Trying too hard to get what you want in life- love, respect, and happiness-often has the opposite effect; you end up lonely, dejected, and miserable.
There’s a part of the Navy military training that’s called drown-proofing where they bind your hands behind your back, tie your feet together, and then dump you into a 9-foot deep pool.
Your job is to survive for 5-minutes.
The vast majority who attempt drown-proofing will fail. Upon being tossed into the water, many of them panic and scream to be lifted out. Some struggle until they slip underwater where the proceed to lose consciousness and have to be fished out and resuscitated.
But some make it and they do so because they understand two counterintuitive lessons.
The first lesson of drown-proofing is paradoxical: the more you struggle to keep your head above water, the more likely you are to sink.
With your arms and legs bound, it’s impossible to maintain yourself at the surface for a full 5 minutes. Even worse, your limited attempts to keep your body afloat will only cause you to sink faster. The trick to drown-proofing some to actually let yourself sink into the bottom of the pool. From there, you lightly push yourself off the pool floor and let your momentum carry you back to the surface. Once there, grab a quick breath of air and start the whole process again.
Surviving drown-proofing requires no superhuman strength or endurance. It doesn’t even require that you know how to swim. On the contrary it requires the ability not to swim. Instead of resisting the physics that would normally kill you, you must surrender to then and use them to save your own life.
The second lesson of drown-proofing is a bit more obvious, but also paradoxical: the more you panic, the more oxygen you will burn and the more likely you are to fall unconscious and drown
In a sick and twisted way the exercise turns your survival instinct against you. The more intense your desire to breath, the less you will able to breathe. The more intense your will to live, the greater the chance you will die.
This drown-proof exercise tests emotional self-control in situations of extreme danger. Can you control your own impulses? Can you relax in the face of potential death? Can you willing risk your life in the service of some higher value or goal.
These skills are far more important that a training soldier’s ability to swim. They’re more important that his resilience, his physical toughness, or his ambition. They’re more important that how smart he is, what school he went too, or how good looking he is in a suit.
This skill-the ability to let go of control when one wants it most-is one of the most important skills anyone can develop. And not just for training in the Navy but for life.
Most people assume the relationship between effort and reward is one to one. We think that working twice as long will produce twice the results. That caring about a relationship twice as much will make everyone feel twice as loved. That yelling your point twice as loud will make you twice right.
I tried for many years to fight for my marriage. I was exhausting myself to make things better between us. All I did was burn myself out and was heading toward a nervous break down. I chose to stop fighting and things started to get better.
The assumption is that most of life there exists on a linear curve that there’s a one to one ratio between effort and reward with everything. For example: I knew a teenage that tried drinking twice the normal amount of red-bull so he could study for exams and still be able to win a scholarship for playing football. All that happened was he ended up at the hospital emergency room having a heart attack.
The linear curve only exists for mindless, repetitive tasks like driving a car, filling out reams of paperwork, cleaning the bathroom. In all these cases, doing something for two hours will double the output of doing it for an hour. But that’s because they require no though or ingenuity.
Most activities in life do not operate along the linear effort/reward curve because more activities in life are not basic or mindless. Most activities are complex, mentally and/or emotionally taxing, and require adaption.
We tend to lean into fear and uncertainty and just when you think you’re going to drown, just as your reach the bottom, it will launch you back to your salvation.