The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Thick Face, Black Heart

The question of focus came up in response to the "mind tightly shut against negative influences" question. There is definitely a risk in life of not listening to anything, or anyone, and going off the edge of some social, financial or personal cliff. But if the majority of those you have respected as "successes" have this quality, then you ignore "Thick Face, Black Heart" at your own peril. Barely a day passes that I don't hear someone complaining about their internal voices warning them not to pursue their dreams. Fear of what "people might say." Fear that if they stop drinking, drugging, or overeating, they will lose their reference group. Fear that they grew up in poverty, and if they aim at extraordinary success they will be considered "uppity" or whatever. Fear that "men ain't shit" or "all women are bitches" or whatever the latest pity-party is.

Personally? I had to deal with feedback from both black and white people that I wasn't supposed to be a writer. Input from my mother that I was too fragile to be an athlete. That I wasn't supposed to love someone of another race. That if I displayed my intelligence, white people would kill me. And on, and on.

I have certainly met a few people so impulsive, so unwilling to listen to reason that they have damaged themselves with unconsidered ambition. But by a factor of ten, people seem more limited by fear than by being overly optimistic.

But still...if you are limited by fear, you may not reach the stars, but aren't you more likely to survive? Yes. That is true. And this is where the Cautious approach has legitimacy. If you stay with the crowd, don't try to stand out, aren't you safer? Yes, you are. But between the safety of the herd and the wish we have to perform at the level of our idols, there has to be a happy medium. Children have huge dreams, and adults pound those dreams out of them. It is sad to meet people who clearly, no longer believe that they can be healthy, and happy, and successful...settling for one or two of those, and then hiding their fear inside a cocoon of rationalizations: "I can't" "I shouldn't" "I'm genetically limited", etc. etc. We search for reasons not to leave our comforting harbors, even if our hearts yearn for the endless sea.

So the principles of Think And Grow Rich are for those with the courage to move beyond what their neighbors and families consider "normal". And the inevitable price is that you will be attacked. Almost everyone you have ever admired in the public eye has been attacked, and the more successful they are, the more vicious the attacks often become. It is a natural part of the process.

But how can you avoid going "off the cliff?" Modeling. You look for people who have accomplished goals that you desire. Preferably, you find at least three people, and chose those who are extraordinary in the area of interest, but at LEAST average in the other two. Ideally, you look for people who are extraordinary in one, and "excellent" in the other two. You may have to hunt, but the hunt is worth while. The voice in your head that says: "but the price of success is loss of love!" will fade if you study those who have both success and love. The voices in your head will often urge you toward the lowest level of overall accomplishment: enough money to survive, enough health to "not be sick" and enough intimacy to satisfy the most basic needs for sex and companionship. Decide that you want more than the minimum, and you will run right into every negative belief imaginable, an attempt by your unconscious to protect you against either disaster or the pain of disappointment.

How can you know if your internal voices are lying to you? Some suggestions:

1) Illogic and impossibility. If you believe something like "it takes money to make money" (really? Then where did the first money come from...), "love only leads to pain" (really? Then all us happy folks are just lying to ourselves?), "nothing ever changes", "my body disobeys the laws of physics" and so forth--your demons are in full swing.

2) You tell yourself you've never succeeded at anything. Really? You never learned to walk or talk or ride a bicycle? The truth is that as soon as you accomplish something, there is a negative part of your personality that tries to discount it. "Oh...everyone learns to do that. It's nothing." And no matter what you accomplish, no matter what wonders and marvels you accomplish in the external world, those voices remain. The wise simply learn to separate themselves from their voices.

And this is important to remember: that shutting your mind against the negative input of others is REALLY practice in shutting off your own negative voices. Critical if you want to move from one level of success to the next.

3) Deleting information contrary to your world view. Highly politicized people do this all the time, to the point that they can sound...well, emotionally disturbed if you don't share their world view. This is called arguing backwards from a premise. But how do you do it, if the very organ you use to test reality is itself warped by fear of change? Wellll...I think a combination of two approaches is a damned fine error-checker:

a) The Mastermind. At least one person whose opinion you will listen to. Choose them based on their track record, not their intent or promises.

b) Balance. Both in yourself, and in your chosen Mastermind partner. If you are strong in all three arenas, you can be fairly certain your reality map is basically accurate. If weak in two or three...WATCH OUT.

It really is sad. I don't know anyone who doesn't admire accomplished people. Musicians, writers, scientists, politicians, spiritual leaders, warriors...SOMEONE. In my book, all you need to do to improve your results is study what these people have in common, and do "that." And here is where the excuses boil up, fed by an ego terrified of death, and willing to kill your dreams to stay alive.

This is where deep meditation can be one of the most healing and valuable things in life: we are not the voices in our heads--although they can be powerful allies. We are not our histories--although a person's history is usually the best predictor of future actions. We are not our self image, although our self image can be a vital tool in our quest for fulfillment. We are not any of the things we can see or hear about ourselves, but our senses are the first line of defense against delusion.

Think And Grow Rich is a fabulous source of information, possibly the best ever written, partially because the early 20th century was such a rich time for growth in America. Partially because nothing quite like it had been done before, so Napoleon Hill's interviews weren't polluted by preexisting expectations. The principle are contrary to no religions I know of (so long as those religious allow commerce of any kind) and while they are directed specifically at the making of material wealth, if you look closer, they are also about relationship (the Mastermind and Sexual Transmutation both start with the primary relationship). While there is little in the book about physical health, the principles can easily be applied to fitness (Bruce Lee famously based his career on it) or health (so did Jack LaLanne).

Because it requires little money, or even time, to apply these principles, they will be flat-out TERRIFYING to the ego, unless you have permission to thrive. You are being asked to risk...what? A few sheets of paper? A few minutes a day re-reading goals or studying the book? And what are you being offered in return? The life of your dreams? Wow. The cost-benefit ratio is staggering. Hell, the book is available FREE in PDF form, or costs about ten bucks in any bookstore in America, or as a recorded book at iTunes.

Think about that. All the success, health and happiness that any organized plan can possibly offer, tested for almost a century, free of charge, testable with little risk. And on the other side? The voices in your head.

Most people will let the voices win, which is why, by definition, the average person gets average results. If you want extraordinary results, you must take extraordinary actions. You must be willing to walk alone, if necessary, with only your loving partner at your side. You must be wiling to practice while others party, work while others rest, embrace loving discipline for yourself as you would discipline any pet or child, tell the truth when lies are more comforting, test your theories against reality, associate with people smarter and more accomplished than yourself, and be willing to kill your ego. Again and again and again. It's a tough little vampire of a regenerating beast.

And you must be willing to shut your mind against negative influences, whether they come from the outside world, or inside your own head. I promise: almost everyone you have ever admired learned to do this. And you can too.


Steve Perry said...

I've always liked the metaphor that, instead of building a wall to shield yourself from emotional pain, you learn how to become a ghost at will, so that the barbs past through you without stopping.

Like Zen meditators who hear the sounds in the b.g., but pay them little attention.

Paul Simon's I Am a Rock -- rocks feel no pain, islands never cry. Of course, they feel no joy and don't laugh, either.

Just a metaphor. Though it comes right from the Buddhist Four Noble Truths.

Scott said...

The courageous approach to negative feedback is not to shut it out, it is to listen, think, and act.

If you want to model success, consider successful groups, e.g. students at West Point or Harvard. They get a lot of negative feedback; think Harvard's pedagogy is wrong?

Scott said...

A simple example: I hang out with the Texas Juggling Society Thursday nights from 7 to 10. What stops people from learning tricks is the emotional cost of dropping; people who care too much can't juggle, and how good you are scales to how much you practice and how much drops bother you.

Pretending you didn't drop and waving your hands around isn't going to work, though.

David Tanner said...

I've found these last few posts pretty interesting and the responses to the posts even more so.

Scott said:

"A simple example: I hang out with the Texas Juggling Society Thursday nights from 7 to 10. What stops people from learning tricks is the emotional cost of dropping; people who care too much can't juggle, and how good you are scales to how much you practice and how much drops bother you.

Pretending you didn't drop and waving your hands around isn't going to work, though."

Scott, I could be wrong here, but I don't think that's what Steve's talking about.

To extend what Steve is saying to juggling, you would get things like: 1) "You've always been so uncoordinated, why do you want to juggle?" (This could be internal or external) 2) "Juggling is stupid, why would you want to do that?" 3) "You've been learning how to juggle for x months, years, etc., why don't you just give up?"

I don't think you and Steve are talking about the same thing when you say negative feedback (and I'm not saying either one of you is wrong, it's just different interpretations of the same term). Your interpretation seems to be that you get something other than what you want, (you drop the balls you're juggling), or someone gives you feedback on how to get better (start with two balls or even just get the feel of tossing one ball into the air and getting the arc right before you move on to more complex stuff. Trust the process).
Steve seems to mean the your own self sabotage or those who are threatened by you achieving success.

Again, I've found these posts and responses fascinating. I look forward to reading more from everyone.


Marty S said...

I think part of the problem is distinguishing between criticism and negative input. Where criticism is input on how you can improve and where negative input is along the lines of your wrong and don't have what it takes.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

What Marty said. Criticism is either useful or not useful; negative input is to be ignored. Most of us can tell the difference.

Children can't; my 11 year old son wants to be an NBA player. He's a pretty good basketball player, but he's not likely to top 6' by much. I think his chances of reaching the NBA are poor ... but I would never say that to him. I've had a few dreams come true in my life, things other people thought I couldn't do; I'm not going to mirror their negativity to my own children. They'll get enough of that from the world at large.

Richard might not be good enough for the NBA. But he might be ... and the pursuit of excellence is never a waste.

Ashe Hunt said...

Very interesting post for me today. Have you seen the Guy Ritchie film. 'Revolver'. It is not the best film however it deals exactly with what you have been speaking/posting about recently, especially this post. Killing the ego and internal voices that convince us that they and who we are are the same. Between that film, your post, and finally opening up to a new therapist today, I'm making some strides in the right direction.

Steven Barnes said...

I think West Point's pedagogy is wonderful. And telling someone "you can do better than this!" is actually POSITIVE feedback. Saying: "you can't cut it" is not. I'd bet anything that the most illustrious graduates were known for their ability to go straight ahead despite fear and criticism on all sides, if necessary.
And if you think that hallucinating about your results (pretending they didn't happen) and remaining focused despite negative criticism are the same thing, then I PROMISE you that you are nowhere even close to your upper potential as a human being. Not even close.

Scott said...

"I'd bet anything that the most illustrious graduates were known for their ability to go straight ahead despite fear and criticism on all sides, if necessary."

Keep going is good; straight ahead is generally an error.

"And if you think that hallucinating about your results (pretending they didn't happen) and remaining focused despite negative criticism are the same thing, then I PROMISE you that you are nowhere even close to your upper potential as a human being."

If you think remaining focused despite negative criticism is the same as ignoring negative criticism, closing your mind to it, then I could say the same about you.

The New Art of War said...

"Thick and Black" The Shield and the Sword

Pagan Topologist said...

OK, so is telling someone "This floor is rotten, and if you jump as much as you need to for your workout, you may fall through it," negative feedback?

On Living said...

I love reading your excerpts daily and getting insights into things that have helped me elevate my thoughts!
Thanks so much! BTW- your writing is awesome despite what people have said, like your mom! Thank you for you!

posicionamiento web said...

For my part every person must go through this.