1/13/22: Challenging assumptions and Failures of Nerve and Imagination
In my final newsletter before the holidays I wrote about making your goals meaningful. Many of you have no doubt set New Year's Resolutions, and I hope you set meaningful ones. I also hope you set goals/resolutions that are based on simple habits and systems you can sustain instead of pie-in-the-sky results with no clear plan to achieve them.
I don't set New Year's Resolutions. But I do use the new year to reinforce the systems I want to maintain and reset in areas where the systems I'm using either aren't generating results or are generating too much friction.
This newsletter posed a challenge for me as I worked to decide how I want to allocate my energy in 2022. The consistency of writing it was something I enjoyed and the ideas I explored were beneficial to me and to a number of you who replied to me. On the other hand, my subscribers and book sales were largely unaffected.
Two things became clear to me over the course of the year. I'm less interested in running and more interested in how we think through life's myriad challenges and opportunities generally. I find myself gravitating to ideas that don't make sense for a running newsletter but would still be well-suited to a general self-improvement focus.
Second, I want to do more sharing of other resources than I did last year. Books or articles I read, podcasts that inspired me, and ways of framing situations that can help us get more out of ourselves.
So that's a small change I'm going to make going forward. I'll still write about running because it's something I care about. But I'm going to be a little broader in my topics and a little more focused on sharing the best of others' work. I hope you'll continue to join me on the journey.
This week's Think Better Newsletter is about why we don't make more progress.
Over the holidays I read a book called Where Is My Flying Car? by J. Storrs Hall. It's wasn't the easiest read, per se, because it's a bit technical. There were more than a few paragraphs I basically skipped because I didn't have the engineering or scientific background for them to matter. But some books are worth the extra effort, and this is one of them.
This book will fundamentally change your assumptions about what is possible. He covers a range of topics, from airplanes/helicopters/flying cars to nuclear energy, nanotechnology, and space travel. And he shows why some of the silly-seeming predictions of science fiction writers in the early 20th century were actually plausible results that could have been realized had we simply made the investments necessary.
Did you know: We actually had working flying cars in the 1930s? Seriously!
There are lots of reasons we don't have them still, but one of the frameworks that stuck with me was this one: we often fail due two reasons, a Failure of Imagination and a Failure of Nerve.
A Failure of Nerve occurs when the facts (science, engineering, etc) are known and we know what needs to be done, but the results that are predicted fall outside of common sense and cause us to avoid trying. Think of people arguing airplanes are impossible, runners can't break the 4-minute barrier, or that nobody could break the sound barrier. A Failure of Nerve leads you to not invest the time, energy or money because you don't truly believe it's possible.
A Failure of Imagination occurs when you simply can't imagine the future possibility, either because the science isn't there or your assumptions include some variable that makes it seem impossible. Many scientific advancements occur because something previously thought impossible is shown to be possible. In our everyday lives, this takes more root in assuming that because we don't see a way to accomplish a goal, there is no way. That is one assumption we must constantly seek to challenge.
(I leave it to you to apply both of these to training.)
Seek out resources that challenge your assumptions. In my case, I am a big proponent of micromobility and think we need to move away from our car dependent societies, especially in cities. So when I saw a book about flying cars and why we should lean into a more advanced car-based society, I thought it was a great chance to challenge my assumptions. And it did!
(I still believe we need to get rid of cars in cities. But I also believe "cars" and "cities" could be so much more advanced if we didn't suffer from societal Failure of Nerve and regulate ourselves into stagnancy.)
Challenging your assumptions doesn't have to be difficult. It just requires you be open to listening to the other side of whatever topic you're considering. That other side often holds at its foundation a completely different set of assumptions. Grapple with those and you'll have a better, more balanced set of beliefs.
It's not about changing your mind. It's about being able to see and explain both sides in good faith.
What books have you read that fundamentally changed your perspective on what's possible? Share them with me!
Go Be More,
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast
"If you didn't know better, you would think that the Department of Energy was established, on August 4, 1977, with the intent to prevent energy use."
– J. Storrs Hall, Where Is My Flying Car?
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