool in your arsenal. Not only will it help you focus and clarify your goals, it’ll bring a new sense of calm and poise as you meditate and get a handle on your life.
“Great men are like eagles, and build their nest on some lofty solitude.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
Learning about yourself and being honest about your strengths, weaknesses and dreams will be the hardest thing you ever do. It was also be the best thing you ever do. Even the longest of journeys begin with a single step. Here’s to going for number one.
Your Biggest Fan,