An enemy soldier gets captured behind enemy lines. He wakes up in a room. An enemy officer stands before him.
“Tomorrow morning, you have two choices. You can face the firing squad, or you can go through that door.”
“What’s through the door?” the soldier asks.
“No-one knows,” replied the officer. “Only unseen horrors.”
The next morning, as the shots ring out, the officer’s secretary asks,
“Sir, what’s through the door?”
“Freedom. But who would take it if they knew?”
I’ve got no idea if this story is true or not. But the message is chilling regardless. Sacrificing unknown heavens for known hells. As they say “The devil you know is better than the one you don’t.”
I’d like to say it wouldn’t be me choosing the firing squad. But I can’t. Because I choose the firing squad everyday in small ways. I stick to what I know. Even if I know it sucks, too often I pick it because it’s safe. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. It’s… mediocre. (Boy, do I hate that word).
Let me give you an example. I don’t have a laptop, so I work everyday in an internet café. I work there all day, and in the middle of the day, nature calls. The place has a toilet (I’ve seen it with my own eyes), but there’s no sign. It’s as if it’s only for the staff. Also, I’ve never seen a customer use it.
So for two weeks, I’ve been traipsing 15 minutes down the road to use the toilet at a supermarket. I’m laughing and shaking my head at the absurdity as I type…
Iain! What the hell are you doing?!
I’ll tell you what I’m doing. I’m choosing the firing squad. I’m too scared of the unknown. I’m too scared to ask. What if they say no?! Then I’ll be humiliated! The 15 minute traipse is inconvenient. But it’s my cocoon, where I’m safe from the unknown. In being unwilling to rock the boat, I’m choosing a known hell over the unknown heaven. (never did I expect a small toilet to be my “unknown heaven”.)
Sure, it’s trivial. But I have to draw the line. How you do the small things are how you do the big things. If I can’t put my foot down here, then how can I stand up when it counts the most? If I can’t ask to use a toilet in an internet café, how can I stand up against social injustice? As the Navy Seals say, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of training.
Now, I’m on a mission. To ask if I can use that damn toilet. Not because the toilet is important. But because the fundamental behind it IS.
What’s so beautiful about the universe is that it wastes nothing. It always presents you with challnges that you need most.
“The soul attracts that which it secretly harbours; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires,- and circumstances are the means by which the soul recieves its own.” – James Allen
It’s Shakespearian. We fall because of our character flaws. Me? The universe is going to keep giving me situations like this where I need to rock the boat. Because rocking the boat is my weakness.
Also, women. I admit it. For me, dating is the scariest thing ever. Force 9 in the Pacific? Piece of cake. Asking a beautiful women on a date? Now that’s scary. Not only do you have to put yourself out there, but you have to make yourself vulnerable. You have to dive in, willing to get your heart stomped on every time. So guess what? The universe is gonna keep throwing me beautiful women until I can finally accept who I am, and be vulnerable.
You and I – we can’t escape it. We don’t want to, either. What we fear the most is the direction we need to take the most. Fear is the compass to becoming the strongest version of ourselves.
This rocking the boat business. It’s not going away. It’s coming closer.
It might surface in relationships. Usually, if I’m not happy about something, I don’t say anything. I don’t rock the boat. I let it eat away at me instead. The relationship sours because I have all this pent-up anger. I can’t even look the other person in the eyes, never mind smile with them.
On the inside, I’m seething. And it’s often the tiniest things. Why do I always buy the toilet paper? Why am I always the one cleaning the dishes? Why does he never smile? Why is he always late? Why is he so negative?
But I know it’s my fault. Circumstance does not make the man, it reveals him to himself. I know it is my problem. Because it’s my life. Extreme ownership. Yet there are times I catch myself blaming the other person. What. Do I seriously expect them to mind-read?
And sure, they may be small things. But how you deal with small things is how you deal with the big things. You prepare for the big by doing the small.
“Step by step we get ahead, not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for the fast spurts.” – Charlie Munger
Think of your own life. Where are you settling for the known hell versus the unknown heaven? Where are you settling for the status quo versus rocking the boat? Where are you choosing the firing squad?
In alot of cases, I don’t rock the boat because I’m afraid things will never be the same afterwards. Maybe he or she won’t like me anymore. Maybe the social dynamic will change permanently.
But if rocking the boat makes things worse, then it’s always for the better. Because friendships that can’t stand a bit of a beating aren’t friendships in the first place. If my situation is so fragile that I’m afraid it will collapse with the slightest nudge, then what kind of situation is that in the first place?
What’s so disturbing about known hells is that after a while, my brain rationalises living with them. Let’s say not asking if I can use the toilet makes my life worse by 1%. My brain: well, it’s only a tiinnny inconvenience Iain. Chill out man. It’s only 1%.
But that tiny wee inconvenience of 1% compounds every hour of every day into a Godzilla-sized stress monster over the course of a lifetime.
And we’re just talking 1%. What if it’s 10% from a negative friend or 50% from an issue with your significant other? Or what if your job is the known hell, where it reduces your quality of life by 80%?
This is a huge issue. So what’s to be done? A 30 Day Challenge, of course.
I call it the 30 Day Fear Setting Challenge. To destroy known hells, and move towards unknown heavens. In less metaphorical-speak, doing something everyday that scares you. Aristotle logic: We are what we repeatedly do. Stepping into the unknown, then, is not an act, but a habit.
The rules are simple. Everyday, I’ll do something that scares me. It might be doing something weird in a public space, asking to work for people for free, contacting world-class performers or posting embarassing blog posts.
Why “fear setting”? It comes from Tim Ferris’ book Tools of Titans, which discusses the habits of the world’s top performers interviewed on the Tim Ferris Show.
The chapter begins with Jedi Master Yoda. “Named must your fear be before banish it you can.” (In Yoda We Trust.)
In it, there are 7 fear-setting questions:
- Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering. What doubt, fears and “what-ifs” pop up as you consider the big changes you can – or need – to make? Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1 to 10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is tht they would actually happen?
- What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily? Chances are, it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things back under control?
- What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios? Now that you’ve defined the nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal (confidence, self-esteem, etc.) or external? What would be the impact of these more-likely outcomes be on a scale of 1 to 10? How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have less intelligent people done this before and pulled it off? (Don’t like Word “intelligent”, I replace with hardworking)
- If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control? Imagine this scenario and run through questions 1 to 3 above. If you quit your job to test other options, how could you later get ack on the same career track if you absolutely had to?
- What are you putting off out of fear? Usually, what we fer doing is what we most need to do. That pone call, that conversation, whatever that action might be – it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevent us from doing what we need to do. Define the worst case, accept it, and do it. I’ll repeat something you might consider tattoing on your forehead: What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. As I have Heard said, a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear. I got into this habit by attempting to contact celebrities and famous business people for advice.
- What is it costing you – financially, emotionlly, and physically – to postpoe action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action. It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in 1 year, 5 years and 10 years? How will you feel having allowed circumstance to impose itself upon you and having allowed 10 more years of your finite life to pass doing what you know will not fulfill you? If you telescope out 10 years and know with 100% certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as “the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome”, inaction is the greatest risk of all.
- Whatare you waiting for? If you cannot answer this without resorting to the BS concept of “good timing”, the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world. Measure the cost of inaction, realise the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who Excel and enjoy doing so: action.
So, that’s the framework. Each day, I’ll come up with a scary thing, and answer the questions above in my journal. Only rule: I can’t do the same thing twice (e.g doing pushups in the Street).
How does this challenge fit in to the overall goal? Recall one of the three quotes for this year:
“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.”
This challenge is going build my skills in applying this. Also, it’s going to test my ability to focus my thoughts on the present, and not on future scenarios.
To finish, one question and one question only.
Are you choosing the door or the firing squad?