The Benefits of Breaking Your Brain

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Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.

”Ainsi Soit-Il, Ou Les Jeux Sont Faits”
(So Be It: Or The Chips Are Down)
by André Gide

Joshua and I are in a book club.

But not just any book club.

It’s called the Heavy Book Club.

It’s called that because the criteria in which books are chosen in this club must be difficult, dense and cast a certain amount of doubt in the reader’s ability to tackle it.

It sounds intellectually sadomasochistic, but really, it’s not.

It’s about pushing your limits and seeing how far you can go before you break.

We do this for athletic activity — I mean… whether you lift weights, shoot hoops or run triathlons… you’re always pushing yourself to do more…

So why not for our mental capability?

Why do we stop exercising our brains after leaving school?

(And please, don’t tell me you do crosswords or sudoku. That doesn’t really count. In fact, all those “brain exercises” have been scientifically discounted1.)

So as you may have guessed…

The reason why I started this heavy book club back in January of 2015 was because I took a look at my reading diet at the time… and I didn’t like what I saw.

After I discovered Rich Dad, Poor Dad in 2002…

I Became A Self-Help Junkie For Over A Decade

I read nothing but easy-to-digest how-to, 7-steps-to, inspirational-type books.

Covey, Gerber, Carnegie, Robbins, Kiyosaki, Buckingham… you name it, I’ve probably read it.

Now, listen – I don’t regret that “lost decade” where the only fiction I read were the Harry Potter series and Dan Brown novels.

There’s a lot to thank for this period of intense self-growth.

I transformed my mindset from that of scarcity to abundance.

I developed robust management and leadership skills at a corporate job.

I made the leap into self-employment and now have a healthy freelancing business.

Buuuuttttt…

After a while, those books more-or-less repeated themselves.

They blurred together.

And these bestselling authors started to all sound alike, spouting variations on the same theme, repeating each other’s maxims, slogans and anecdotes.

I didn’t really need another productivity “system”… or 5-steps to start my morning… or some 30-year longitudinal study on human performance metrics.

I wasn’t really challenging myself, nor expanding my mind, nor going IN DEPTH.

That was the most important thing.

Now, I’m not saying all these books are “candy-coated pills” that only deal with the surface… but a lot of them are.

Here’s a strategy to do X. Here’s a few tips to do Y. Here’s a mindset to do Z.

I mean, you could probably summarize these books and get the gist of it in one or two sentences…

Rich Dad, Poor Dad: Buy assets, not liabilities. Assets make you recurring passive income, liabilities do the opposite.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Have goals, prioritize your shit and be a leader who listens first.

The E-Myth: Systemize all the processes and workflows in your business, turn it into an operation manual and open up more locations.

First, Break All The Rules: Stop trying to fix your employees’ weaknesses. Figure out what they’re good at and make them do more of that.

Awaken the Giant Within: Figure out what your belief system is, and then use all these funky NLP visualization exercises to change it to hit your goals.

Now granted…

Any one of these gurus could throw the comeback at me, “Yes Tony, very clever… but are you practicing and living these lessons?”

And I’ll be the first to admit, no, I’m not. Not all the time. And yes, I could always do better.

Here’s the thing though…

These books are, for all intents and purposes, life-changing in a practical sense…

But they’re not life-shattering.

None of them really dig in deep inside of your soul or the very core foundation of your knowledge and belief system… and make you question the fundamental axioms on which your life is built on.

In fact, a lot of them are like a self-validating drug.

If your life mantra is “be successful, be successful, be successful”… these books are like uppers that get you there faster, while burning you out and never really stopping you to think…

WAIT!

Is this the right direction? Am I asking the right questions? Or am I just PMA’ing2 the shit out of my life and ignoring everything else?

And in the corner of my eye, every time I looked at my bookshelves…

There was this huge stack of books I kept meaning to read but never got around to.

They weren’t self-help or get-rich or life-hack books.

No, they were book books. The kind of stuff student nightmares are made of.

They were either dense, difficult, scary or all three.

Frankly, I Was Intimidated by These Books

And the recurring pattern I noticed in these books was that…

They were all “hard” practical stuff like economics, history, politics, science or “sublime” wisdom stuff like literary classics, spirituality, biographies etc.

They were books I’ve ignored, put off and avoided for over a decade because I was on this fast burn to success. I didn’t have time for that shit… or so I told myself.

These were books that would…

Expand my mind… not focus it more on my “goals”.

Books that would alter my neural pathways… not reinforce them.

Books that would create questions I’d never considered… instead of answering the same old questions “strategically better” whatever that meant.

These were the kind of books I had starved my brain of.

And now, I was hungry enough to do something about it.

So, that January back in 2015…

I roped Joshua and two other guys into what is now known as the Heavy Book Club.

And for three years now, we’ve knocked out one of these challenging reads once a month or so.

I’m quite proud of the list of books we’ve waded through together, brothers-in-arms.

Our first selection was Alice Schroeder’s The Snowball, a not-too-flattering biography of Warren Buffett.

We’ve since tackled other biographies like one on Seneca, another on Robert Feynman… and even tennis rockstar Andre Agassi’s autobiography.3

We’ve read histories on the Punic Wars, the Cold War, Obama’s presidential run and even a fun retelling of the console wars between Nintendo and Sega during the 90s.

We’ve also conquered massive tomes like… Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (792 pages)… Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (818 pages)… and Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi (970 pages).

Now — I’m not writing this out to brag.

Hell, I’m not even writing this to encourage you to start your own damn book club. (You should, though.)

What I am proposing however, is that you should…

Break Your Brain Every Once in a While

Now, chances are, if you’re reading this article… you probably came here by the way of a self-help or spiritual source.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I still read those books, follow some gurus and attend events in the space.

It’s a part of me. Hell, it’s a part of the very fabric of the American Dream. The go-getter, ambitious, kaizen, optimize, tweak and get richer culture we live in.

It’s a high I can never give up… to hack what I’m already doing, but do it better… whether it be health, wealth or relationships.

But it also follows…

If you’re here in The Cave with us, you’re probably also smarter than the average bear.

When Joshua and I developed The Cave… we knew we would never hit the mass market.

In fact, we didn’t want to.

We wanted a very small subsection of the self-help/spiritual crowd.

We wanted that small group of folks who were spiritual, entrepreneurial and creative.

We wanted people reading our stuff to be ambitious and intellectual and ask the deeper questions of the universe… while building a business, consuming works of art once in a while and willing to do the inner-work stuff like meditation.

And if you’ve resonated with my journey so far… or if you’re still in that “self-help junkie” phase…

And like me, you’ve starved this side of you in pursuit of wealth, freedom and happiness…

…you’ve probably noticed the same itch I felt three years back.

That yearning for something more.

That longing, shall I say… for the Truth with a capital “T”.

That something else is out there… beyond transforming your life into a success-making machine.

And I’ll put it out there that what you’re looking for is something to break your brain with.

A book that makes you question, wonder and inquire again.

And here is where I tie in this week’s “Quote of the Week”.

You may have seen it before… sourced to Václav Havel, former chair of the Human Rights Foundation and president of the Czech Republic as follows…

“Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.”

But for some reason, I had a haunting suspicion the source was wrong, and after a little Googling, I found Garson O’Toole’s neat little website: Quote Investigator, where it appears the original quote, by André Gide, is…

”Croyez ceux qui cherchent la vérité, doutez de ceux qui la trouvent.”

Or… “Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it”

It’s a great simple quote.

And it’s super-relevant to the first thousand words of this longass article.

You see, a lot of these self-help gurus present their advice, findings and knowledge as “the truth”.

And they have to…

Because you wouldn’t follow them otherwise unless they presented you with an iron-proof argument of their wisdom.

And frankly, we generally don’t like people who waffle, go on tangents and seem indecisive on where they stand.

But the seeking of truths, or even the Truth, is nearly always unfailingly… messy.

Whenever you dig into the fine print of any subject matter, you’ll find lies, rumours, white lies, half-truths, opinions treated as fact, undue praise, hero worship, gossip and slander.

And when you read a book that breaks your brain…

You don’t get one truth.

You get facets of it, like a beam of light streaking through a diamond and bursting into a thousand specks of color.

And you’re hit with the uncomfortable — and inconvenient — epiphany that… they’re all true in their own little ways.

There is no Truth with a capital “T”.

There are only shades, gradients and aspects of it from multiple perspectives at different times using different frames and contexts.

But in the grasping of it, in that fragile reaching for truth as imperfect humans… in our attempt to seek something larger than ourselves… we catch a glimpse of the profound… and we’re made better for it.

And that’s enough for me.

So tell me, what was the last book you read that broke your brain?

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