Why you're the nail and not the hammer.

You have a goal in your life, but you’re struggling to get to it. What’s going on here? Let’s take a physics approach to the problem. Relax, there’s no math here.

Why you're the nail and not the hammer.
The Metaphysics of Mr. Whiskers

What are the forces that are pulling you? What makes you do what you do? When you tell yourself you’re going to wake up at 6AM and go to the gym, why don’t you do it the next morning? You have a goal in your life, but you’re struggling to get to it. What’s going on here? Let’s take a physics approach to the problem. Relax, there’s no math here.

Let’s say your goal is to build a company. Fantastic, you’ve defined a goal. If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t be able to get there. As Earl Nightingale put it:

"Think of a ship with the complete voyage mapped out and planned. The captain and crew know exactly where the ship is going and how long it will take and it has a definite goal. And 9,999 times out of 10,000, it will get there.

Now let’s take another ship and just like the first and only let’s not put a crew on it, or a captain at the helm. Let’s give it no aiming point, no goal, and no destination. We just start the engines and let it go. I think you’ll agree that if it gets out of the harbor at all, it will either sink or wind up on some deserted beach and a derelict. It can’t go anyplace because it has no destination and no guidance."

So you have a goal, but if you’re anything like me, or everyone else in my generation, you’re struggling to get there. The reason for this, is  that you are being acted on by opposing forces. You’re being pulled in multiple different directions, and the various forces acting on you are keeping you stuck where you are. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you have control over some of these forces that are acting on you, and you also have the ability to create forces to pull you in the direction you want to go.

In 2019 I was an Engineer working at a firm in NYC. My job was to manage finances on the project to make sure that we didn’t overrun the budget. If you pulled me to the side and asked me how much had been spent during the month of March, I would have been able to tell you down to the penny. But if you had asked me how much I money I was spending at home in the month of March, I wouldn’t have known. Realizing that I had prioritized my job over myself, showed me that I cared about my job more than I did myself and my family.

This realization opened my eyes to the fact that I could look at my life and begin to see that there were forces pulling and pushing me in different ways. This changed my life, and how I approach my goals.

Back to the physics. Using mechanics, we can identify where a ball thrown will land. This is how we can launch missiles today and ensure they hit their mark. Or how we can launch a satellite into space and rest easy that it’ll land in the orbit we want it to. So how do we do this? We identify all of the forces acting on the object we are looking at. Once we identify the forces, we figure out which way they’re pointing, the “strength” of the forces, and then we add up the forces.  In physics, we call this creating a free-body diagram.

Free-body diagram

The same principle can be qualitatively applied to reaching our goals. But instead of an object being acted upon, we are the object. From there, what we need to do is figure out what are the forces acting on us. This is where it gets fun. There are an infinite amount of forces acting on us, to identify them we need to reflect on our lives. Why do we do what we do? What motivates us? What habits are pulling us? What God are we serving?

Here’s an interesting experiment to run if you have pets, cats in particular. You’ll need a cat, two people, string, and cat food.  We all know cats are incredibly playful, and a ball of yarn or string is like crack to them. Have one person dangle a string in front of them, and they go wild. While the first person is dangling the string, have the second person pour some cat food in the cat’s food bowl within earshot. When I did this with my cat, the cat completely ignored the string and ran to the food. This experiment showed me that to my cat, the force motivating the cat to eat was way stronger than the force engaging the cat to play with the string.

You and I are not so different from Mr. Whiskers. We have different forces pushing and pulling us in different directions, and the stronger forces win. Unlike Mr. Whiskers, you and I can do something about this. We’re not just animals contrary to what many people say. We have the ability to restrain ourselves, think, and decide what forces we want to act on us. Yes, many forces that act on us are out of our control. The weather, the economy (for most of us), our biological drives, culture (although we can slowly bend this force to our will over time) are huge forces that act on us. There are many other invisible forces that act on us, that we can identify, and weaken or strengthen. Our desire to please others, our habits, our friends, our schedules, our jobs, even the places we live.

Everything in our lives pushes and pulls us. Once you realize this, the world around you ceases to look the same. You begin to see the force behind everything you introduce into your life. A new apartment isn’t just a new apartment, it’s a new rent that is going to make you work longer hours. It’s a location that has a certain commute time attached to it that will force you to spend that time. Your friends aren’t just your friends, they’re what influence how you dress, how you speak and what you value.

Identify the force behind everything. If it is within your control, change it to pull in the direction of what matters to you. If it is out of your control, surrender to it. Once you realize this, you’ll have the ability to create tremendous forces that can take you where you want to go. Once you master this, you can exert your will on your environment, instead of being carried every which way by the forces around you. You become the cause, and not the effect. The hammer, not the nail.