The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Value of Having a Philosophy of Life

"Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning." - Thoreau

Below is an excerpt from a great essay at Must Triumph. Consider the implications for your martial arts practice. The full article may be read here.

Little Suzie the Math Whiz

Let's imagine we're in a 9th-grade math class, algebra, let's say. It's Tuesday, that's the day our teacher Mr. Johnson promised to give us a test. Well, it's Tuesday and here's the test. As we sweat away, laboring on the meaning of "x" — there's Suzie. She's breezing through it effortlessly, like a concert pianist — if her piano was her scientific calculator. She's a natural, and just like that she's done. We're, however, still on page one.
Suzie has an advantage, a philosophy of life. Maybe as 9th-graders, we aren't mature enough to be aware — though even adults are oblivious. Suzie's philosophy is to work hard, stay disciplined, and put in lots of effort. We don't. We even mock effort. "Hey, 'A' for effort," we joke. We don't really have a philosophy; unless we are aware of fatalism, which may not be a thought-out view, but more a trapping we've fallen into. In reality, however, life is a combination of events we can and cannot control. The default mindset for many is: neither our circumstances nor our expectations are within our control. However, this does not particularly make for a positive outlook on life.
A person with a philosophy of life will best be prepared for life. It provides him or her with a ready course of action for any situation: control circumstances or manage expectations. The ancient Greeks knew the importance of having a proper viewpoint and would send their children to philosophers to educate them on coherency. That type of philosophy has been divorced from education; and rather than it being taught as a complement to modern schoolwork, schoolwork is only reinforced at home.

The Misevaluation of Little Suzie

Mr. Johnson passes the tests back randomly, he wants us to grade each other's work. As it so happens, we get Suzie's test. Of course. Mr. Johnson puts all the correct answers on the board and as we go through Suzie's test, our pen never touches her paper until the very end. That's because Suzie got all the answers right. She gets an "A." But that's not that surprising; Suzie is a "brain." She's gifted and if we were gifted, we'd get an "A" too. We get our test back, it's a "C." Hey, that's not bad for not studying.
What we don't know is Suzie studies — a lot. The night before, she studied for several hours, whereas we glanced at our textbook, then spent time on Facebook, played some phone games, and then finished the night with Netflix. We meant to study more but kept getting distracted. This isn't just a story; this is reality. On studies of American students, if a fellow student consistently does well on tests, the default assumption is: they must be innately smart. What's really happening is, these students study more than their counterparts. Students who work harder generally do better than those students with higher IQs. This doesn't mean high IQ makes people sluggish; IQ is just an ability to process information. It still requires someone with drive and discipline to maximize the capacity.
Intelligence gets enough credit, what's lacking in credit is discipline — the ability to resist distraction. Suzie could have gotten distracted like we did, but discipline was her difference maker, not her "natural" math ability. There's probably nothing natural about her math ability since she's put in so many hours.
In giving credit to inborn intelligence, we avoid having to confront our egos — not to mention our lack of self-control and wasted potential. There is a fine line we must navigate; too much guilt turns to shame, no guilt leads to a lack of accountability. Without a coherent life philosophy, we get pulled into opposite extremes. A thought-out philosophy is how we balance contrasting ideas and get the most out of both worlds. Without it, we lose ourselves into cognitive dissonance and self-limiting beliefs.

What Makes You an Outlier

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell spends a chapter discussing Christopher Langan, who reportedly had an IQ between 195 and 210 (higher than Bill Gates and Albert Einstein). In the book, Gladwell drives home the point that intelligence alone doesn't equate to success. Langan, like many intellectuals, intended on becoming an academic. But in the end he left the university, lost his scholarship, and even lost to a person of "average" intelligence on a TV quiz show. The core message of Outliers is the importance of 10,000 hours of practice, which Gladwell suggests is the minimum requirement to becoming a master. Philosophers might say, only a master would have the patience and discipline to put in over 10,000 hours of practice. One cannot reduce a master to a number of hours. That's like removing effort and discipline from practice. One must also look at the spirit. Without these elements, there is no practice. Mastery is a mindset, not a chart. The combination of mindset and a lifetime of practice is what creates a master. Gladwell later on clarified this point by saying, the reason masters are outliers is because it is so rare a trait to stick with anything for so long. If there are innate abilities in addition to discipline, then one becomes the rarest of breeds. Abilities are common, discipline is not.

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