Are You Letting the World Make You a Lesser Version?
Approximate Read Time: 9 minutes
“In a world of change the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.” –Eric Hoffer
We are living amid the fourth industrial revolution. Sounds ominous and for good reason. More than any time in human history, our future will be defined by constant technological disruption. Over the past 20 years we have given up newspapers, physical maps, single-function cameras, taxis, vacuuming, cable, and quiet time, but the upcoming changes are sure to be even more radical and prompt even more unpredictable turns.
Over the next 20 years, a few likely developments include:
Hyperloops connecting cities (think San Francisco to L.A. in 35 minutes)
Clothing that gives people superhuman skills
3D printing that allows us to print furniture and even homes (one man printed a concrete castle already)
Technology will redefine the way we work, think, and live over and over again. Industries will rise and fall, social patterns will shift, but all the while you will be at the center of your experience. You and your biology will be held constant (at least for now). This is the essential point societies have repeatedly failed to honor following past changes, most notably in regards to the disruption that followed ubiquitous smartphone use. How well you weather this chaotic new world is completely dependent on your individual self-mastery. Regardless of how much technology shifts the landscape, you are still a human, driven by a hunter-gatherer brain and hunter-gatherer needs.
Smart Tools - Dumb Humans
Throughout recent history, each new technology has typically prompted a reciprocal neglect of our own physical bodies and minds. External tools sharpen and so our own tools weaken. Each new invention replaces a human capability and leaves us to decide whether to train that once essential skill or watch as it slowly erodes. For example, I was given a GPS when I got my driver’s license. Shortly after, my smartphone took over this job. Having never demanded navigation from myself, I’m embarrassingly bad at navigating streets outside of my hometown. Similarly, the athletes I train often struggle mightily to add up the total weight they are lifting. These students have been allowed to use a calculator for basic arithmetic and now they struggle to add 45 plus 35 plus 35 in their heads. Many of their generation are equally challenged by social interactions after years of screen-dominant communication that precluded the need for reading body language or building social courage.
Most people’s bodies witnessed this same decline years ago. The varied and dynamic physical needs of hunting and gathering were replaced with a more limited, while still demanding skill set needed for farming. Warrior cultures often trained to round out the other skills. Today, we don’t have to grow our own food, prepare our own meals, build our homes, protect our community from invasion, or find someone when we want to talk to them. We aren’t even responsible for transporting our bodies across town or up the stairs. At least not unless we choose to be. And that is the point.
There is merit in deciding not to adopt every new technology. There is merit in deciding how you live your own life and what “unnecessary” tasks still matter. I don’t have to ride a bike as my primary means of transportation. Yet, it allows me to shorten my workouts, save money, digest more audio books, and get more of that refreshing time moving in the great outdoors. I’m more in tune with the weather and I have a better understanding of my body’s ability to deal with the cold, heat, and rain without melting. I look forward to my commutes and would consider it a great loss not to be able to bike so frequently. Opting out of the car technology has improved my quality of life immensely.
As we are allowed to take less responsibility in our survival and daily needs, most have filled their time with a growing number of diversions. Our bodies and minds grow increasingly limited and that stokes meaninglessness that no amount of comfort and entertainment can solve. Thus, depression, anxiety, obesity, suicide, and drug overdoses increase with no signs of slowing. Comfort and convenience are appealing at any moment, but these pleasures pale in comparison to the growth necessary for true fulfillment. At the deepest level we want to be admirable, capable and useful to a purpose larger than ourselves.
We need an operating system to navigate such a chaotic world. A framework that can be applied to varied particulars. Something rooted in deep principles that can be applied to an ever-changing context. Ironically, many of those principles are already here and they have been around for thousands of years. Philosophers from Seneca to Lao Tzu to Aristotle have all come to similar conclusions about human happiness. In short, happiness is dependent on self-mastery.
Aristotle believed the pursuit of happiness was the chief aim of every person. However, the route there was not found in increasing pleasure and decreasing pain. Happiness was only cultivated through virtue and the pursuit of self-potential. We can think of this as maturity.
Maturity for Dummies
If you give a six-year-old carte blanche at the grocery store, the basket will fill with Little Debbie pastries, Captain Crunch, Oreos, Coke, Cheetos, Pizza Rolls, and many more nutritionally deficient foods. Tell that same little dude he can watch whatever movies he wants, play whatever games he wants, and head to bed whenever and you’ll find him at 7 a.m. with a gaming controller on his head, Cheeto dust on his fingers, and an empty 2 liter soda bottle. He’ll still be plugging away in his caffeine infused daze, uttering four letter words into the headset that he’s only recently mastered.
You have this same freedom, but I assume you spend your evenings quite differently. Technology has made ice cream extremely affordable, but you still usually choose to eat archaic foods like broccoli, sweet potatoes, and chicken. In your infinite wisdom, you’ve decided that feeding every impulse would not be in your best interest. These decisions were harder at age 10 and even 18, but now you easily prioritize long term fulfillment over immediate pleasure and you are even able to find pleasure in these decisions. They make you feel better.
Maturity is the process of growing self-discipline and internalizing more fulfilling values. It is essential to long term fulfillment. Balance is a chief aim as well (I will enjoy ice cream or a margarita from time to time), but the point is to embrace a higher end than immediate gratification and to grow more capable of living up to that end. We can only be happy through a commitment to growth and self-discipline. We can only be happy if we prioritize being more over having more.
“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is to not be in a different place but to be a different person.” -Seneca
While we seem very impressed with the level of convenience, comfort, security, and entertainment we've created today, we ignore the quality of the people we are creating. Are we actually admirable? Compare us to history—how would we measure up against those of the civil war era or the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s? How would we react if gas, food, and household items were rationed and we were asked to grow Victory Gardens, as Americans did during World War II?
Certainly we are more likely to hold edified social views today. However, progressive beliefs on race and gender equality are, largely, the consequence of cultural osmosis and therefore a poor judge of integrity. As psychologist Daniel Gilbert puts it:
“Condemning Thomas Jefferson for keeping slaves or Sigmund Freud for patronizing women is a bit like arresting someone today for having driven without a seatbelt in 1923.”
How would we compare with past generations in regard to defining and adhering to our own standards and values? Who would you rather have as friends and fellow citizens in a time of great challenge? How would we compare in regards to discipline, resilience, courage, gratitude, perseverance, mental and physical toughness, patience, adaptability, physical health, sense of community, willingness to sacrifice, and the closeness in our relationships?
It’s tempting to conclude that we’ve moved beyond human nature to a time when our technology precludes the need for self-mastery. Society assumes all change is progress. Embrace the tide or be left behind to a crude stone age existence. Yet, actually, there has never been a time that required more reflection, intentionality, and mastery of impulse. Now more than ever, we must study those most elemental drives stemming from our nomadic roots.
Robert Greene, expounds on this paradoxical reality in his latest book, The Laws of Human Nature:
We have never been more in the thrall of human nature and its destructive potential than now, and by ignoring this fact we are playing with fire. The permeability of our emotions has only been heightened by social media where viral effects are continuously sweeping through us and where the most manipulative leaders are able to exploit and control us. Look at the aggression that is now openly displayed in the virtual world where it is so much easier to play out our shadow side without repercussions. Notice how our propensities to compare ourselves with others, to feel envy, and to seek status through attention have only become intensified with our ability to communicate so quickly with so many people. And finally, look at our tribal tendencies and how they have now found the perfect medium to operate in. We can find a group to identify with, reinforce our tribal opinions in a virtual echo chamber, and demonize any outsiders leading to mob intimidation. The potential for mayhem, stemming from the primitive side of our nature has only increased.
Holding Yourself to a More Fulfilling Standard
The modern mental and physical health epidemics are spurred by technology that promotes immaturity. As we rely less on ourselves we remain lesser versions. Suddenly it becomes normal for adults to have donuts or fast food for breakfast every morning, to scan social media all day and night, and to spend money they don’t have on stuff they don’t need. Consistent exercise and self-education become marks of the highly disciplined rather than an expectation of mature adults living in a sedentary democracy.
No one likes to hear about duty, responsibility, and expectations. Our duty to society has become less important as technological advances allow society to flourish with fewer efforts. We’ve grown up in a world of advertising that programs us to believe we deserve more, always. Yet it is responsibility that really frees us and makes us capable of appreciating the good without suffering the bad. In the age of impulse and noise, discipline is an essential responsibility to ourselves. Fight back against the forces that would make you less and determine to become a more capable greater version.
At Inspired Human Development, Justin Lind and I have advocated our three core habits. We don’t promote these habits to turn you into a passionless cyborg, in fact, quite the opposite. These habits promote inspiration, passion, and a level of consciousness that will help you transcend the magnetic pull of passive living and constant partial attention.
For anyone who wants to begin exercise, self-education, or meditation and gratitude, the best way in is not to overwhelm yourself with long, hard sessions. I’d never claim that we all need to achieve top tier physiques, world class minds, or the patience of a Buddhist monk - only that we should be intentionally working on ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. The best way is to structure your life so you can get a small daily dose of each. Anything extra is bonus.
That is why Justin Lind and I developed the 30x30 challenge. Rather than telling you our three core habits will change the way you think, feel, and live and leaving you to figure out how to do them, we’ve packaged these into thirty minute daily doses where we lead you through a training of mind, body, and emotion. It is simple, straightforward and the ideal way to kickstart every day! The challenge releases on September 15th when it will be available for individual purchase or included with your membership. To learn more head to the 30x30 Challenge page.
Regardless of whether you jump in or not, remember that discipline is a gift you give yourself. Beginning each day is the hard part, but after thirty minutes you’ll feel completely different. Inspiration follows action. Take the time to invest in yourself and you’ll see the world with new eyes.
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