The Simple Life

Do you know how it is that large zoo animals are trained not to break loose and rampage through the streets?  I’m no expert zookeeper, but I’ve heard the old saw that elephants can be kept from running away as an adult by the same thin rope that held them as a youngster.  The reason for this, so it goes, is that once the elephant figures out that it can’t get away when that rope is there, it gives up and doesn’t bother trying anymore.

I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that you can keep cattle in a pen by a similar method.  I used to live in a small prairie town and ended up knowing a thing or two about this.

Before the days when electric fences could be run with solar power, the farmer would have to run power to the fence from a nearby shed or house.  Obviously this could get a little inconvenient.  But farmers are a lot more innovative than most people give them credit for.  In this instance they noticed that if an animal contacted the fence a couple of times while it was electrified, it would avoid it from that point on even if it didn’t have power to it.  In short, a couple of zaps was enough to keep the cattle from challenging the fence again.  Moreover, the animal would keep others from making the same mistake.  The upshot, as you can guess, was a much lower power bill for the same result.

If only our bodies worked the same way!  We could do a really good four-hour workout and that would be it for life.  No more health club memberships, a one-time visit is all we’d need. As we all know, however, things just don’t work for us humans quite that way…or do they?

If you’ve read The Right Question, you’ll have learned that I’m into results.  You’ll have learned that I’m very introspective, but when it comes to helping you change your life I am strictly business and that means we don’t stand around asking why, we rev up that mower and get the grass done.  But this topic does have some interesting angles we can explore.

You’ll also know if you’ve read the book that it’s the simplest things that can trip us up just as much as the most complex.  In fact, complex operations of any kind at all can be systematically reduced to a series of very simple steps.  I love simplicity.  Leonardo da Vinci, one of my all-time heroes, is credited with saying that simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.  Even if it wasn’t he who said it, we’re pretty sure that Einstein did say that if you can’t explain your idea to a six-year-old you don’t understand it yourself.  So let’s put on our da Vinci beard or Einstein wig and look at the simple things, and take it from there.

Is there something nagging at you that you ‘want to do someday’, but you haven’t really started on it?  I’m not talking about tackling the ambitious lifetime dreams here, I’m talking about simple stuff.  In the book I use the analogy of washing the dishes, but here, let’s read a book.

I love books.  I’ve got over a thousand, and would have double that number but I know enough about my life to understand that I don’t have time or space for any more.  (This is where I’ve implemented the rule of the Front End and the Back End, which you’ll learn about by reading The Right Question if you haven’t already).  Some of them are old textbooks which have been superseded by much more modern knowledge, but I still hang onto them.  When I open them I feel like I should be blowing the dust off and adjusting my fedora before I hold them up to the candlelight.  So let’s say, just for a bit, that you fancy yourself as the kind of person who wants to read more.  You have the time, but you just…well, you don’t.

Now a six-year-old comes up and asks you why.  Why don’t you read more, dad?  What’s stopping you, grandma?  And you think, Good question, sweetie.  Why don’t I?

Now you’re in Right Question territory.  I never give the Question away in the blog, that’s for those who buy the book only, but you’re getting close to the kind of thinking that moves mountains.  One simple concept at a time.

Now’s the time to use the Question and figure this out.  Just the first part of it will probably do.  What do you need to read, anyway, besides a book?  A comfortable place to curl up.  This might mean a cozy wingback chair, a papasan, or a huge cushion on the floor.  You’ll need lighting.  Do you have a lamp that you can read by?  I mean, having a book is only part of it.  For some people (e.g. yours truly) reading is almost a ceremony.  Is there some tiny little ingredient that’s missing from your overall idea of what it will be like when you do this certain thing?

Now that same inquisitive youngster asks why you don’t practice your guitar as much as you say you’d like to.  How are you going to answer that?  You wander into the room where you keep it, but you don’t seem to take it out of its case.  Is that because you don’t have a tuner?  Does it need strings?  Are you avoiding putting strings on because you don’t know how, and it hasn’t occurred to you that you could learn?  Maybe it’s in the wrong room entirely, and instead of keeping it behind the reading chair you might want to bring it into the den.  Perhaps you are a beginner, and you’re at the point where your fingertips still hurt when you play.  Maybe somebody told you to give up because in their opinion you just aren’t very good.  Well, that’s okay, they’re probably the same kind of people who might have brought the Costa Concordia a little closer to the island, and we all know how that turned out.

These are all things that the first phrase of the Question will identify for you.  It never ceases to amaze me how often we are tripped up by these simple, ordinary things.  I’m reminded of how the US government spent millions of dollars to come up with a pen that could write in zero gravity while the Russians spent a dollar on a box of pencils.  I have a Fisher Space Pen now, and pencils too, and I like them both.  But the pencil writes when it’s been left in my cold Jeep overnight at the ski hill, and I gotta be honest, the space pen sometimes doesn’t.

If you can solve your problem by just using the first phrase in the Question, great.  Those seven little words are magic, aren’t they?  And you haven’t even used the rest of the Question.  Well, no mind.  It’s there when you want to use it to clean out the fridge, and again when you want to make your first million.

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