“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.”
“No one gives it to you. You have to take it.”
Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson; The Departed)
A simple decision can give you life, or it can give you death.
Numerous anthropologists who have lived with primitive people in South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Haiti have reported several incidences of “voodoo” death where, for example, a tribal witch doctor kills a healthy member of the tribe merely by pointing a “death bone” at him. Scientists have spent years trying to understand such instances of psychogenic or psychosomatic death, where a person kills himself with the power of his own mind.
Your internal influences are stronger than your external influences. Every high school wrestling season, my coach would tell the team a story of a man who worked for a meatpacking company loading and unloading massive freight lockers. After the lockers were filled with meat, they would be sealed shut and transported nationally by train. One day, after the man finished loading a series of lockers, he accidentally sealed himself in the last one. He banged and banged on the door but no one could hear him. Suddenly the train started to move. The man had worked on the line for over 20 years so he knew exactly how much oxygen was in the locker and how much time he had before he would die. He even knew the symptoms he would experience as he ran out of oxygen. With a little flashlight attached to his keychain, the man kept a journal of his thoughts for his family.
The next day, the man’s dead body and journal were discovered in the train. The first few pages of the journal read well, with loving notes to his wife and children. Then, in the middle of the journal, the man’s sentences started to break apart and not make sense. Finally, the last few pages of the journal were filled with chicken scratch that was unintelligible. After inspecting the locker, the freight crew found a long crack along the base of the back wall where it came together with the floor. The locker wasn’t sealed. There would have been plenty of oxygen in the locker for 50 men. Later, the police and crew tested the locker’s broken seal with an oxygen deficiency monitor. The monitor confirmed that oxygen levels were completely unaffected by closing the door. Yet, the autopsy showed that the man slowly died of oxygen deprivation, matching his progressively decreased ability to write coherently in his journal.
Mind Over Matter
If your mind is powerful enough to kill you, it’s also powerful enough to give you the life you want. Eutimo Perez used to live in extreme pain, suffering from the degenerative joint disease osteoarthritis, which is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in joints. Then, Perez took part in a clinical trial designed to test the efficacy of arthroscopic surgery on osteoarthritic knees, and has been pain-free for more than two years since. Here’s the interesting thing: Perez never received the surgery. He was in the “sham surgery”, or placebo group of a study to see if arthroscopic knee surgery actually relieved patient pain or if it was “all in their heads”. During the study, the members of the first group received the actual arthroscopic procedure, where damaged cartilage was scraped or flushed out with the aid of a thin viewing scope, while members of the second group were merely given anesthesia and two incisions on their knees to look as though an arthroscope had been inserted. After the surgeries, both groups reported improvement in knee function and a complete loss of pain. The second group simply saw the fake incisions and decided to feel better. They used there internal influences to increase happiness and enjoy life more even though nothing changed externally.
It’s not enough to decide on a goal, you have to decide to reach it. You have to decide to take what you want. Understand: no one is coming to fulfill your purpose for you. When I was in high school, my biggest goal in life was to be a State champion wrestler. I trained relentlessly year round, sacrificing every night and weekend to the sport while my classmates partied and hung out at the mall. I worked swing shifts at the local grocery store after evening practices to pay for summer wrestling camps and off-season tournaments. I did everything I was supposed to do. Yet, I fell short. I lost by a point in the quarterfinals of the State tournament my senior year, killing my dream once and for all. Looking back, I realized that part of me thought achieving my goal was simply a matter of doing all the right things. I subconsciously expected life to hand me a gold medal in payment for my loyalty to the system.
You have to open the door to success yourself. Doing all the right things and working hard will get you to the doorstep, but you still have to reach out, grab the handle, and push the door open. This requires a firm decision, a decision to see your mission all the way through to the end. It also requires you to believe in yourself with the utmost intensity. On your way to achieving your goal, you have to completely engross yourself in extreme feelings of confidence and accomplishment. You have to absolutely know that you are going to fulfill your purpose in life. Finally, you have to be your own source of fulfillment. No one is coming to anoint, or validate you. This is because no one else can live your life for you. Sure, people can support you along the way, but they can’t make you feel a sense of growth and accomplishment. Other people can give you rewards and access to experiences, but can’t experience things for you. Feelings of achievement and fulfillment must come from within.
A vision can be turned into a conviction by making a firm decision to achieve it, amplifying your belief in that decision, and validating that decision repeatedly. I effectively applied this principle in Graduate school to receive my Ph.D. Refusing to repeat the mistake I made in high school, I left nothing to chance and attacked my goal from every angle until the degree itself was in my hands. I didn’t wait for it to be given to me, I took it. During my last two years of Graduate school, I was consistently told “not yet” by my mentor or given a blank stare by my thesis committee whenever I asked to graduate. Nevertheless, I started writing my thesis and applying for Ph.D.-level jobs. I changed my email signature to “Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.” and changed my outgoing phone message to “You’ve reached the voicemail of Dr. Isaiah Hankel…” I told the companies I interviewed with to call my mentor and tell him they were excited for me to get my degree. I talked with every dean and professor on campus and told them about my pending graduation. I made a decision and arranged the world around me to match it. I cut myself, and those around me, off from any other option. Then, one day, out of the blue, my mentor told me to turn in my thesis and set a day to defend it and graduate.
A decision is the link between wanting something to happen and making something happen. Without a decision to transform your new vision for your life into a reality, it’s just a pipe dream. It’s just wishful thinking. This is exactly how most people live their entire lives, hoping for something to happen but never deciding to make it happen. These people’s goals are better described as wishes. Their visions are hallucinations. You can be different by making the decision to fulfill your purpose, align your values, live your story, answer your question, and personify your slogan. Cut yourself off from any other option immediately. By making this decision, you will automatically elevate your mind’s expectations. You will bring the full breath of your mental powers to attention. In my next post, I will show you how to move from decision to conviction by amplifying your beliefs and validating yourself.