What If Weak is Strong and Strong is Weak?
One of our more popular posts is on "Fake Toughness," or the facade of having it altogether and being a badass. In it, we write that toughness isn’t walking around with your chest puffed out trying to intimidate. It’s making the right decision under uncertainty and distress. Strength isn’t yelling and shouting. It’s having the inner resources to navigate storms.
Developing true toughness and real strength is a paradox because it almost always requires being weak. If you want to learn how to make wise decisions under distress and how to navigate storms, then you've got to open yourself up—definitely to yourself and sometimes to others. You've got to get raw.
Why are you doing what you're doing? What's the real motivation behind it? Is it in alignment with how you perceive your innermost self? Do your actions come from a place of fear or from a place of love? If fear, can you at least recognize that? Can you gain the courage to confront it? To explore it? Perhaps even to share it with others? (This, by the way, is precisely how fear gets converted to love.)
Opening up is strength. Closing down is weakness. The rigid posture—muscles flexed, beared-down—that we conventionally associate with strength is actually quite closed and thus often signifies weakness. The opposite, open and inviting, accepting of and ready to confront whatever is there, almost always represents strength. The more you become aware of the difference between real strength and the facade of strength, the easier it is to spot and tell the two apart.
"What looks like weakness is actually where your strength lies," writes the ever-wise Jon Kabat-Zinn. "And what looks like strength is often weakness, an attempt to cover up fear; this is an act, however convincing it may appear to others, or even yourself."
Strength that comes from opening up is hard. Being vulnerable is hard. But, as we've written before, vulnerability doesn't come from trust, trust comes from vulnerability. So, if you want to be able to trust yourself in all situations you've got to go to that place of vulnerability. And if you want others to trust you in all situations you've got to take them there with you. This is why real strength and real toughness is so damn hard. Anyone can bang out endless pushups and puff out their chest. Few are willing to do the real work, the inner work.
(Note: the inner-work really is hard. If you choose to walk down this path, it is very helpful to have support. This can come in many forms: books, family, friends, colleagues, teammates, a coach, or a therapist.)
Going Through the Motions
As we venture across the murky line of a developing individual to a full-fledged adult, a strange thing occurs. We get imperceptibly pulled towards simply going through the motions. Some might refer to it as settling, but that implies a conscious decision to stop, to halt forward progress and instead come to terms with the fact that you are ‘okay’ in your present condition.
Going through the motions is different. It’s a way of being where we end up one day without deliberately choosing to be in such a position. We slowly get pulled towards an autopilot like stasis, where routine predominates. Our subconscious takes over all of the difficult questions we once pondered and our former angst over making sense of ourselves and the world fades away; replaced by a complacency that can be seen but not felt.
It’s at this point when we shift towards accomplishing the checklist of life. The house in the suburbs, the marriage, 2 kids, and whatever else has been ingrained either via society or a deep inbuilt evolutionary driver. In crossing these milestones off, we are given the illusion of forward progress. We think that we are growing, adapting, and moving along at an acceptable pace in this game called life.
Instead, I think we are on a conveyor belt. We move along at the same pace, stuck on our path, going to our 9 to 5 job to simply pay the bills; or perhaps working 80 hours a week to achieve some monetary goal to provide for our family. But what we are missing is the betterment of ourselves and those connected to us.
The never-ending possibilities of our youth fade away and “dreams” become perhaps too practical, dull, and boring. In other words, they become achievable. You see, no one notices they are going through the motions, at least not initially. It takes an outside force, a blunt friend, or a major life event to open the skies just a little so that we realize what we’ve become.
Perhaps going through the motions isn’t always a negative thing. Not to mention, you can certainly do the above things in a way that is anything but going through the motions. Brad reminds me every-time we talk (or, more aptly, Theo interrupting Brad) that having a kid is NOT going through the motions. Getting married and having two kids and moving to the suburbs might be the BEST thing in the world...the problem is when you're doing it (or anything, for that matter; even the opposite, staying single) like a zombie.
And yet, I can’t help but think that our brains function to make us more efficient at life as we age. If we look at how we gain expertise, the process is remarkably similar. When we first learn the skill we have to go through step by step with no deviation, understanding exactly what it is we need to do. If we’re thrown a curveball, forget about it, we’ll be off sulking in the corner or fraught with anxiety over possible failure. As we practice and learn more though, we become experts. We no longer have to think through every step and instead, are freed up to focus on what actually matters.
And that’s what happens in life. We become "experts" at it. The processes, ideas, and struggles that once required deep conscious effort have shifted towards automation; our subconscious taking up the load. It’s not our fault. We’ve become too good at whatever it is we do. So good in fact, our minds start to believe we are experts. Less thought is needed and less deliberate action. Instead, it all occurs in the background, humming along with increasingly less need for our conscious “self” at all.
It’s on autopilot mode and we are going through the motions. Again, this isn't always a bad thing. It's pretty natural. But I think it's worthwhile to practice waking up regularly; to ask yourself, "What am I doing here?" and to really look deeply before you answer.
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