Originally appeared in The Deep Woods at JimWoodsInvesting.com
A few years ago, a friend asked me to describe my personal “ethos” with just a few words.
Now, judging by that question, you can tell that I hang out with some pretty smart friends. And in this case, I knew my answer needed to be appropriately thought out to satisfy my friend’s curiosity. At first, I thought this task would be difficult. Yet after just a brief period of reflection, I answered with the following three words…
Focus. Integration. Celebration.
Naturally, my friend demanded I amplify this answer, and so I went about explaining these “three pillars” of my personal ethos so that each concept would be simple and easy to understand. So, with your permission, I would like to do the same here.
The first pillar here is the most essential, as it also serves as a basis for all information processing, and for the application of the two other pillars of my ethos. The term focus here means much more than just concentration. By focus, I mean focus in the wider, philosophic sense. Perhaps a quote here from my favorite philosopher and my favorite novelist, Ayn Rand, will explain what I mean by philosophic focus:
“In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality — or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.”
So, when I say “focus” is the first pillar of my personal ethos, I mean it in this sense. I mean it in the sense that whatever it is I am doing, whether it is writing, speaking, analyzing companies, reading, composing and playing music, horseback riding, weight training, martial arts, combat marksmanship, driving a race car, walking a dog or just petting my cat, I do it in a state of full focus. I do it with the full, volitional and conscious awareness of reality — in the moment.
You’ve no doubt heard about the importance of “living in the moment,” as it has become somewhat of a cliché in the self-help movement. So, let’s avoid this cliché, and just say that living in the moment requires that you live each moment in full focus.
The second pillar of my ethos comes after you’ve focused your mind on the facts and sensations of reality. Through the process of mental integration, you can categorize the facts, sensations and feelings you’ve experienced in that state of full focus, and you can begin determining what they all mean and how they fit into your broader, and deeper, philosophic premises such as the things you value.
For example, let’s say you focus your mind on something that is on the surface mostly a physical pursuit, weight training. Yet is it mostly a physical thing? While the actual performance of the movements might be primarily physical, what you’ve likely already integrated before you even decide to begin weight training are the facts that challenging your muscles with progressive resistance loads is a good thing for your physical well-being.
Indeed, the integration of higher-order concepts of “well-being” requires a long chain of philosophic integration that has to do with the value you place on your existence, your health, your appearance, the maintenance of your functional ability, etc.
The wider point here is that the ability to focus on facts and integrate those facts into your philosophic matrix is the necessary second pillar of a rational ethos, and it’s one you must be consciously aware of if you are going to engage in the third pillar of this ethos.
Once you’ve focused on reality and integrated those facts with your personal worldview, i.e. your personal philosophic premises, then and only then can you rationally indulge in the most pleasurable pillar — celebration. For me, celebration is the result of the focused integration of the concretes of reality and what they represent in my life. Staying with the weight training example, I know that a focus on facts means I need to weight train to stay in good physical shape.
Staying in good physical shape is a value to me because I’ve integrated the virtue of good health and the absence of disease in my life as rational values for me to pursue. And despite being on the losing side of my fifties, I am for the most part in excellent physical condition, largely free of disease and strong, flexible and fully functional. It is this combination of focused integration that permits me to celebrate this circumstance.
You see, when you live a life in full focus, and one in which you integrate the ideas and values that really matter to you, then and only then can you rationally celebrate your existence. It is this celebration, in all its glorious forms, that makes life worth living.
Whether that celebration is the pleasure of watching your children grow up, or whether it’s staring into the eyes of the person you love most and feeling that love come right back to you, or whether it’s something as simple as performing a set of intense barbell curls — when you live a life of focused integration, you can justly celebrate life in all of its forms.
For me, the three pillars of focus, integration and celebration comprise the basis of my personal ethos. And thanks to my friend’s question some years ago, these three pillars also represent the consistent themes running through my lifestyle website and podcast, Way of the Renaissance Man.
If you want to hear more about the various ways I and others focus, integrate and celebrate life, I invite you to check out the articles, interviews and podcasts available right now at WayoftheRenaissanceman.com.
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