Monotony, rest and certainty.

Every morning. As I stumble downstairs to write in my journal, I see this passage fixed above my desk.

“No powerful mind stops within itself; it is always stretching out and exceeding it’s capacities. It makes sorties which go beyond what it can achieve; it is only half-alive if it is not advancing, pressing forward, getting driven into a corner and coming to blows; it’s inquiries are shapeless and without limits; it’s nourishment consists in amazement, the hunt and uncertainty.”

– Michel de Montaaigne, III:13 – On Experience

Who else but Montaigne could compress so much wisdom into so few words?

I fear that for many, the above passage would not serve as an accurate description of their regular mental activity. Which is precisely why it remains above my desk.

James Altucher has a rule. Every day, he tries to get better by one percent. I’m certain he does it in a similar vein to Montaigne’s words. But think of the effort it takes to constantly learn, to explore new things, to challenge your faculties, to attack your weaknesses, to attempt to breach the limits of your intellectual strength.

When something is both hard and beneficial, we have a tendency to avoid it for as long as we can. Unless our environment, or the people around us, or a forceful motivation compel us, we are content to avoid the difficult.

When was the last time you changed your mind? When was the last time you were wrong? Consider the reverse of Montaigne’s description.

A weak mind stays within itself; it never stretches and exceeds it’s capacities. It does not go beyond what it can achieve; it is most satisfied when it is stagnant, at ease and protected from challenge; it makes mundane and limited inquiries; it’s nourishment consists in monotony, rest and certainty.

For many, the above passage may serve as an accurate description.

As I look out the window, observe the grey sky and the constant, lazy rain, I feel scared. Scared that, for most, a powerful mind is too much effort for too little reward.

Compound interest, as embodied in Altucher’s one percent rule, is powerful. It has the potential to change a person’s life. But imagine the compounding of every individual striving for one percent, for a powerful mind. One percent, every day, for every person on the planet is a dream, a mirage, a tantalising fantasy.

But one within reach if we could only learn to do things that are both hard and beneficial.