It’s been 20 years since Keanu Reeves figured out how to escape the Matrix. For you young guns, there’s a classic science-fiction movie about a world run by intelligent machines. The machines create a simulation, the Matrix, to distract humanity from the reality that the world is run by these machines. Day after day, millions of humans live within the simulation oblivious to the fact that it is merely a simulation – until one bright, brave soul escapes from the Matrix.
The Problem: A Generation of Sedentary Spectators
Some modern intellectuals have gone so far as to advocate a theory that we are, in fact, living in a simulated reality. While I think that notion is utter garbage, I do believe there’s a sense in which many of us functionally live in the Matrix. So much of modern life is lived sedentary. We sit in our cars and manipulate controls to drive to work. We sit at our desks and punch buttons at work. We come home from work and use electronics to watch other people do things through a screen. In short, we become spectators in a show about other people’s lives. For all intents and purposes, we spend our best hours in the Matrix.
Little by little, marketing has convinced us, subconsciously, that the goal of life is to get by as comfortably and conveniently as possible. At every turn, we are encouraged (and often forced) to adopt a more comfortable and convenient method of doing things. In some cases, that means purchasing a new technology; in other cases, it means purchasing the services of someone else so that we don’t actually have to do what needs to be done. In both cases, we avoid acting and avoid having to develop or hone skills that make us more competent, capable men. And we are deprived of the satisfaction of using those skills to provide for ourselves and others.
The result: we fill our lives with layer upon layer of insulation from having to act in the real world, from having to have any physical skills beyond the pressing of buttons and from having any knowledge beyond knowing what buttons to press. While I’m certainly embellishing things a bit, you get the point: we are more reliant on technology and the services of others and, therefore, less competent and capable than any generation in history. While we are all thankful for technology that makes our lives better, the overall trend towards comfort and convenience and away from from competency and capability has had a negative effect on our psyche. While life has never been easier, men have never been less happy. Unlike those in the Matrix, we are often painfully aware of our state.
The Solution: Changing from Result-Oriented Thinking to Process-Oriented Thinking
The answer is to reprogram our minds. We have been programmed to believe that we need to find the easiest way to do everything. Simply put, that needs to change. While there’s a time and a place to take the easiest, most comfortable, and most convenient route, that’s not really the existence we were created for. We were made to be men, and that means a rugged existence in which our strength, courage, skills, toughness, and ingenuity are put to the test in the pursuit of high achievement. We were made to struggle.
A life in which our best hours are spent fighting traffic and printing documents simply does not scratch where we itch. A life of gelled hair, pressed clothes, and clean shaves doesn’t stir the soul of a man. It doesn’t stimulate the things inside of us that need to be roused. If we want to be more than we’ve been, we must make changes. And it starts with our minds. We must think about the world differently.
Instead of thinking about getting to a certain result, we must think about the process we’re going to use. This mindset allows us to consider what skills we need and want. We can get just about any result we want with precious little effort or ability. So if our focus is on obtaining a certain result, we’ll never become much more than we are today, dissatisfied men living in the modern Matrix. For example, if we focus only on the end goal of getting food to eat, we’ll just head to the grocery or a restaurant. But if we focus on the process of getting that food and the skills we want to acquire, then we look at learning to hunt animals and grow vegetables. Both of these skills get us off the sidelines of life and into the game, growing as men along the way.
The motto of a man: “I’m not looking for the easiest way to do things.“
So don’t focus on the results, think instead about the man you wish to become. What does that man look like? What can he do? What kind of relationships does he have? Then reverse engineer that life. Build the body that man would have. Acquire the strength and skills he would have. Develop the relationships he would have. Become that man. It starts with a choice. As I’ve written over the last few weeks (see here and here), unless we choose such a life intentionally, it will never happen. Society will push us down the stream of convenience. We’d be wise to print out the following sentence and tape it to our bathroom mirrors, our car dashboards, and our computer screens: “I’m not looking for the easiest way to do things.”
It won’t happen quickly; you’ll spend the rest of your life doing it. But there will be steps you can take immediately. You will be able to see growth quickly. And you’ll feel better. A more capable man is a more confident man. A more confident man does and achieves more, making his life and the lives of those around him better. The value of that man is obvious. His life is real. It’s gritty. It can be dangerous. And it will put a smile on your face. It’s the man’s life. You can build it. Godspeed.
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