Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Training Ideas: Reduce the Restraints

In our training, we talk a lot about discipline and motivation in getting our behinds out there and getting the work in. In the Yin and Yang of things, there is also another approach we can take: to reduce or remove our restraints.

At The Art of Manliness, there is a post that discusses this. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

It’s a new year, so many men are thinking about making changes in their lives. 

Maybe you want to lose weight. 

Maybe you want to get up earlier. 

Maybe you want to spend less time playing video games.

Maybe you want to be less of a grump. 

If you’re like many men who desire to make changes in their lives, you’ve likely attempted personal change but failed. 

You’ve started diets, tried workout plans, and created budgets, only to give up on them a few weeks or months later. 

What gives? 

When we flounder in our attempts to improve ourselves, we typically chalk up the failure to a lack of motivation or discipline. So we read books and watch YouTube videos on increasing our motivation and discipline. But they don’t seem to help much. We might feel an initial increase in drive, but then it peters out after a few days.

Like most men, I’ve had varying degrees of success with different self-improvement goals. Why do I succeed with some and not others? As a father, I’m keen on helping my kids develop noble habits and desires. How can I better nurture their progress? As a guy in the business of “helping men become better men,” I’m always looking for insights that can help me fulfill that professional vision.

So I’ve been thinking and reading about personal change this past year. My study has taken me to psychology and behavioral science, of course. But it’s also led me to philosophy. Personal change isn’t just a matter of neurology or psychology; an element of soul is also involved. Some changes are more soulful than others. 

Over the next year, I plan to share some of the things I’ve been thinking about and learning about personal change. 

But to kick things off, I want to introduce you to a theory of how personal change happens that has significantly influenced my thinking about this aspect of the human experience. 


When it comes to making a change, we typically think of increasing our driving forces — things like motivation and discipline. 

Increasing your driving forces can get you much of the way towards your goals. I’m a particularly strong believer in the idea that motivation — having an inherent desire to engage in a pursuit — is essential in achieving success in any endeavor. 

But people often overlook the significance of restraining forces in successfully transforming their habits. Dr. Ross Ellenhorn, the author of How We Change (And Ten Reasons Why We Don’t), compares the interplay between driving and restraining forces to heading out on a road trip: you may have a full tank of fuel (driving forces), but if you run into a traffic jam (restraining forces), you’re not going to get anywhere.

So it’s worth flipping things around from how you may normally think about goal-setting to consider the restraining forces side of the equation. 

Kurt Lewin was the intellectual grandfather of the contemporarily influential psychologist Daniel Kahneman of Thinking Fast and Slow fame. In an interview on the Freakonomics podcast, Kahneman described a key insight he got from Lewin about how to help someone else change that also applies to changing your own life:

Diminishing the restraining forces is a completely different kind of activity because instead of asking, ‘How can I get him or her to do it?’ it starts with a question of, ‘Why isn’t she doing it already?’ Very different question. ‘Why not?’ Then you go one by one systematically, and you ask, ‘What can I do to make it easier for that person to move?’ 

I love that question to ask yourself when you’re troubleshooting failed attempts at personal change: Why am I not doing this thing already? 

Why am I not already eating right? 

Why am I not already exercising regularly? 

Why haven’t I already curbed my drinking?

Maybe perfectionism is holding you back from sticking to a diet. Instead of giving up completely when you don’t keep your diet with exactitude, perhaps you can give up the perfectionist mindset and settle for good enough 80% of the time.

Maybe you’ve overextended yourself in time commitments and don’t have the time to dedicate to a regular exercise routine. Do an audit and bow out of some commitments to free up some time. 

Maybe you’re ready to quit drinking, but all your friends want to do is go to the bar every night. Expand your social circle and find new friends who don’t center their socializing around alcohol. 

You don’t have to eliminate all the restraining forces in your life. Some restraining forces you’ll never be able to get rid of, like family members or a disability. But you can always find ways to work around them or diminish their influence on a desired outcome. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.

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