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    Semper Ube Sub Ube

    From the Latin… Translation (kinda): Always Wear UnderWear

    Twice today someone asked me, “But if you feel confident and visualize getting what you want, don’t you believe that you will, at least, increase the probability that you’ll get it?”

    The shortest answer I came up with was: No.

    The longer version is this story:

    I started a program of heaving weightlifting last fall. Typically, I only do the deadlift, and I try to lift as close to the maximum amount I can handle for 1 repetition and no more.

    I also began keeping a meticulous journal about my inner state prior to each workout. So, before I’d hit the gym, I’d have notes like, “VERY excited! Ready to tackle a new 1-rep max!” or “A bit under the weather,” or, “I’d rather be napping,” or “Okay, I guess,” or “Good energy,” etc.

    On the days that I set new personal records (I’m up to about 340 pounds… and I weigh in at 143 at the moment), guess what thoughts I was having.

    If you guessed the positive, full-of-energy, ready-to-tackle-anything thoughts, then you clearly haven’t been reading this blog 😉

    10 times out of 10, a new personal best was on a day that I felt weak, tired, injured, distracted or otherwise “negative.”

    “OH!” my one friend said, “So the way to set a new best is by feeling negative.”

    The fact that I set PBs on “weak” days doesn’t mean that “feeling weak” leads to PBs… because I had 50 other days where I felt weak and did NOT set a personal best.

    That’s a subtle one so let me say it again… setting a PB when I feel week does not mean that feeling week leads to PBs… and the proof is all the other days I felt weak and did not set PBs.

    To highlight the distinction, substitute “wearing purple underwear” (which I don’t own), for “feeling weak,” like so:

    I set PBs on days that I was wearing purple underwear, so clearly, wearing purple underwear is the cause of lifting more weight! (Except that on other days when I wore purple underwear, I didn’t set a new record.)

    My other friend had a different explanation. “Ah,” he said, “your subconscious had a counter-intention to overcome your bad feelings.”


    How ’bout this: What I think when I’m doing the deadlift doesn’t squat (a weightlifting pun for those who got it).

    I’ll leave it to you to see how this same idea carries over into the world of “creating what you want.”

    27 Responses to “Semper Ube Sub Ube”

    1. Ron Grubaugh Says:

      I am assuming, given the history here, that you are interested in engaging in truly productive discussion [even if that hasn’t always worked out (I think you know what I mean)]. I would like to respond to this entry. Nonetheless if this kind of participation is more than you desire, I’m sure you’ll find a way to let me know.

      I am glad that you are taking a public position against the irrational doctrine of constructive relativism (the technical name for C. S., New Thought, the “secret” etc.). It is certainly worthy of opposition. But it is unwise to underestimate your opponent in any controversy and this entry suggests to me that you are missing something. People are not complete idiots (even if they occasionally embrace nonsense). There are powerful reasons why this doctrine is so seductive to so many people (a worthy subject in and of itself). Not the least of these is that what you believe can have a profound effect upon your life and the accomplishment of goals. The idea that the mechanism for this is a tendency of the universe to conform with your beliefs is a perversion at best. It’s not even a halfway decent half-truth (perhaps a quarter, more likely an eighth). My conviction that an important truth is the driving force behind the social phenomena does not enamor me to the doctrine. Quite the opposite, it gives me another reason, in addition to my hatred of nonsense, to want to see people get over it.

      I do not think your example captures the issue. Your act of showing up at the gym depends only upon issues that you have already settled. Additionally your performance at the gym is unlikely to be sabotaged by momentary thoughts that you are already too mature to take seriously. Let me propose a hypothetical example. Say there is some guy who wants to get laid, oh, excuse me, I mean who wants to find his “soul mate.” This is a good example of the kind of goal that the “secret tellers” seem to be concerned with (perhaps that’s why they do not choose to use their unlimited power to do anything about a world saturated with violence and deprivation). This guy is not exactly the type that is universally attractive, so instead of doing anything about his goal he sits around his house wallowing in pessimism and self-pity. Now lets assume that there is someone “out there” for everyone. I have no idea if this is true, or how its truth would be determined, but it could be true, knowing how diverse and inexplicable people’s tastes in this area are. So this guy reads some book called the “Sea Crate,” or something like that, and as a result decides to start operating upon the assumption that there is someone out there for him. He leaves the comfort of his home and gets out there and starts doing something about his goal. The point is that, regardless of how true the broad assumption is, his chances of achieving his goal have gone from zero to something other than zero. That is a very significant increase in any case.

      As another opponent of the aforementioned nonsense I have no reason to deny that important successes may occur as a result of this specific kind of practice. The problem is the ominous possibility of being stuck with an irrational doctrine for the rest of your life. The actual mechanism for the success has been seriously obscured. What works is bringing one’s beliefs into conformity with the universe. The belief that “reality changed,” to conform with the guy’s belief, in addition to all of the other problems, allows him to avoid facing the fact that his original belief was a pile of crap. The ability to face that fact may be the most important component of belief management. And that is not to mention the fantastic guilt that this doctrine can inspire. I haven’t read all of your blog. Have you explored the guilt factor? I can tell you some horror stories. And that also is not to mention the obsessive anxieties that can result from efforts to avoid thinking bad thoughts for fear of doing harm. I’m sure you’ve heard the one about, “Don’t think about a monkey!”

      To reiterate, I don’t think it is necessary to your cause, or helps the same, to deny that there is anything to this, as I am reading into your opening statement. Let’s look at it systematically. I do not think you would deny that in relation to any goal someone will have: A. Assessments of internal resources, B. Assessments of external resources, C. An inventory of obstacles and D. An inventory of opportunities or freedoms. Further, I don’t think that you would deny that errors in the content of these analyses can significantly impact the likelihood that someone will succeed at their goal. If you agree to that, you should at least be open to the possibility that modifications of belief that inadvertently happen to be corrections will increase the probability of success. This basic relationship should not be affected by the fact that one’s reasons for the modification are irrelevant or even irrational.

      Changing your beliefs can change your behavior. Changing your behavior can change your world. Therefore changing your beliefs can change your world. What this lacks in profundity it makes up for in importance. Unfortunately, if you leave out an understanding of the mechanism (the part about the change in your BEHAVIOR), or worse yet, substitute for it something that can only be characterized as an immature fantasy, your left with a pile of nonsense that is likely to do more harm than good.

    2. Stacy Says:

      I heaved a great sigh upon reading your final paragraph.

      What I think you will find, if you read additional blogs, is that “next steps” or “taking action,” as you call it are covered fairly well in other places. But let me paraphrase what I have learned here and through classes with Steven Sashen.

      My correction to your concluding paragraph goes something like this:

      Changing beliefs can a) change behavior in effective ways, b) change behavior in ineffective ways and c) have no effects at all.

      Changing behavior likewise. Effects we call (call, you will note) positive, negative and neutral ensue.

      Continuing the same behaviors as always . . . yes, likewise . . . has effects we *call* positive, negative or neutral.

      Back in the 80’s I took NLP (neurolinguistic programming) classes until I completed a certification program. One of the tenets of NLP, especially Anthony Robbins, at that time, was that one should take action, any action, to “get results.”

      It wore me out trying to take lots of action and achieve lots of goals.

      What I like about the esteemed Mr. Sashen’s approach, is the way he suggests that we put our cart and horse back in proper alignment. Rather than try to be happy after achieving some thing, find peace now, then notice what you are moved to do next.

      This is summarized in the question from The Work of Byron Katie:

      Which way do you think you would be more effective, peaceful or stressful?

      Horse first: peace.

      Cart behind: effective action.

      May you know the peace of mind that gives rise to effective action.

      Much love,

      Stacy Clark

    3. Stacy Says:

      PS – I am *so* tempted to send you some purple underwear, Steven! And another set to Mr. Grubaugh.

      But I will resist. I’m busy not buying latte’s with my seed money.


    4. sashen Says:

      Hi Ron,


      Now I totally agree with you that different thoughts CAN lead to different behavior and that different behavior CAN lead to different results. But the attainment of desired effects is in no way guaranteed. And, in fact, we can’t really know in advance what the effects of new behavior will be.

      Let’s use some counter-examples for your guy in search of someone who wants to find someone whose soul he would like to see naked.

      Let’s say he never got the idea of meeting a sole-mate (he likes feet) and, therefore, never left his house. That doesn’t mean that, one day, some hot Domino’s delivery driver wouldn’t show up, see our hero’s stacks of newspapers from the Eisenhower administration, inhale the perfume of his 38 cats and then call into her employer, announcing her renouncing of all things pizza. What are the odds of that happening? Well, there’s no way to know. Start asking around and you will, no doubt, find stories of events just like this one.

      Or, to take the opposite tack, let’s say our formerly homebound hero goes out and spends every night at some new place to meet sole-mates (usually involving people who like fish). That in no way guarantees that he’ll meet the woman of his (moist) dreams and, really, we can’t know whether it actually even increases his odds.

      Though it would SEEM that adopting the belief that to meet a potentially naked person, one should leave the house, we can’t be positive that this is the best course of action. Maybe, if he stayed home, through some random web surfing, he may have found a great girlfriend from a catalog, instead of being rejected thousands of times at Hooters.

      Now, I’m a big fan of “take action and you’ll increase the probability of a result,” but unfortunately the probability in this case is not linear. That is, taking 100 actions that seem to be in the direction of what you want will not offset the effect of 1 bit of random, uncontrollable, unpredictable and unthinkable input from the universe in the opposite direction. You can do all the planning you want, take all the action you want, and be in the right place at the right time… until you’re not.

      Recently, world champion sprinter and Olympic gold medal hopeful Tyson Gay was blown out of the water by a relative newcomer to the 100m dash who set a new world record. Tyson did everything right… but then something else happened that NOBODY expected.

      Clearly had Tyson not trained or run at all he wouldn’t have had a chance, but it’s arguable about the value of the chance. After Beijing we’ll have another story about it.

      All of what I’m describing is a “causality matrix”, where we need to look at all 4 options:

      A leads to C
      B also leads to C
      A also leads to D
      and B also leads to D

      We tend to only consider the path that reinforces our belief about causality and not look at the other possibilities, let alone assess the probability of their occurrence or the value of their occurrence.

    5. sashen Says:

      Oh, and let me add this part:

      While we could all agree that different actions would, most likely, lead to different results (though we can’t be sure of WHAT SPECIFIC result that would be), we also would probably agree that different beliefs would lead to different actions, but, similarly, we can’t know WHICH SPECIFIC belief would lead to some specific action.

      While it seems *likely* that someone who believes “I must have every experience known to man” will take different actions than someone who believes “I must avoid every experience known to man,” it’s less clear how many experiences each person may end up having. We just don’t have a direct cause-and-effect relationship between beliefs and actions. Heck, PPerson #1, may take a risk, end up paralyzed and spend the rest of their life in an iron lung. Person #2 may avoid all human contact and win the lottery.

      And, even worse… if we think that having a specific belief will lead to a specific type of action that will then lead to specific end results (the teaching, btw, of one of the recent “success” teachers), we have 2 other problems, aside from the indirect link between belief-action-effect:

      1) We may get the specific end result and discover we aren’t happier as a result… and this could be a very lonely discovery. After all, nobody likes to hear a successful person bitch about being unhappy.

      2) The technology for reliably developing a new belief is, let’s say, “iffy”, at best. Humans, being what we are, can discount evidence that contradicts one of our existing beliefs. An experience that argues with our theory may not uproot it that belief, let alone replace it. If I believe I’m “unlucky,” it’s less likely that winning the lottery would convince me otherwise than it would serve to highlight all the OTHER times I was unlucky.

    6. Sid Leavitt Says:

      Shame on you, Steven Sashen. Your reasoning is great, but your Latin … oh my. As all of us underwhere wherers know, the Latin word for ‘where’ is ‘ubi.’

      Nice post, though.

    7. sashen Says:

      I’ll take the blame for:

      a) not knowing Latin
      b) not doing my research

      But I’ll assign blame to the dorm at Duke that published this as their motto, misspelling and all 😉

    8. Ron Grubaugh Says:

      Wow! Terrific discussion. I find nothing in either Stacy’s comment nor Steven’s re-response with which I am inclined to disagree. Perhaps there was a perception of disagreement on my part and maybe some picking of nits. But hey, thanks, the damn things itch like crazy.

      Maybe I needed to do a little more to make it clear where I am coming from. I have have an answer to those who suggest that Steven is perpetuating negative energy. I watched a very dear friend of my die a prolonged and agonizing death when all she had to do was have a lump cut out of her breast. I watched another friend spend nearly a week wallowing in guilt and self depricating anger. He sprained his ankle and at the moment of the accident, because his intelligence told him what was happening, he ended up believing he had caused the sprain with his analysis. I could go on for hours here, but no point in it. “The Secret” is not some innocuous eccentricity my dear friends. “The Secret” kills. I’ve watched it happen. And that is only a part of the harm.

      Having said that I want to once again commend Steven for embarking on what seems to be a campaign of dissent, using and even perhaps risking a platform that he has worked hard to establish. THANK YOU! I mean it. In the context of supporting this cause I am trying to give you a piece of advice. You do not want to dilute your message by taking issue with propositions that you would not necessarily even disagree with in another context. And perhaps I am the one picking the nits.

      For example: Does confidence lead to greater effectiveness? I think it probably does, most of the time, but I really have to admit that I do not know. And I readily admit that confidence can lead to disaster as well. But this is not the issue you are working on. No more is it the proposition that changes in your belief “CAN” (and please note the carefullness with which I have used this word previously), “CAN” lead to changes in your life. The target belief is the morbidly irrational suggestion that such changes come about as the result of the universe coming into compliance with your beliefs, and of course the general idea that the universe has a tendancy to do so. To be most effective in reaching “secret tellers” themselves you may not want to engage in tangential disagreements. Particularly you do not want to give thwm the excuse to dismiss what you are saying by giving the impression that you do not understand the importance of beliefs.

      Just as an aside. I find it interesting that I cannot think of a single academic study testing the effect of confidence upon performance. But, possibly related, it has been shown that prison inmates have significantly higher “self esteem” than others.

    9. sashen Says:

      Hi again, Ron…

      I didn’t think you were disagreeing. I thought you were clarifying a position I hadn’t addressed… and then I added my take on your take. Take that.

      And, yes, I concur that the notion that your thoughts cause the universe to rearrange its components is, oh, let’s just say, silly. It’s like believing you are one of the Wonder Twins and the universe is the other and by thinking some thought, the two of you are touching and announcing, say, “Form of… a new BMW with heated leather seats and tinted windows!”

      Oh, and I don’t have the goal of simply addressing Secret fans. Instead, I want to look at all manner of thinking errors that plague the spiritual and transformational biz. And, to dissect these errors is not chipping away at any platform I may have developed (not something I ever set out to do), since the classes I teach don’t rely on those errors (e.g. Quantum Wealth is not about changing beliefs or “attraction” or “manifestation,” nor is it about making money, even!).

      Regarding confidence, I have a collection of interviews with “successful” people, including Lance Armstrong and Larry David (co-creator of Seinfeld), and I just heard about one with Elton John. In these interviews these well-accomplished people discuss their complete lack of confidence during times/events where they demonstrated superior performance.

      Lance, for example, kept saying to Charlie Rose, “No, even after getting the yellow jersey, I was not confident I could win. I was 34 and my body was falling apart, and I hadn’t won a race in a year and, well, anything can happen in a race, Charlie.”

      There have been a number of studies lately demonstrating that high “self-esteem” (someday I’ll write about how that is a made up and meaningless concept) leads to sub-optimal performance, mostly because the people with high s.e. overestimate their skill.

    10. Ed Says:


      While the results of action aren’t guaranteed, I think we can agree that the probability distribution shifts. To pick on our lothario–if he refuses to ever answer his door or interact with other humans, the probability of getting laid is different than if he does open the door to get his Dominos pizza, and the probability of getting laid is again different if he goes out to the bars every night, meeting dozens of people.

      So the real issues are: 1. the assumption that a high probability equals certainty. 2. the fact that we really don’t know (except in extremely circumscribed circumstances like blackjack) what the probability distributions are.

      Therein lies the problem that you and Ron are talking about. The ‘secret’ person is over-estimating the probability that a given action will lead to a given result. I suspect you’ll make the same statement about the over-confident, high self-esteem folks. Their performance is sub-optimal because they’re not accounting for lower probability events in their actions. One example: the lothario is so confident he’ll get laid by one of the bar’s customers that he’s rude to the bartender, not considering the probability that the bartender would sleep with him, thereby decreasing his overall probability of success. Another example: the lead bicyclist in the race is so confident of winning that he doesn’t consider the possibility of a grease spill on the road ahead and so isn’t watching for it.

      In both cases, though, the correct action seems to be to take steps to get closer in touch with reality. I.e., the lothario-wanna-be sitting at home may be horribly under-estimating the probability of him getting laid, and by getting out and about, discovers that it’s higher than he thought. Similarly, after a few forays into the dating world, he may begin to over-estimate the probability of getting laid, and so indirectly lower it.

      To restate–we don’t know the probability and it’s damn easy to let what our estimate of the probability get in the way of paying attention to what’s really going on in the world.

      Which is the other issue just touched on briefly here–the projection of an ideal into the world. I think of “soul-mate” as the most egregious offender. The probability of meeting an idealization are substantially lower than the probability of meeting a real person. Yet there’s a lot of new-agey stuff and pop psychology that encourages the pursuit of that idealization. Our lothario’s odds of meeting his ideal soul mate are certainly different than the odds of meeting someone he can love and be loved by in return.

    11. sashen Says:

      One of my favorite writers is Nasim Taleb, whose 2 books are “Fooled By Randomness” and “The Black Swan.” In the latter book, which is a deeper exploration of a point raised in the former, Taleb discusses out how we dramatically underestimate the power of rare and unpredictable events and the likelihood of their occurrence.

      We don’t understand how a “once in a lifetime” event can happen dozens of times in a year, and STILL be once-in-a-lifetime. When some rare event has a dramatic effect, we brush it off in favor of paying attention to the more familiar events, even if the rare event is more influential than all the familiar ones combined.

      We like to think we know the probabilities in our life, but we don’t. And we take the single events that exert large influence and write them off as anomalies.

      Since we don’t know what the probability distribution for any event in life is, nor do we know the magnitude of the effects of our actions or the effects of actions outside our control, I’m not sure that the distribution shifts if we take one action over another. I’m leaving out the EXTREME examples of, say, a guy who locks himself in his basement and never leaves vs. a guy who asks 1,000 women per day if they want to go out with him… or more relevant to our experience, doing NOTHING vs. doing SOMETHING.

      This, of course, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make our best analysis of what action to take and take it… that’s our only choice, in fact. But our inability to know probabilities should, at least, affect the way we perceive the world and ourselves if we don’t get the results we expect or desire.

      I like to say that Success = Effective Action + the Conspiring Universe.

      Sometimes the universe does all the work and we get something we want without any effort. Sometimes it’s the other way around and no matter what we do, it just ain’t happenin’. (Due to a set of massively rare circumstances, most of which were beyond my influence, when I was 13-18 I was a gymnast who was unbeatable in the floor exercise event… it really didn’t matter what my competitors did; they just weren’t going to beat me.)

      Since we can’t know what the universe will/won’t do (and this is a metaphor; I’m not suggesting the universe actually cares whether you build an MLM downline or get that cool adobe geodesic dome house with the octagonal hot tub), we can only take care of the Effective Action part of the equation.

      And by “effective,” I mean the action that occurs to us, in part, from our understanding that no specific outcome is guaranteed, and no specific outcome will be the source of lasting happiness, and that the idea we need to escape our present situation is probably inaccurate as well.

    12. Ed Says:

      Interesting timing–I had a conversation last week with an acquaintance who was interested in studying “once in a lifetime” events and their frequency. His interest was triggered by a conversation with a stock fund manager who had set up a fund to wait for those “once in a lifetime 500 point jumps.” Yeah, he lost money a lot of the time, but apparently he made enough when those jumps happened to balance out his losses.

      In more practical news, my acquaintance said that he didn’t bet on horse races, but that the Belmont Stakes race had an obvious betting pattern. The bookies were giving 1:4 for Big Brown, and 7:1 for the next horse. He said the strategy was to bet $20 on every horse other than Big Brown. Essentially, the bet was “something people can’t predict will happen” (a fall, a collision, a sick horse, etc.). Obviously, it turned out to be the right strategy, but unfortunately, he told me about it an hour before the race, when it was impossible for me to make the bet…

      So I’ve been musing on whether part of ‘effective action’ might be finding ways where the strange hops of the universe also become beneficial, and not just the main probabilities…

    13. dave Says:

      Back to the deadlifts. Tricky business, this ‘attempting something extreme’. Lets assume 340 pounds one rep deadlifts are a little “edgy” for you physically, i.e. not a given, but not impossible. You were able to perform, therefore your feelings were appropriate in that they didn’t prevent the performance. I find the feelings and emotions leading up to these kind of ‘attempts’ to be mostly meaningless chatter, AND they can sometimes get in the way of performance. I’d contend you had to think in a pretty focused manner right on that deadlift right at that moment to have any chance of success. Deadlift of weight times two doesn’t just happen by itself!

      You said:
      “But if you feel confident and visualize getting what you want, don’t you believe that you will, at least, increase the probability that you’ll get it?” No.

      I’d say you must have had confidence and vision in the moment of lifting that 340 or it wouldn’t have been a success, just from a physical perspective.

      Finally, I would recommend not only underwear, but also shin coverings for deadlifts.

    14. sashen Says:

      Hi Dave!

      In the face of the “your thoughts don’t matter” argument, it’s a common cognitive game we play to say, “Well, at some point you MUST have at least had a fleeting thought/feeling/hunch that, maybe, at least possibly, you could have, given the wind blowing in the right direction and position of Mercury in Uranus, expected even a little that you might have made it.”

      Of course if that thought was a fleeting one, and the other 99,999 were in opposition, does the fleeting one REALLY have the impact we think?

      Imagine that I HADN’T made the lift… then we would argue that any amount of “positive” thoughts didn’t impact the physical event.

      So the story we make up about how/whether thoughts affect performance is often based on hindsight bias… and when we encounter an event that argues with our philosophy, we’ll often bend over backwards to find a way to keep our theory alive.

      I’m sure you can think of times where “confidence” wasn’t even a question, and may not have been present, and the surprising results of an event were only determined totally after the fact… think of times where people have been genuinely surprised by their performance and said, “Honestly, I didn’t think I could do that!”

      Do we take them at their word, or do we keep our theory that, at some “unconscious level” they MUST have believed it or they wouldn’t have been able to do it? Personally, I opt for the former.

      Now, clearly, at SOME point, after beginning the lift, it becomes obvious that you’re going to make it (or have a good shot) and then the thoughts change.

      But I can tell you that the time I made that first 340 I wasn’t confident at all… first, it was 20 lbs. more than I had previously lifted, I was tired, and, frankly, I was scared I’d rip my arms out of their sockets or something. I actually doubted it entirely and was more in the “Well, let’s see what happens” camp… until the bar got a couple inches off the ground… and even then, I wasn’t positive I’d make it past the sticking point.

      Admittedly, if you’re doing something that requires EXTREMELY high precision, like target shooting, a “stray thought” can affect your heart beat and your heartbeat can move the gun just enough to miss the target. But that’s not the domain we’re discussing.

      Thanks for the good advice… note to self: wear underwear. get shin guards.

    15. peter jones Says:

      On Tiger’s victory yesterday: From

      Woods, for the first time after winning a major, couldn’t hide the fact that he may have been as baffled as the rest of us at the spectacular shots he pulled off this week.

      “All things considered, I don’t know how I ended up in this position,” Woods said.

    16. Ann Says:

      You guys are exhausting, though I’m enjoying the reading.

      What I want to know is:

      Do I look better in the black undies with the red lace trim or the forest green with cream ribbons?

      I realize that weight is a factor, but I damn sure don’t weigh 340! TGFSF

      Thanks, Ann

    17. peter jones Says:

      PS I love the workout. 1 rep, 1 weight (more time spent journaling).

    18. Ron Grubaugh Says:

      I have a question for Steve. This is not rhetorical. I would like to know how you would answer it. Assuming that you don’t of course, what is the reason why you do not try to lift 1,000 Lbs?

    19. Ron Grubaugh Says:

      Just realized my prose poses a potential misunderstanding. “Assuming that you don’t” refers to “try to lift” NOT to answering the question.

    20. sashen Says:

      Why do I not try to lift 1000 pounds?


      The gym I train in only has 600 pounds of weight for the deadlift bar.


      Actually, considering that the world record under powerlifting rules is for someone my size is just over 700 pounds, and knowing that I’m not the strongest man in the world…attempting a 1000 pound lift doesn’t seem consistent with my intention to actually get the bar off the ground.

      In other words, prior knowledge of my own performance and of comparative performance informs the decision to not go for what would be 3 pounds shy of the world *heavyweight* record.

      Now, for the fun of it, let’s say I had no idea what I could possibly lift, nor did I have any information about any precedent… I can imagine coming to the decision to attempt 1000 pounds to discover what was possible… or to try 100 pounds for the same reason (coming at the answer from the opposite direction).

      Any decision about an initial weight would be extrapolated from any imagined/remembered personal history that seemed relevant (or by the strength of my desire to impress anyone who happened to be in the gym).

    21. Ron Grubaugh Says:

      So I propose that it was more than a “fleeting thought” that the lifts that you did in fact make were ones that you clearly considered POSSIBLE, regardless of any doubts, pessimism, negative “self-talk,” or even if you were prepared to give 100 to 1 odds against it.

      “Well, at some point you MUST have at least had a fleeting thought/feeling/hunch that, maybe, at least possibly, you could have, given the wind blowing in the right direction and position of Mercury in Uranus, expected even a little that you might have made it.”

      I’ll make a stronger statement than that.

      “Let’s say I had no idea what I could possibly lift” Counterfactual? This implies that you do have an idea of what you can possibly lift.

      “In other words, prior knowledge of my own performance and of comparative performance informs the decision to not go for what would be 3 pounds shy of the world *heavyweight* record.”

      This demonstrates that your behavior is constrained by that idea.

    22. Ann Says:

      Undies aside, I did not read Steven as saying that what he did was not constrained by prior knowledge of what is possible.

      Knowing something is possible does not necessarily confer confidence.

      “Knowing” it is not possible does not necessarily mean you will fail.

      I’ll never forget a time in PE in about the 7th grade when I did something I would *never* *ever* have attempted, with no preparation whatsoever . . . and succeeded.

      First, know that I have had what people are now calling “fibromyalgia” since elementary school. Walking a mile to school caused my calves considerable pain. I did not run. When the PE class was told to run, I walked. I avoided the pain as much as possible and made very low grades in PE while Aceing everything else. This was also before my teenage growth spurt, so I was a little chubby around the middle.

      So, when my new young, but overweight PE teacher, who does not know me at all, on the first day of teaching us about the uneven parallel bars says “Come here, let me show you,” picking *me* of all people out of the crowd of little girls to show everyone how to mount these bars, I’m thinking “Oh no, she doesn’t realize who she’s picked.”

      The next thing I knew I had done some kind of flip and was up on *top* of the lower bar supporting myself with my straightened arms. I had no idea how I got there, no plan of trying and was dead certain the teacher had picked the *wrong* girl for her example.

      Refer again to the causality matrix. What seems to be truer is that confidence or its lack does not actually affect the outcome. For most of the kinds of causes and effects that things like pop psychology & “self-improvement” books try to tell us will be easier with “positive thinking,” it is truer that we can neither control nor predict the outcome.

      The matrix of causes and influences is so great as to be truly unpredictable in things like money, relationships, success – all the things pop psychology books are written about.

      In fact – *Isn’t that part of why life is SO MUCH FUN?* or to quote Forest Gump, “a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get?”

      Ask yourself a question, “Trying to predict outcomes – is this peaceful or stressful?”

      Me, I’ll do my job – judging, trying to predict and control, and I’ll let the Universe or God do its job – surprising the f*ck out of me on a daily basis!

      I have found that this is a far more fun formula to use:

      “Success = Effective Action + the Conspiring Universe.”

      . . . and to restate the definition . . .

      “And by “effective,” I mean the action that occurs to us, in part, from our understanding that no specific outcome is guaranteed, and no specific outcome will be the source of lasting happiness, and that the idea we need to escape our present situation is probably inaccurate as well.”

      I’ve been wondering whether you’re going through this as an excercise in logic or whether you have some kind of personal or practical application you would care to share with the class?

      Just wondering.


    23. sashen Says:


      The fact that I may have had an idea of what is physically possible, or that I may have had constraints on my attempts doesn’t change the argument.

      Clearly, any knowledge on my part, or belief I may have held would not have allowed me to lift a 747 with my pinkies.

      And, similarly, no amount of disbelief would have kept me from heaving a marshmallow (ignoring the possibility that I was someone who was susceptible to, and under, a hypnotic suggestion).

      But there is a third state between positive and negative belief, namely, unknowing. Or curiosity.

      Having no idea what I could lift can, literally, mean I have no idea. Not that it’s a counterfactual implying knowledge.

      But back to my fleeting thoughts of possibility… so what? I’ve had more than fleeting thoughts of CERTAINTY that I could lift well UNDER my 1 rep max. After all, I’ve lifted, say 280, many times. But that has no effect on the days where, no matter how confident, I just can’t budge that bar.

      And, I’ve had what we call “freaky days,” where I go for a new 1 rep maximum and it’s SO easy that I keep putting more and more weight on the bar, each time having no idea whether I can lift it, each time convinced that this MUST be the most I can do since it’s 30 or 40 or 50 pounds more than I’ve ever lifted… and each time the bar goes up… until I get to a point where it doesn’t.

      Again, even if my choice of weights are constrained by some thought (more than a marshmallow, less than a 747), my point is that this does not translate into specific performance.

      Talk to the top 5 sprinters in the world. At any given meet, each one of them is CONVINCED they can and will win. Not only are at least 4 of them wrong, but sometimes ALL of them are wrong and they’re beaten by a relative newcomer who, when being interviewed, will talk about how he never thought he could beat his idols let alone set a new world record but, somehow, it all just clicked. Usually at this point, they’ll thank some deity for their performance.

    24. sashen Says:

      What I’m pointing to is this:

      If we have the idea: thoughts influence (let alone, determine) effects then, AFTER THE FACT, we’ll find a way to prove our story no matter what.

      If I’m successful, it’ll be because I *must* have had some “positive” thought, no matter how fleeting, which MUST have led to the success.

      I’m I’m unsuccessful, I either had “negative” thoughts or, if I report having “all positive” thoughts, my performance must have been influenced by some “counter-intention,” or “subconscious negativity,” or an “unconscious desire to fail,” or “self-sabotage,” or some other type of thought of which I’m unaware (suddenly making up a theory about thoughts we don’t know we have).

      Part of the challenge here is that, in order to TEST the theory about “positive/negative” thinking and performance we would need, at the very least, a meticulous recording of thoughts/attitudes/etc. PRIOR TO performance (which would require a kind of honest self-reporting that may be difficult to obtain).

      Imagine this scenario, just for the sake of exploring the theory: At 46 years old and 144 pounds, through some wacky lottery, I’m randomly selected to enter the Olympic shot put event. I’ve never done this event, I can barely lift the 16 pound shot, and I’m up against guys 1/2 my age and twice my strength. So I walk into the circle, step up to the line (why bother trying to do a spin throw since I don’t know how?) and heave the shot a whopping 20′.

      Everyone laughs at me… and then all the other throwers come down with a case of stomach flu and drop out.

      I WIN!

      What do my thoughts have to do with it? Nothing.

      Now, granted this is different than judging my performance, solo. But we use the same logic when looking at competitive events as we do with individual events. He “wanted it more,” she “saw herself on the winner’s stand,” the team “knew they could win,” etc.

      One problem is that when we have a theory about performance, we justify it with the the worst and least reliable set of data possible, our own memories and anecdotal evidence.

      We know that humans are unreliable at remembering accurately, and even perceiving accurately… but that’s THEM, those OTHER people.

      Another bias we have is believing that WE are smart enough to not have the biases that all OTHER humans have (or at least that we can recognize them and not be swayed by them).

      All of this is related to the cognitive bias that we look for, and expect, that we have control over many elements of our life and experience that, perhaps, we can’t control.

      Given our desire to create specific outcomes, we’re wired to look for SOME causal factor. And if we can’t find an external one, we’ll use an internal one. And thanks to our “feeling of knowing,” (see “On Being Certain”) we’re also wired to FIND *an* answer, and get a reinforcing release of dopamine along with it, even though what we find may not be THE answer.

      In a related note, many cognitive psychologists suggest that our discursive thoughts are, in fact, merely stories we make up to rationalize inner experiences and perceptions that have ALREADY PASSED. We have, for example, a bodily sensation of agitation, and based on the other information at hand, we’ll find ourself thinking, “Oh, I must be scared,” or in a different circumstance, “Oh, I’m sexually attracted to that turnip”… and it may be that we’re simply on a medication that causes jitters.

      This happened to a psychologist friend of mine… he spent a lot of time/money/effort trying to resolve his panic attacks before discovering an unknown side effect of some medication that he was on: racing pulse and sweating.

    25. Ron Grubaugh Says:

      I am with you an all of this. Actually my favorite counter example for predictive certainty is war. Has it not been frequently the case that both parties enter into a conflict absolutely convinced that they will achieve a swift and easy victory?

      I must have misunderstood. I understood you to be saying that you tried to lift various weights without even a conviction that it was possible. That seemed to me unlikely, hence my question: Why not try a thousand, or for that matter… a million?

    26. sashen Says:

      Hi Ron,

      While I definitely had the idea that it was *possible* (I didn’t pick a weight that was greater than the current world record), during my personal record setting lifts I definitely didn’t have the conviction that I could do it. Sometimes I was pretty sure I couldn’t do it (but it was the weight that was written down on my workout sheet for the day) and I was wrong, and other times, I had no conviction, pro or con, but was willing to give it a shot.

      In fact, I just remembered that on the day I did 2x my bodyweight, I made the 1st lift, then asked someone to take a picture of the second and said, “If I make it that is, and I’m not sure I will.” I made the 2nd lift but he didn’t get the picture! So, sure that I was too beat for a 3rd, but willing to give it a try anyway, I attempted — and made — the 3rd. He missed the picture again! So, now completely sure I’d miss a 4th attempt, I went for it… and made it… and got the picture… and didn’t try a 5th 😉

    27. sashen Says:

      BTW, I like your war example. And everyone starting a business is sure they can make it work, newlyweds are often sure it’ll last forever, 80% of drivers think they’re in the top 50% of driving skill 😉





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