An exhausted Rocky Balboa takes another vicious punch from Mason Dixon, and stumbles to his knees. The lights are going out, but for a passing thought…. “What is it you said to the kid.. It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”
Summoning all the energy he can muster, Rocky clambers up from the jaws of defeat, and launches a devastating barrage of punches at his opponent.
“It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”
Maxims are short statements that pack one hell of a punch. In just a few words, they capture the essence of a human truth, or a philosophy about life. They need no explanation, and stand entirely on their own. They motivate, they inspire action, and make a powerful tool for carving out the strongest versions of ourselves.
In this post, we’ll discuss why you might consider adopting a maxim.
The Power of Maxims
When it comes down to it, a well-chosen maxim helps us make decisions which closely align with our values. So when we reach a fork in the road, returning to our maxim illuminates the right path. Not the easiest path, but the right path.
“Actions speak louder than words” seems like a universal truth, and sounds a tad cliché, but how many of us (myself obviously included) live by it? “Be the change you want to see in the world.” “Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time” (Abraham Lincoln).
These statements all illuminate the right path over the easy path.
And to achieve our dreams, and become the strongest versions of ourselves, it’s a constant process of choosing what is right over what is easy. When Leonardo Da Vinci painted the famous “Last Supper” on the wall of a monastery, the monk explains:
“He would arrive early, climb up on the scaffolding, and set to work. Sometimes he stayed there from dawn to sunset, never once laying down his brush, forgetting to eat and drink, painting without pause. At other times he would go for two, three or four days without touching his brush, but spending several hours a day in front of his work, his arms folded, examining and criticizing the figures to himself. I also saw him, driven by some sudden urge, at midday, when the sun was atits height, leaving the Corte Vecchia, where he was working on his marvellous clay horse, to come straight to Santa Maria delle Grazie, without seeking shade, and clamber up on to the scaffolding, pick up a brush, put in one or two strokes, and then go away again.”
“Those “one or two strokes” remind us of the painstaking cumulative nature of his art. That massive sweep of visual narrative which one sees on the wall of the Grazie is made up of thousands of tiny brushstrokes, thousands of microscopic decisions.” “Every inch has been fought for.” – Leonarda Da Vinci by Charles Nicholl
Isn’t life identical to the nature of Da Vinci’s painting? If we want to make life a masterpiece, then we must make thousands of micro-decisions towards that vision. Dream Big (the end painting), and Start Small (the individual brush-strokes). Maxims, by reminding us of what’s important now, help us make the best micro-decisions, so you’re not left with a monstrosity when you’ve finished.
Going back to the simplest, “Actions speak louder than words.” What, do you reckon, would the painting look like at the end if you chose to fully embody this maxim?
Maxims: For when the Going get’s Tough
When everything goes to pot, your maxim is your fall-back phrase. It’s there to offer words of encouragement when you need them the most, whether you’re down a creek without a paddle, sinking in a small boat in the middle of a lake filled with man-eating leeches, or surrounded on all sides by snarling academic deadlines.
To go all Lord of the Rings on yo’ ass,
“May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” – Galadriel, Lord of the Rings
When we inevitably reach a seemingly insurmountable obstacle blocking our paths, and our growth-mind set goes down the drain, simply repeating a maxim in your head can really help to turn things around.
As an analogy: Have you ever been in a situation where you just can’t see a way to go forward, then somebody offers a few words of advice or encouragement, and it seems to turn everything around? On the verge of losing it, and 5 seconds of words instantly changes your mind set? That’s pretty damn incredible IMO. And I’d argue that maxims work in the same way.
Maxims become especially useful when you associate them with a person. Then, when the going gets tough, ask yourself, “What would they do right now?”
For example, “what would Michael Phelps do in my situation?” Phelps, in his training, uses “WIN” = “What’s Important Now?” So even if he’s exhausted after a gruelling set in the pool, WIN would motivate him to do one more.
In this way, maxims can act as the mentor on your shoulder. Or a guardian angel perhaps.
Now, granted, it’s not that easy. There’s still a devil on the other one. But the idea of a maxim, and using it to make the right decision is a simple one. Not always easy, but simple. But, as the saying goes… Practice does indeed make perfect. The more you apply your maxim, the easier it becomes.
The more you start being the change you want to see in the world, the easier it becomes.
How to Find and Choose Your Perfect Maxim
So if you’re interested, how would one go about choosing a maxim?
A useful way is to imagine that you’ve been immortalised in a marble bust like the Roman emperors and generals of old. Or you’ve been sculpted on to Mt. Rushmore. What would you want the inscription to say?
Joe Bloggs – Live to work, or Joe Bloggs – He Who Dares Wins.
If that doesn’t work, then ask yourself,
- What is your over-arching philosophy about how you want to live your own life?
- What’s most important to your thinking?
- What resonates with you right now?
- What are you focused on?
- Who inspires you, and what was their maxim?”
Personally, my maxim at this stage is Theodore Roosevelt’s “Do what you can, with what you have”. Basically, no excuses. I write it down in my journal first thing every day to give my mind some proper propaganda.
So, my invitation to you: Search for a kick-ass maxim that resonates with you, and start living it!
As always, Dream Big Start Small!
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Photo credits: tomorrowland.com