Matt Perryman

Child’s unanswerable question reveals secret mental discipline hack

By Matt Perryman

Yesterday when my girls came home from school, I heard a dreaded question.


“Daddy, what’s a paradox?”


They save life’s easy questions for Daddy.


Good luck has it that I’m trained to handle such things. I blew the dust off of my doctorate, put on my nerd glasses, and prepared to engage the wily questioner.


“I’m telling you a lie,” I said to her.


She didn’t get it.


“What does it mean if I’m lying to you?” I asked.


“You aren’t telling the truth,” she said.


“Right. I just told you I’m telling you a lie. What does that mean?”


“You aren’t telling the truth.”


“I’m not telling the truth when I say that I’m telling a lie. Is that right?”


I could almost see the gears spinning in her little head.


“If I’m lying, and I say that I’m laying, then I’m telling the truth. If I’m telling the truth, then I’m lying. Which means I’m telling the truth.”


“I don’t understand,” she says after an appropriate pause.


“Good. That means you get it.”


Which is a true, if lazy, answer. The nature of paradox is that you can’t explain it in coherent language.


If you say you understand it, you probably don’t. You can only experience it for yourself.


Which is an important truth about many important things in life.


Language and logic run into limits at the edge of experience. Past that point, they can’t tell us anything.


You either feel it, or you don’t.


Mental discipline is like this. Words point at it, you can sort of write down the steps, but you can’t instruct a person to be disciplined with a 1-2-3 checklist of action steps.


The past month I’ve been on a brutal diet assaulting my mind and body.


This kind of diet “doesn’t work” for most people. When most people do it, they’re focused on the checklist.


They aren’t giving a single thought to the experience, to the habits and behaviors, and more, to the deep inner activity that creates your habits and behaviors.


Challenges can build your mental discipline. They’re the only way to build it. But you don’t get that by following the checklist.


Everybody wants the checklist. Nobody wants to start doing the thing.


When the words aren’t enough, you just have to act. Act, and put your attention on what happens when you act.



Matt Perryman 


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