Monday, June 01, 2015


The More We Limit Ourselves, the More Resourceful We Become | James Clear

Back this week to one of my favorite writers on the subject of personal improvement and goal-directed behavior, James Clear.  If you haven't already subscribed to his blog, you might want to do this when you've finished reading this.  Really.  Do it.


Most of the advice I read regarding raising the ceiling on our achievement levels leans heavily on The Sky's the Limit.  All we have to do is pretend we have no limits, and we can achieve gosh darn anything we want.

I've tried that.  That's why I own so many back braces, knee braces, and prescription meds.

So along comes James Clear telling us that our limitations may be our key to success.  Whoa!  Slap me down and call me a pancake if that isn't just the best news since the Duggars went off the air!
You're only as small as you think you are.

In essence, Clear's post steps off from something even more pithy:  a statement in Kierkegaard's Either/Or: A Fragment of Life.  Soren Kierkegaard, for those who didn't suffer through Philo 101 as a freshman college requirement, grew up in the 1800's in Denmark in dysfunctional family that sounds pretty much like the run-of-the-mill "Mom died and Dad's a religious fanatic" thing going on in a lot of the world today, so despite the age difference, he's easy for modern readers to relate to.  

Kierkegaard was all about the endless weariness inherent in the human search for meaning and purpose.  He does a fine and intriguing (if a bit abstruse) job of it, so if you'd like to enlighten yourself, check him out.  It's really a treatise on morality, so be prepared.

Moving along...

So here's the deal.  Kierkegaard said that others of his moral bent believed that in order to be happy we need more.  It doesn't seem to matter of what.  We just are always in search of more.  Without more, we feel empty.

Doesn't that feel familiar?  Today we call that "Maximizing".  Maximizers, those folks who always see greener grass in the distance (usually belonging to someone they have to savage to get it), are the  Mad Men our social order loves so dearly.  In Kierkegaard's day, they were simply the ultimate in human drive and commitment.

But he went on to explain that there's a reason why the majority is constantly seeking--never finding--that sense of accomplishment and moral superiority.  There's a reason why you can't quite be happy with your riding skills.  There's a reason why you are always finding a better horse in someone else's stable.  There's a reason for your ennui and your feeling that you're just not feeling it.

The reason is that you aren't using your limitations to best advantage.  Clear and Kierkegaard and I all agree that the coolest thing about figuring out what you can't do is that it leaves you with two simple alternatives from which to choose:

1.  You can quit.

2.  You can keep your eyes on the prize (figuratively--you don't have to be Olympics-bound) and find work-arounds.


As a special ed teacher from '71 - '06, this was my wheelhouse.  At the beginning of each school year we did a class inventory of learning modalities.  The kids loved it.  You have a hard time listening, but you can read up a storm?  Visual learners need a lot of printed pages and pictures, so go find them.  You can't read but you're awesome at listening?  Get someone to record the pages for you and listen to them at home to your heart's (and brain's) content.  You need to trace the letter with your fingers or act out the scene in the book?  Go ahead!  No one is stopping you.

Post-legged, sickle-hocked,
green-broke at 12....and
that's just me!  Fancy had far
bigger issues.

Your horse can't find the distance to a jump?  You learn how to calculate it and do it for him.  You can't remember the damn pattern for whatever class it is that the judge is tormenting you in?  Drawing on the inside of your wrist just under the hem of your glove works great.  And practice over and over until the thing that was your worst fear becomes your friend.

The most important thing you can do for yourself, your horse, and everyone who's tired of listening to you whine is sit down and make a list of the things you're having a problem achieving.  Some of the are simply impossible.  l'm 5'4", 140lbs, and 67 years old.  Nothing I do will make me 5'8" and 32 years old, so those factors get x'd out.  I can change my weight, so that can stay on the list if it's a problem.  I have arthritis.  That stays on the list because I can take meds to control the pain and stiffness.  So my list of things that are hard for me to do include items like:

  • keeping a firm, quiet leg on my wide-body gelding
  • Staying centered in the saddle at all times
  • Not panicking when I see something in the distance that the horse hasn't seen yet but will in a minute and about which he will have a coronary
  • Riding for longer periods 
You can easily see the connection between my basic state of being and the things I find difficult.  I'll bet everyone reading this is also mentally making a list of ways I can get around them.  There ya' go! Do that for yourself, and your resourcefulness will make a winner of you despite your issues!

I can tell you from seemingly endless experience that there is no high like the one that comes with the A-HA! of finding the key to doing something you couldn't do before.

One last caveat:  If you have an instructor who is not special ed certified, s/he might be too rigid for your personal situation.  A trainer who has only one way of approaching a problem isn't much of a trainer anyway, so find a new one.  My all-time favorite will always be Linnea Seaman, now retired, who invented invisible suspenders and gooey horses as a way to explain balance and elasticity in dressage.  One lesson on that some ten years ago, and I haven't forgotten a word.  Now that's special ed!  Find someone who, unlike another trainer who shall remain nameless, does not put his head in his hands and groan when you make a mistake, but instead stops, thinks, and creatively crafts a work-around for you.  Do it.  Do it now.

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