“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility is being superior to you former self.”
In trying to find the source of this quote, I’ve come to the conclusion that, apparently, everyone said it. To me, this is simply further evidence of what I already suspected: it is absolutely true.
Many people seem to find a comfortable level of success and competency and settle into complacency immediately afterward. This is, perhaps, the greatest sin a man can commit against himself. If you are not making a concerted effort to improve, you are likely diminishing. At best, you’re stagnating while the rest of the world improves, leaving you behind.
None of us will ever be perfect. We can always be smarter, faster, stronger, more virtuous, etc. I encourage everyone to seek out their failings, just one at a time if necessary (I have far too many to tackle all at once), and make yourself better in that regard. Whether your pursuit of a superior self means being able to deadlift 500 lbs., speak another language, or live more morally, the effort will not only bring you toward that particular goal. It will bring the core of your being toward greater ease with any accomplishment.
The one thing that causes life to thrive in every fashion is a surmountable struggle. It’s what took primitive hominids, only capable of surviving on the plains of Africa, to every patch of land this planet has to offer, with brief stints on the waters in between, and one day, land that our planet isn’t even offering. Just as this almost magical force can drive a species to better itself, it can drive an individual to better himself. While you may think to yourself, “I’m the crocodile in this scenario: the apex predator with no further need to evolve,” you’ll likely find that you’re actually the Tasmanian tiger. Once you stop bettering yourself, the chances of a new factor entering the habitat powerful enough to remove you skyrocket.
The other great advantage of pursuing those surmountable struggles at every opportunity is that the more and more you improve, the fewer insurmountable struggles exist for you. A slow man can’t outrun a threat, but if he continuously takes part in challenges which just exceed his capacity, he becomes faster and his ability to avoid danger increases. Granted, the primary purpose of this is not simply to be able to survive life threatening situations, though this is obviously important, but that’s an easy example to illustrate the issue.
In our modern society, complete with cars, emergency services, and supermarkets, the struggles aren’t ever present, as they were for our ancestors who had a daily fight to ensure they had the food and shelter required to survive long enough to do it again tomorrow. While I don’t argue that scaling back to the point where daily survival is a concern is the way to go (in fact, it would be a hindrance as we couldn’t then take advantage of our intellect to guide our improvement), we need a replacement for that. You must find a daily struggle for something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same thing every day, or it could be multiple things each day, but you have to test your limits in some way. The more you do so, the further those limits will extend from your starting point.
Run, lift weights, do math drills, try to come up with compelling topics for your blog (and I hope I’m not stretching too much this early in my own endeavor). Figure out a way to better yourself and commit to it every day. When the day is over, evaluate your performance and set a specific goal for the next day. Just keep improving until it seems pointless to take the pursuit any further, then maintain your new found level of excellence while also looking for the next thing to improve.
Nobody ever made history by putting in forty hours a week and spending the rest of their time sitting on the couch watching TV. Comfort will kill you if you embrace it entirely. You have to go out, find things you can’t do, and keep trying until you can. Stagnation is death.