Hold Fast: How Forgetfulness Torpedos Your Journey to Becoming the Man You Want to Be, and Remembrance Is the Antidote

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 8, 2012 · 67 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

Around 4:30am early one August morning in 2005, five 20-somethings decided to go explore a cave nestled in the side of a Provo mountain. When they arrived at the largely unknown and hidden spot, one member of the group, having a bad feeling about the idea, decided to wait outside and wished his friends well as they climbed inside the cave’s rocky mouth.

The cave’s unique features made it attractive to daring explorers: 30 yards inside its entrance, you encountered a hole that led into a completely underwater passageway. By swimming through the water-filled tunnel, you could enter another cavern in which you could pop your head up and breathe. A rope led from the entrance to the tunnel to the water-filled room so that people could pull themselves along and safely make their way through.

The young man who had decided to wait outside began to grow anxious as 15, and then 30, and finally 45 minutes passed without his friends reemerging. He called the police, and when rescuers entered the cave they found an awful scene: all four friends, two young men and two young women, had drowned. No one is quite sure what happened, but it seems the group had reached the second cavern safely, but died on the way back to the entrance: all were found facing the same direction in the water-filled passage. Those who had explored the cave previously told reporters that if you let go of the rope connecting the rooms, it was very easy to get disoriented inside the narrow tunnel. The tunnel extended past the exit hole and terminated in a dead end, making it possible to overshoot the opening. And as swimmers made their way through the passage, they would stir up sediment, muddying the normally clear water. Thus if you lost your grip on the rope, it was hard to find again, and panic and confusion could quickly set in.

I heard about this story when it happened seven years ago, and it made a deep impression on me and has come to my mind many times since. Obviously the haunting and truly tragic nature of the accident is part of what made it so indelible – it’s hard not to imagine what the doomed cavers last minutes were like.

But the main reason I have often found myself thinking about this accident has been the way in which from the very start it has seemed to me an arresting metaphor for our lives in general. How our values and goals — our very deepest beliefs — are very much like a rope that runs through our lives and to which we must hold fast, no matter how much our courage falters and distractions and harmful temptations cloud and muddy our vision.

Forgetfulness and Falling Chariots

For the sailors of old, “hold fast” was both a noun (used interchangeably with “rope”) or a verb meaning to grab the rope. Sailors would in fact often get the phrase tattooed on their hands – one letter on each finger – in order to remind themselves to stay vigilant in holding the lines, and as a magical protection: superstitious sailors believed the tattoo protected them from falling while climbing up the rigging.

A sailor’s grip on the rope could be loosened and undone by a bout of nerves, a strong wind, or a powerful wave. In a squall, a failure to hold fast could result in the man being swept overboard.

When piloting our metaphorical ship through life, the wind and waves are obviously figurative, but the result is the same: the loosening and dropping of our grip on the rope of our values and beliefs. So how do the figurative storms of life manage to get our grip to slip?

In the Phaedrus, Socrates (via Plato) offers us an answer to this question in the form of his famous Allegory of the Chariot. One day I’d like to do a full-blown exegesis of this piece of ancient Greek philosophy, as it has greatly enriched my own worldview, but for today’s purposes, a brief outline will suffice.

In the parable, Plato compares his tripartite view of the soul or psyche to a chariot drawn by two winged horses. One of the horses is white, handsome, and noble and symbolizes spiritedness or the Greek concept of thumos. The other horse is dark, gangly, and rebellious and symbolizes human appetites.  The Charioteer, or Reason, is tasked with corralling the disparate steeds into sync and guiding them on a flight into the heavens. Following a procession of gods in their chariots, the Charioteer seeks to soar past the highest ridge of heaven, in order to get a view of the “Forms” – the eternal essences of things like Truth, Beauty, Virtue, and Goodness. The gods have no problem piloting their chariots, but the human-souled Charioteers struggle with taming their dark horses, which try to pull the reins towards the earth. Thus the chariots bob up over the ridge, giving the Charioteers an inspiring view of the Forms, and then sink down again.

If a Charioteer loses this tug-o-war, his horses shed their wings and the chariot plummets to earth, where the soul becomes embodied in mortal flesh and must wait until the wings of his steeds regrow to once again begin a journey into the heavens.

Thus, Plato believed that the souls of every human on earth had once lived in a preexistence, where they had gotten a view of the Forms to a degree which varied according to how well they had guided their chariots. So for Plato, whenever you came to an understanding of some truth in this life, you weren’t discovering it for the first time, but were instead simply remembering what you had known in the preexistence. Therefore, he argued, the only man who is able to perpetually keep his wings is he who is:

“always, according to the measure of his abilities, clinging in recollection to those things in which God abides, and in beholding which He is what He is. And he who employs aright these memories is ever being initiated into perfect mysteries and alone becomes truly perfect.”

By that same token, Plato argued that what brought a chariot to earth, and retarded the growth of the horses’ wings once there, was forgetfulness – forgetting one’s true nature and the Forms you had at one time beheld in the heavens:

“For as has been already said, every soul of man has in the way of nature beheld true being; this was the condition of her passing into the form of man. But all souls do not easily recall the things of the other world; they may have seen them for a short time only, or they may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot, and, having had their hearts turned to unrighteousness through some corrupting influence, they may have lost the memory of the holy things which once they saw.”

Plato argued that the key to recollecting the truth we once knew and avoiding forgetfulness was rooted in our ability to recognize the shadows of divinity in our mortal lives. He believed that the Forms of heaven existed as hazy reflections on earth – “they are seen,” he said, as “through a glass dimly.” Whenever we encounter an earthly copy of heavenly truth, Plato said, we feel “rapt in amazement,” but most people are “ignorant of what this rapture means, because they do not clearly perceive.” What Plato meant is that people often have what feel like transcendent, soul-filling experiences when they see something beautiful and gain insight into a great truth, but they don’t realize that what they’re feeling is the reactivation of memories of things they already knew.

One way to look at it is to imagine that while in the preexistence, viewing the Forms embedded magnets of divinity within you. Once embodied as a mortal, a veil is drawn over any memory of that former world and the fact you have those magnets within. But whenever you encounter pieces of divine truth on earth, you feel yourself pulled and drawn to those things, although you may not know why. The more you can recognize that pull, and use it to seek out more divine magnets, the faster you can regrow your wings.

Seeing the Forms

While you can read Plato’s allegory literally as saying that humans experienced a preexistence prior to this earthly one, it can also symbolize the way we gain and forget truths across the course of our mortal lives. What then do the Forms represent in such an interpretation?

To see the “Forms” in your life is to have (and forgive this reference!) what Oprah might call an “ah-ha moment.” You feel as though you have drawn back the curtain on something once locked to you, and finally understand something about how things really are, or about who you are, why you’re here, and where you’re going. John Ubersax put it this way:

“Such an experience has a feeling-like quality, but also an intellectual component: an insight or clear recognition…that this is how things are meant to be; how obvious this all is, etc. This transcends ordinary experience, feeling, and reasoning. It is something you simultaneously see, feel, understand, experience, and participate in…This is our peeking temporarily into the realm ‘above the heavens.’”

Depending on your worldview, you may interpret such experiences as spiritual revelation, contemplative transcendence, or psychological flow and insight. Regardless of how you view it and its source, it imparts to you a truth about your purpose, direction, and/or identity.

You might think that such experiences would be absolutely unforgettable, and that the insights gained from them would forever after guide your life and choices. And yet how many of us, not long after uttering “ah-ha!” have been heard to exclaim: “This isn’t the man I want to be! This isn’t what I want out of life! How did I ever get so off track?!” It seems Plato was quite correct: it is very easy to forget the truths we’ve learned, lose our wings, and plummet to earth. The immediate aftershocks of a moment of insight quickly fade, and without a concerted effort to hold fast to those memories, forgetfulness loosens our grip on the rope of our lives.

Why this is so, and the prescient wisdom of a two-thousand-year-old philosopher, has been explained by modern science.

How We Remember and Why We Forget. Or, Why Becoming the Man You Want to Be Is Not Like Riding a Bicycle

Scientists have identified two main types of long-term memory: declarative (explicit), and nondeclarative (implicit). Nondeclarative memories are memories of how to do something, and are often related to motor skills like running or driving a car. You can’t describe these kinds of memories in words, which is why they’re termed “nondeclarative.” Declarative memories, on the other hand, are memories of what, where, when, and why — facts, people, experiences, ideas, concepts, and the relationships between them. You can “declare” or describe these memories to others.

You don’t have to consciously recall nondeclarative memories from your brain – when you pick up a toothbrush, you know what to do with it without thinking it through. It’s instinctive. And you can retain that instinct pretty much indefinitely without effort – hence the old saying about something being “like riding a bicycle.”

Some men assume that becoming the man they want to be is like riding that proverbial bicycle. Once they have experiences that give them an understanding of their beliefs, who they want to be, and what they want out of life, they figure they won’t have any problem living out those insights – that they’ll simply set their course and sail straight for their goals. “Alright, I figured out what to do. Now I’ll do it.” One and done.

But the memories of our insights into who we want to be and what we want to do in life are in fact declarative memories; while aspects of your behavior can become habitual, acting in accordance with your values never becomes fully automatic, as it involves the constant making of conscious, sometimes very difficult, decisions.

Unlike nondeclarative memories, declarative memories must be consciously recalled from your brain. And it is in this recollection process that we encounter problems with forgetfulness.

Scientists believe that in general, once a long-term memory is consolidated in the cortex, it is there permanently. When we forget something, we may feel the memory has disappeared, but the problem is not existence but access. It’s there — we just can’t locate it.

When memories are encoded for long-term storage, the different aspects of that memory – everything from your physical location, mood, and level of motivation, to the smell, temperature, and ambient sounds present at the time — are broken up and stored in various locations in the brain. A neural network connects these disparate elements. When you recall a memory, a circuit fires through the network and reassembles those memory pieces into a whole. What this means is that any of these different pieces of memory can act like an entryway or cue that triggers the recall of the entire memory. For example, a memory of a childhood Christmas may have been broken up into the feeling of the fire in the fireplace, the smell of your mom’s cookies, the sound of Bing Crosby’s “Christmas Song,” the sight of lights twinkling on the tree, and the reading of A Night Before Christmas. Experiencing any one of these components separately later in life may cause this network of memories to light up and the whole memory of your childhood Christmas to come rushing back.

The more cues that were present when you first encoded the memory, that are present when you try to recall it later, the easy the memory is to retrieve. Think of the difference between simply imagining your old elementary school, and stepping foot back inside it – the latter will cause many more, and much more vivid, memories to come flooding back to you.

Similarly, scientists recommend that when studying for a test, students replicate the testing conditions they’ll experience on exam day as closely as possible. As they study, the cues in their environment will be encoded along with the information they are learning. When it’s time for the test, seeing the same cues again will help unlock the information the memory of those cues is tied to.

Conversely, in the absence of any of the cues that were present when a memory was encoded, a memory can sometimes be impossible to recall at a later time. It’s like looking for a library book without knowing its call number; it’s somewhere on the shelves but you don’t know where to look. This is called cue-dependent forgetting.

Cue Your Memories of the Man You Want to Be

What we learn from an understanding of cue-dependent forgetting, is that if we want to remember something, we often need to re-experience the same cues that were present when we first formed the memory.

For example, have you ever gotten up from the couch to get something in the kitchen, only to get there and realize you couldn’t remember what you came for? What often works to jog your memory is to retrace your steps, and cue-dependent recall is the reason this is effective. By sitting back down on the couch, the cues that were present when you first formed the memory of what you needed to get will trigger your recall of what it was.

And now at last we return to what it takes to hold fast to our beliefs and values and vision for our lives. We live in a world that prizes the exciting, the new, the original — and the idea of repetition sound pretty boring and unsexy. For the “one and done” folks, once you experience something, it’s on to the next thing. They say things like, “Why go to church every Sunday? The priest says the same things every week.” Or “I never read personal development books. I already know all that stuff already.”

But if you want to keep the important things you’ve learned at the forefront of your mind, where they can influence your decisions and keep you on track, you have to purposefully keep exposing yourself to the same cues that were around when you first learned those things.

So for example, while I sometimes don’t feel like going to church because, yes, we often do talk about the same things over and over, I find that when I do go, the sound of a familiar hymn or a phrase a speaker uses will activate a whole network of memories about my beliefs and how I want to live my life. And what I hear is of course never exactly the same as what I heard before, and I add these new twists into the neural network that mapped the old insight, expanding it. The result is that I leave feeling reinvigorated about how I want to live my life and refocused on what’s important to me. My grip on the rope of my faith, which had loosened during the week, tightens.

Similarly, while it’s true that most personal development articles or books say the same things I already know and have been said for thousands of years, I find that even when they don’t say anything earthshaking, reading them reactivates a network of insights I’ve gotten in the past (“Oh yeah! I remember that concept. I hadn’t thought about that in awhile.”), renewing my motivation to tackle my personal goals. And again, I add some slightly new angles to my old ideas. My grip on the rope of my personal development tightens.

Cue-dependent remembering works for many other important areas of our lives too. If you’re feeling burned out at work, it may be that with advancements in your position and changes in your responsibilities, you feel cut off from the things that used to make you love your job. Revisiting those old people/places/tasks, can help you remember why you decided on this career in the first place.

If your love for your wife has faded from the heady times when you first fell for each other, revisiting the kinds of things you used to do together back then can provide the missing cues that will dislodge those old feelings of love and affection.

Finally, there’s a bonus to using cues to rejog your memories. Every time you actively recall a memory, it strengthens its pathway in your brain, making it even easier to retrieve next time.


People often ask, “Whatever happened to common sense?” Part of the answer to that question is that cues, basically reminders, on how to conduct your life in an honorable way, used to be built into the fabric of the culture. Moral messages were included in school curriculums, and in popular songs, movies, and books. And teachers, parents, and neighbors were happy to offer reminders on being a good person if you were getting off track. Thus, it was hard to go very long without a cue triggering a memory of how you were supposed to act.

These days, cues on living a virtuous life are virtually absent from school or popular culture. And there are thousands of other stimuli vying for your attention. What this means is that you can’t hope to accidentally bump into cues every day that will help you remember the things that are most important to you. Instead, you have to purposefully plan for your regular exposure to those cues. You do this by regularly reading your scriptures, or personal manifesto, or books on philosophy and development, and doing other things which continually pull up all your past feelings and insights into the man you want to be, bringing them to bear on your present challenges.

The longer you go between getting those reminders, the more forgetfulness sets in, and the looser your grip on the rope of your values, beliefs, and goals gets. And once you lose hold of the rope, the harder it is to find again – the easiest way to stay on track is to never get too far from it. On the path to becoming the man you want to be, you have to hold fast to the rope that leads the way, no matter how rocky the journey becomes. Remember, remember.


{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christopher October 9, 2012 at 12:03 am

This is a manly article…
*SIGH* If only every article could include cave diving, ancient chariots, and sailor tattoos!

2 Kyle October 9, 2012 at 12:24 am

Great article. I think something that hinders people a lot, is choosing which to believe in. Is your dream of doing what you love to do and all the inspiration that comes with the cues surrounding it the real thing? Or is the boring necessary everyday grind the real thing? I think that the HUGE gap in between “I can fly into the sun!” and “No, this everyday lame self is who I am” is jarring for most people, which forces them to choose between one or the other. In the end I believe that whatever you believe, makes you. Your beliefs are your own self fulfilling prophecy. It all comes down to your faith, tying back to the “hold on to the rope” philosophy.

3 Michael Paradise October 9, 2012 at 1:05 am

I think you’ve touched on something incredibly important in this article, Brett. Many cultures have a similar mythos, a story of a “Great Forgetting” before one’s birth into the physical world of form. While I think you did a great job explaining the importance of a conscious return to one’s values throughout life, I feel you downplayed the importance of the idea of this “remembering.” The “remembering” Plato referred to was of something known by the soul and not the conscious mind; like many cultures the myth goes that our souls exist in the realm of the gods and know all truth, then, just before our soul inhabits our earthly body at birth we are led to the Tree of Forgetfulness (West African indigenous belief there) where we forget everything we once knew. Thus, conscious studying of one’s values in an intellectual fashion could be said to be merely the prerequisites necessary to help the soul recognize/remember the great truth; an intellectual aid to the memory of the soul.

4 Michael Paradise October 9, 2012 at 1:16 am

The true challenge is reawakening the “soul” to the forgotten truth. Unfortunately, the soul has been dead in Western culture since (ironically) the Enlightenment, when science began to replace religion/myth as the ultimate truth. Since then man’s identification with the ego has grown stronger, and the split between mind and myth been opened to a massive chasm. To close the gap modern man must recognize that there is more than one way of “knowing,” and understand he must develop not just mind and body, but also soul.

5 Nathan Donald Mawer October 9, 2012 at 1:24 am

It is also good to surround yourself with people that have achieved what you want, or with people headed in the same direction. Which would refer back to having “cues”.

6 Ahmed Hassan October 9, 2012 at 4:50 am

This article has moved me like no other on AoM. It is incredibly well written and has encouraged me to become a committed member of the site to ensure that I “hold fast” for as long as this site is operational. Thank you Brett & Kate.

7 Dan October 9, 2012 at 7:36 am

Once again, you’ve demonstrated why this is one of the best blogs on the internet. Thank you.

8 Thomas October 9, 2012 at 8:01 am

This is a very well written article, although I am still uncertain as to whether a pragmatic outlook can be considered the defining quality of manliness. It is certainly not a detrimental one, I guess.

9 freebird October 9, 2012 at 8:31 am

This is why solitude on a regular basis is so important.
There is no way to get clear with modern input.
Get into the woods and be quiet for as long as you can.Then the thoughts will clear.

10 Raymond October 9, 2012 at 9:22 am

I appreciated this post greatly, as it was pertinent to my current struggles. I just wanted to note that the word “forget” actually comes from Old English and Germanic origin and literally meant “to lose grip on”, or to un-grasp something. Fascinating!

11 Jared October 9, 2012 at 9:28 am

Great article mate, you’ve provided me with new insights. Keep up the good work guys.

12 AC October 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

Fantastic artcle – but quoting Oprah is one of the most unmanly things I can think of. ;-)

13 Daren Redekopp October 9, 2012 at 10:30 am

What a biting reminder of the power that our daily routines can have in our lives! This is a reason to script such reminders into the fabric of my week, and for a Christian, to be daily engaging in morning devotions.

14 J. Delancy October 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

Your article writing skills are simply magnificent. The development from the young people in the cave to Plato to modern psychology was unclear until you wrapped up everything at the end.
Using a moral ‘cue’ to make a better man is an unusual idea but reasonable. There must be some way to ‘anchor’ cues into everyday life so that self-improvement can be an unbroken flow of positive behaviours.
That would be a post in and of itself.

Thanks again.

15 ap October 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Seems you are channeling Joseph Campbell :-) Great article, kudos!

16 Doug October 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Just out of curiousity, I have a question to ponder…

Being 20 years old, I probably read personal development books more than I should. This article’s main points are something that I find myself doing constantly. But, at least at the stage of life I’m in, should I constantly be reading personal development books, or should I just go out and live life?

I say this because I feel like if all you do is just read up on this material, you will never go out and actually accomplish it. I may be completely off in my thought, but I was just wondering.

If not, is there any way to combine the two?

17 Abhishek Sharma October 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Can’t help but leave a comment to say that once again, an awe-inspiring article was posted here today. The standard of the articles on your site is just sky-high!
Thank you!

18 nkosana October 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for another thought provoking article.

19 Matt October 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Wow. I just read through that part of The Phaedrus last night and it was part of the discussion in my philosophy class today. Impeccable timing, good sir!

20 GTW October 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I might go a bit further and say that this kind of remembering and repetition is what building character or a self actually consists of. Because we are always finding ourselves in different situations where different goals could be more easily attained, we can not rely on the natural course of nature to keep us as ourselves. Who you are right now could be miles away from who you would be in a year, depending upon your experiences.

This kind of repetition tethers you at 20 to you at 21, 22, 25, 30, 40, etc. Without it, you could end up with an unrecognizably different character everytime you’re dropped into a significantly new situation.

I would say, though, that room needs to be made for growth as well. Rather than only studying, remembering, and practicing those things that make us into the people we want to be at one time, it needs to be recognized that we may want to change our goals. Our experiences with the world may show us that we were thinking too narrowly early on, in which case we need to modify what we hold fast to.

Excellent article!

21 Rob Dyson October 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm

First, I agree with freebird that solitude is a sorely missed discipline in our fast-paced culture.

Second, you’re echoing some things said by Paul in the bible. Now, we look through a glass darkly, but then we will see and be seen as we truly are (speaking of heaven). Also, C. S. Lewis has commented in his works about how the things of this earth are dim reflections of the true reality we will experience in heaven.

Lastly, this struggle between good and evil exists within us, and is starkly depicted at the end of Romans 7 where Paul laments that the good he wants to do, he doesn’t do, and the bad he doesn’t want to do is what he actually does. I blogged about this ‘civil war’ (no link).

To Doug, I say: we can know things without practicing them, but we’re not likely to practice them without knowing them. However, the time definitely needs to come where we practice what we learn, and thereby incorporate those truths into our reality (or memory).

22 John October 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Can’t get enough of this website.

23 BC October 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Great article Brett.

Loosely related but thought you might like; Cherokee parable of Two Wolves.
When I’m slipping I use it to pull myself back into line.

24 Herb October 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Great article gents. It’s interesting to me though, what you describe as Plato’s pre-existing memories of divine Forms sounds a lot like the Jungian concept of Archetypes. I like what you said that when we “seek out more divine magnets, the faster you can regrow your wings.” That is the purpose of Jungian psychotherapy, helping client’s understand the archetypes they are either possessed by or are totally ignoring.

25 Bobo Balo October 10, 2012 at 12:58 am

I always felt I was remembering something I already knew when I experienced an A-ha moment. Thanks you for reinforcing that feeling of recollection. Btw reading those saccharine self-help books do help. Thank you again. This site rocks!

26 Andy October 10, 2012 at 6:42 am

By far, the best article I’ve read from AOM. The Apostle Paul speaks similar truths in his letters to the Thessalonians as does Timothy in 1st and 2nd Timothy.

27 Andrew October 10, 2012 at 7:52 am

Glad I read all the way to the end. Another well written and thoughtful article.
It’s funny, from the title I thought there might not be anything in here I hadn’t heard before, but the information on how cues work in the brain was all new for me. Reminded me why I keep coming back to this site.

28 Jess K October 10, 2012 at 7:58 am

On the topic of accessing memories, this article is a very worthwhile read. Essentially, for people who don’t have strong photographic memories, every time you access a memory you actually “rewrite” the data slightly, such that eventually the memory can be of little resemblance to what originally happened.


29 Tony S October 10, 2012 at 9:50 am

This was very much needed this morning. The past few days have been filled with doubt and disillusionment on where I want to go with my life. I’ve walked off my path and been lead to a maze to figure this out all over again. I knew very well what I had to do but a lack of reminders put me here. I will be making use of my chalkboard wall and my Moleskine notebook again. Thank you, Brett & Kate.

30 Jordan October 10, 2012 at 10:41 am

Amazing article, truely moving.

What book were you taking these Plato quotes from ?

31 Jim Collins October 10, 2012 at 11:42 am

Esteemed Brett, Readers, and Kate,

We poorly apprehend abstractions and the symbols which we use to denote those abstractions I liken, as did the AoM authors, to a rope.

An image on which I rely for this hand-fast is Santiago from “The Old Man and the Sea” gripping the line on which he held a monster of a fish though his hand was cut and cramping. He in turn had images on which he relied to hold fast to his values: The Great DiMaggio, and a young boy who looked up to him.

It incumbent on us first to choose a sound rope, and second to hold fast lest we are lost, or perhaps, put the rope around our own necks. I am also grateful to those strong souls who help me haul the line.


Jim Collins

32 A6 October 10, 2012 at 11:44 am

@Doug it’s certainly a combination of both (in my case anyway). The whole idea is to analyze and use what you’ve learned by reading these development books, manifestos, etc. Some of it you will find are applicable to your life while some are not so applicable. You then have to apply what you’ve learned while living the life that you “want to live.”
It’s a delicate balance in my opinion, the KEY TO LIFE is to strike the right balance.

33 West October 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Man…I don’t often comment on websites or blogs, but you guys (and gals) just keep ‘hitting it out of the park’. Seriously, I think you’ve become my favorite web destination and every time I read an article, I click on a link to another article that I missed and am equally blown away. Thanks for all you do – this website is a great service to me and all with whom I come into contact.

34 KH October 10, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Excellent article. One of the best I have read. I agree we all recognize the truth when we hear and see it, and are naturally attracted to it.

But there must be opposition in all things and there are other forces that pull us away.

This is where our free will comes in.

We get to choose which path to follow.

35 Pete October 10, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Came here wanting to procrastinate on my phil of man paper, ended up getting help understanding the exact dialogue I’m supposed to be writing it on. Thanks AoM!

36 Ash October 10, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Let me just join the chorus… fantastic article. I’m so glad this blog exists, and updates regularly!

37 Victor October 10, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Brett and Kate, You guys are becoming incredible at this! Magnificent read.

This website is my most consistent cue to remembering my dreams and ambitions.

I am taken by the idea that cues remind us of what our goals are and to hold fast. In my opinion it is the hours and day after I read an article such as this when I am most committed to my goals. Or I take a cue by reading ‘the exact same, only different” type of books. It has a significant impact on my desire/motivation to attain those goals.

It is clear to me that I have subconsciously committed to maintaining cues in my life, but I wonder what success I could find by intentionally planting cues for future victor to uncover.

Thanks for a great article

38 Sergey Zabarin October 10, 2012 at 11:44 pm

I have read many of your articles and must say that I’ve noticed a marked improvement in the depth, character, and message of what you write. This article is superbly written and drives the message home like a hammer drives a nail. The beginning sparks the imagination with the tales of ancient Greeks. It also sets the tone that, although the metaphors, this is a serious and weighty philosophical topic. Then, you add the science to buckle the most skeptical of readers. Finally, you add a simple but effective means to achieve the end you propose. A truly outstanding article. I agree with Victor that this article is a great reminder in itself. I’m printing it and keeping by my desk for those days I find myself a little lost. Thanks for keeping virtue and manliness alive. Keep up the great work!

39 Michael H October 11, 2012 at 1:29 am

I think a good concrete way to do this is to get into the habit of rereading and archiving old journal entries.

I often find myself writing about the same insights/thoughts/feelings. Redigesting the entries is a good way to stay on track.

Now if only I would stop forgetting to start making a habit of this…

40 Bren October 11, 2012 at 2:26 am

Very insightful. Thanks and keep up the good work.

41 Nate October 11, 2012 at 7:42 am

OK, I’ll forgive the Oprah reference… but just this once! LOL

42 MattW October 11, 2012 at 8:58 am

As others have said, great article.
Another cue that has helped me is a nightly examination of conscience (or if that term makes you uncomfortable, a review of the day). It makes me take a cold, hard look at my performance that day against the principles I’ve said I have chosen to live by. I often come up short when measured against my principles, but the nightly examination helps me to spot patterns of weakness and to look a the contexts and cues that cause me to stumble.

43 Aaron J. October 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Fantastic article. I owe you lunch (at least) for the wisdom you’ve imparted over the last two years. Well done!

44 Aaron October 11, 2012 at 7:01 pm

This reminded me of something the great Mr. Churchill said: “Men occasionally stumble upon the truth, but most pick themselves off and hurry on as if nothing had happened”

I just want to say something about the conclusion of this article that was kind of upsetting. I understand that the motif of this website is the “Modern society ruined most everything about our culture” attitude, and that there’s a high premium placed on conservative social values, but does EVERYTHING have to be blamed on the degradation of our culture? I think this one was a stretch, and I’m not a fan of the seeming insistence that everything in the past was innocent and wonderful. Don’t you think there were probably just as many men without direction or moral values in past centuries as there are now? Great article and I’m a very devoted fan of your website, but I think this could have done without that ending.

45 Kate McKay October 11, 2012 at 9:44 pm


I’d like to address your comment if I might. That AoM is too nostalgic is a common and easy criticism, but it paints with far too broad a brush. Brett and I have never, ever said that everything was wonderful and innocent in the past, and the motif of this website is far from “modern society ruined most everything about our culture.” Instead, what we have said many times is that some things were worse in the past, some things were better, so let’s learn from the things that were better and wed them to the good things in our own time, to live the best possible life.

As opposed to broad, mindless nostalgia, the things we specifically point out as better in the past are based on an intensive study of history and hinge on historical facts. For example, the conclusion reached in this post is based on looking through hundreds of old books, songs, movies, and so on. It’s simply an incontrovertible fact that the popular media and school curriculums as well, used to include moral messages at a much higher rate than now. Again, this is not based on gut feeling nostalgia, but our own intensive research and collegiate backgrounds. The real stretch here would be to think that a far different school system and popular culture, full of reminders on how to act honorably, would have no effect on behavior and mindset. Finally, please also notice that the conclusion is prescriptive, not descriptive, which is to say we’re simply describing the state of things — not necessarily advocating for a return of moralizing media. The fact simply is that people need to be aware of the lack of culturally embedded cues in their life, and the potential effect of that lack, so that they make sure to create those cues for themselves.

46 Aaron October 12, 2012 at 3:53 am

Keep in mind that I said I was a huge fan of this site, and your response is exactly why.

47 David October 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Many of my “ah ha!” moments occur while reading the content of this website. Despite the excitement and intense momentary commitment, forgetfulness sets in as time goes by. Re-reading definitely recharges the insight.

Also, undoubtedly, modern culture – especially in the US public school system – has left personal values in the dust of information and skill. There are exceptions, but the trend is prominent. This must be why most kids have such bad attitudes. Sadly, teaching to the test is becoming the status quo. Let’s blame the economy!

Great article!

48 Leon October 12, 2012 at 6:25 pm

dare I say it AoM is a bit like one of those reminders for me – sounds ass kissy I know. I’m often captured by the articles on here as they relate to values and my own goals etc. Despite their different topics and titles there are some common themes to a lot of the stuff on your excellent site and re-visiting these in different contexts keeps me coming back.
Keep it coming

49 Gareth October 12, 2012 at 11:06 pm

I really liked the underwater cave metaphor at the beginning of the article. I also agree with the point that there were more cues in days gone by about the moral standards that society expected. Thanks for illuminating the importance of memory and cues in directing our behavior.

50 Wamstar October 13, 2012 at 12:59 am

This is a great article. It ties to the facts that motivation is something that we must replenish regularly. It is too easy to get distracted and go off course but remembering why u began your journey can help. the purpose of this very article is to help remember why u began your journey !!

51 John S October 13, 2012 at 7:01 am

It’s interesting that Plato proposes the idea that we don’t really discover things (particularly things relating to truth, beauty, and goodness), so much as “remember” them. To the Christian, it’s just another way of saying “God’s laws are written on our hearts, even if we never formally learned them.” We somehow can recognize something true, beautiful, or good because it’s inherent in our very being, the image and likeness of the Creator, if you will. Plato lived before the time of Christ, yet nonetheless discovered echoes of the truth, as St. Paul said “They [the Gentiles] show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”

52 Mato Tope October 13, 2012 at 11:56 am

Brett and Kate. I found this passage in Concentration and Meditation bySwami Paramananda which seem to echo the points raised in your excellent article.
“In moments of great exuberance and upliftment, your mind, your senses and all your faculties seem to blend. For the time, you find no difficulty in concentrating your mind upon any subject. Then you grow careless. You settle down and live on your past experience and the success that went with it, feeling that the merit you attained at that period will carry you without any further effort on your part. You become like an improvident person trying to live on his inheritence, Although he may have had a fortune to begin with, it soon dwindles to nothing.
When conditions become harrowing and you feel powerless, then hold fast. Do not permit things to crowd in on your mind. Create a barrier – a wall. Take a thought, or a prayer or a poem – anything of spiritual significance – and form an armor about you. Instead of letting your mind revolve round and round your aches and pains and sicknesses, take a firm stand and fasten you thoughts to the Infinite (God). This practice will bring wholeness and healing.”

53 Jim Collins October 14, 2012 at 10:35 am

Esteemed Kate, Brett, and Readers,

I am glad to see the explicit voice of Kate here. The authors of AoM have from the beginning made it clear that AoM is the joint expression of a husband and wife team. Myself, I rely very much on my partner and wife to help me be a better man and I do hope that I contribute to her being a better woman. I hope not to be smug about this as I am aware that it is particularly easy for us to look levelly at each other since we share a profession. I have also been happy to see the welcoming nature of the authors with respect to women commenting on this site.

Each of us has a different music to our expression; and I was happy to see an explicit example of Kate’s song independent of the fact that I happened to think what she was expressing is true.


Jim Collins

54 BJ Simpson October 14, 2012 at 10:53 am

A million dollar essay here. I am genuinely pleased with this article. Thanks for helping us remember.

55 G October 14, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Awesome, just awesome.

56 Nik Rice October 15, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I live in Provo. I knew one of the guys who died in this horrible accident. I went to high school with him. I actually teach at that same school now.

Brett and Kate have done an amazing article here. The word “Remember” is one of the most important words/ideas. If we do not have the foundation of our previous thoughts, as an individual and as a collective human family, we are really landing on a “go back to start” square.

I appreciate the gospel truths that you two are sharing here and I tip my hat to you for being so bold with your great voices.

I also have never heard this allegory but I love it. Please do more of them! I know the cave but that is about it!

57 Edgar Ortiz October 15, 2012 at 4:41 pm

As I read this blog I am reminded of the benefits meditation has on testosterone levels, the best chance of avalanche survival is 15 minutes, how and when to roll up the shirt sleeves, the power of purpose, or a wonderful poem by Rudyard Kipling. The point I intend to express is that this site and every blog I read serves as another cue in my quest to becoming the best man.

58 Philip Pirrip October 15, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Most of us have the aforementioned transcendental “ah-ha” moments but few of us seldom understand such overwhelming feelings. We bask in its glory and feel its soothing caress, and even though its cliqued to say it, but life in such moments mesmerizes one with its splendor and its infinite possibilities. The depression hits like a tsunami after such “ephiphanies” die their quick and violent death, leaving us reeling due to the suddent violent emotional vacuum left in its retreat. This is where philosophy comes to our aid. Philosophers help shed a narrow incisive light upon the mysteries and absurdities of life, striving to bring order to the chaos which is our lives. They are the ones who have taken the trouble to explain in words, to convey to us the synthesis and meaning of those brief lucid moments whereupon the clandestine truth shines its awe inspiring soul scorching light upon us. Therefore, as this article says go forth and make the effort to read the works of Plato, Schoppenhauer, Nietzsche, Camus, Dickens, Maugham and Dostoevsky, and that is but a mere drop. You’ll get depressed, agitated, anxious, angry and disillusioned and also at same time laugh, cry and love but most importantly you’ll think, comprehend and examine. After all in the immortal words of Plato “an unexamined life is not worth living”. Read, discuss, think and discover your truth, whereupon you will fulfill your great expectations.

59 Anirudh October 15, 2012 at 8:46 pm

This one of the best article I have ever read — and touches exactly on so many of the things I have been thinking of lately. Kudos to you and the rest of the team at art of manliness on helping us REMEMBER what it is to be a man.

60 Jordan T. October 16, 2012 at 11:53 am

This was exactly what I needed to hear. AOM continues to be a most valuable resource to me as I navigate through my life. Thank you for your continued commitment to telling important truths and helping us all gain greater wisdom for our lives.

61 David October 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Reminds me of a saying the Jesuits have: “repetitio est mater studiorum”, which means “repetition is the mother of learning”.

62 David McWhite October 22, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Brett, the “Conclusion” to this article was just fantastic. It is obvious that our culture has taken active strides to remove morality from the public arena, but I had never considered how that should affect how often I am pushing myself to remember who I want to be and how I should live as a believer and as a man. Thanks so much for all the posts.

63 Gaston Belanger October 23, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Aloha Bruddah’s

Always remember that “Reality goes at the speed of choice” and “Fear is the master intellectual fraud”, never lose your grip on these quotes to continue living life to the fullest into your aging manliness.

Case in point; I’m 71 and still ride/race off road dirt bikes where keeping a grip has real meaning in my life style.

Last week on one of my solo “On any Sunday Rides” I road a 08 KTM 200 4 miles up the slope of Big Islands Mauna Loa volcano on a silver metallic black Pahoehoe lava flow to the 10,000 ft elev.

This was a scrotum pounding, okole orifice irritating, arm pumping, hand callous making ride as I worked my way up into the electric blue sky on a surface that resembles a pile of snakes of all sizes laced over one another with deep depressions, big cracks, and lava tube holes.

Going up took constant “go or blow” committed wheelies to span gaps between undulating lava lobes and quick no second guessing line picking every three or four feet of travel up the climb that gets steeper as I gulp thinner air with a dizzy mind in a cold bitter wind…many times I had to scout on foot the best lines up and around nasty sections.

Going back down is where good memory come into play because it all looks the same and one wrong line picked will put me into bad situations that I dodged going, plus up takes a whole different riding technique of clutch flicking power burst to span deep depressions and lots of instant scrotum compressing front braking to keep the KTM’s downward gravity run away momentum that can get quickly out of control ugly…this is not the place to have to walk or ride out injured.

Bottom line is; get a grip on a no fear attitude, the closer to adventurous death, the more alive you’ll feel…if your an old man like me, this is good shit happening in your favor!

Go here for photos> http://www.facebook.com/gaston.belanger.10

64 Aaron November 28, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Wow, this is real food. Excellent article, very meaningful and provoking.

65 Ldt March 9, 2013 at 5:09 am

I think you could have accomplished conceptual clarity better if you had just directly introduced the concept of ‘peak experiences’ together with the Plato stuff. No need to dance around it. It’s sad though that we lack the common non-academic language to speak about them in a way that makes sense in a secular society, religions have always spoken about revelations as something very ordinary and common.

66 Thibaut March 14, 2013 at 2:41 am

Awesome article. Very valuable and documented information. I very rarely comments on blog posts I read, although I love to write ( :@ ) Today, I felt with everything I have already read on AoM, I really had to express my thanks for the great digital reading you offer.

67 Scott February 9, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Great post!

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