“I feel like I have no control over my life”, she said to me, “It’s as if part of me says ‘go left’ and the other side says ‘go right’. For some reason, neither is the direction I want to go and I’m stuck! I can’t get the two sides of me to communicate with each other”.
I smiled. It sounded familiar.
“Sometimes, I wake up with energy and motivation that lasts for three days. There is a voice inside of me that keeps telling me it can be like this forever. I’ve tried shutting it out, but I don’t know how to”, she kept telling me about her frustration.
I listened to her and thought to myself, “She is ready for the sailing story”.
I hope you are ready too.
Sailing on the Ship of Life
The Captain of the “I” ship stood at the helm of his ship looking at the horizon and holding the steering wheel. He was not very happy about the condition of his ship and the direction it was taking. They had been sailing for a long time without success. Yet, every time he had talked to his crew about the poor condition of the “I” ship and told them he was not happy about where it was headed, the crew had calmly ignored his frustration.
“Captain”, said the First Mate, “We have been working on this map for many years. Our job is to protect the ship from any harm, even if it means we need to protect it from you. We will not change course unless you convince us it is safe for the ship”.
Sometimes, he felt that he was not the Captain and that the crew members were making decisions by themselves. The captain of the “I” ship felt very frustrated. He stood at the helm, his parrot Max on his shoulder, and longed to experience success and comfort.
“A ship should not be in this condition”, said Max the parrot, “Just look at any magazine or any TV show. There are wonderful ships there, looking young and fresh with lots of technology”.
“Are you sure it is not all a façade, Max?” asked the Captain.
“No, Captain. They sail on easy seas, they have all the luxury they want and look at you, sailing a beaten old ship with a disobedient crew. Your parents had other plans for you and what will others say about you and your ragged ship?”
The Captain felt very bad about it. The more he imagined the papers, magazines and TV celebrity ships, the worse he felt. The thought of disappointing his family and showing himself in any ship gathering almost made him freak out.
“You don’t have to listen to your crew”, said Max.
“Maybe not, but I need them, you know”, said the Captain.
“No, you don’t. They are just a bunch of losers. What do they know? You are the Captain! You just tell them where to go and be firm and they will listen. You need to give orders and make sure you do it loudly enough for them to listen”, said Max.
“You’re right. Max. I’m the Captain here”, said the Captain and called out, “Sail to the North, turn right 20 degrees”. He tried very hard to steer his wheel to the right. The mighty “I” ship made a slight turn to the right.
“Well done, Captain”, said Max, “You did it! I told you all you had to do was firm and loud. Your crew will only respond to orders”.
The Captain was very happy with the new direction, but after three days of holding his steering wheel tight, he felt very tired and went to rest. When he got up in the morning, he realized his ship was on the old course again. He felt very confused.
“This is impossible. Unheard of! What’s wrong with you, Captain? You have no control over your ship”, said Max.
“But I…” started the Captain.
“You might as well leave everything to the crew and jump overboard”, said Max from the Captain’s shoulder.
The Captain felt helpless.
“Well, what on Earth are you doing?” continued Max, “Get up and do something”.
The Captain felt he was under pressure. He did not know what to do. He thought that holding onto the steering wheel for three days was hard enough. He looked around to find some support. His crew members seemed to be going back and forth moving things and looking busy. He was so humiliated by such an uncooperative crew.
“Are you happy?” he shouted to his crew members in frustration and tears formed in his eyes.
“Sorry, Captain. Our role is to protect the ship. What you may think will bring you happiness right now may risk the ship later. We can’t afford to change course just because you watch too much TV and think that sailing North for a quick touch up job will make you happy. Trust us! It won’t. If the timber is rotten, the ship needs a lot more than a touch up job”, said the First Mate.
The Captain nearly cried. He had heard so much about the mechanic who fixed up ships on the North port. He looked around at his ragged ship. The oil was spilling and sails were worn.
“Never mind”, he said in despair and went to open a bottle of rum to ease the humiliation of his defeat.
The next two months were very tough for the Captain and his “I” ship. The ship went though storms and strong winds. The sails were torn and neither the captain nor the crew were able to direct the ship to shore. The captain, supported by his devoted parrot Max, comforted himself with solitude, food and rum.
Two months later, as The Captain looked at the horizon and the sun was shining, he told Max.
“What do you say Max? I really would like to sail north to see that ship fixer upper. Do you think I can hold onto the steering wheel long enough this time?”
“Why not?” asked the Captain in surprise.
“Because you’re a loser. Look at your ship. You have never succeeded in doing anything like that. We have been through the same thing many times already. What makes you think you can do it this time?”
The Captain felt lonely. Even his devoted parrot had no faith in him.
“Well, Maybe I think I can do it because now I want it more than ever”, he tried to convince Max, “Like in the saying ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way'”.
“How do you know that your will is strong enough this time? And does that mean that two month ago, you it wasn’t?” said Max in sarcasm.
The Captain thought about it for a while. He did not know. Sometimes, when the sun shone bright, he had felt he was strong and able, but then again, last time he had the exact same feeling of discomfort and a desire to sail north. He had no way of knowing when his will was strong enough. He felt even more defeated. He could imagine himself sailing in the same old “I” ship on the same old course, not having a clue how to change.
“Just give it up, Captain”, suggested Max.
The captain thought about it for a while. Maybe it is better to know your weaknesses and accept them. He will never have a beautiful, fully-functional ship.
“Just accept it, Captain. You’re a loser with no control over your ship”, said Max.
The Captain went to his room feeling very depressed. He went to bed and turned on the TV. He felt sick. He will take time off from his captaincy. As he fell asleep, he heard max whispering.
“If I were you, I would jump overboard”.
Three players in the game of life
If you have ever felt helpless, defeated and unhappy, just like the captain of the “I” ship, welcome to the real world! We are all sailing on the ocean of life. We sail every day, with every decision and choice we make or reject. The water and the weather are unpredictable and to our aid come three important characters:
- The Captain is our conscious mind – our ability to analyze and reason
- The parrot Max is the little voice in our head – our self talk, telling what we think
- The crew is our subconscious mind – our hidden motives, feelings and ability to act quickly and intuitively
Understanding the “Self” – Captain and Crew
Theories about human behavior claim that the conscious and subconscious have different roles in maintaining the ship’s health, wealth and wellbeing. Captains change over the years and their role is to direct the ship. Crew members are there from day one and their role is to protect the ship from any harm and keep it safe.
Unfortunately, the crew holds more than 90% of the decision making while captains, highly influenced by Max and external sources like media and what happened in the past, hold less than 10% of the decision making.
The Crew can only communicate with their ship’s captain. The captain holds the key to the internal communication system with the crew and no one else can talk to the crew except the captain. The crew cannot communicate with anyone else but their captain and cannot be influenced by any other captain. Therefore, whenever you say, “Someone else made me do that”, you are cheating yourself. No one can make you do anything. Your “captain” gave an order and your “crew” chose to obey. Do not blame anyone else for your ship’s condition and do not expect anyone else to come and fix your ship. Life is continuous sailing journey and only you can take care of the condition of your ship.
Generally, Crew members do not like changes. They need to go through lots of convincing for them to change course. Even if you experience lots of pain from a course that is not healthy for you, like health problem, financial difficulties or relationship breakdowns and the captain thinks he knows why and wants to change it, the crew members will hold on to their plan and they will win.
Every time the captain wants a change as a result of jealousy, like a big house just like the Jones’s, to be slim like Barbie or wealthy like Richard Branson, the crew thinks the captain is not keeping the benefit of the ship as a high priority and they reject the change of course.
Whenever the captain wants a change to please another ship, the crew members treat this situation as a threat. They say, “The Captain is not in his normal mind, he is under pressure, we need to protect him from himself. All engines stop, shields up, red alert!” This is when the ship is stuck and not moving anywhere and every ship that gets too close is fired upon.
Crew members do not accept any touch up orders. They think that when the ship’s timber is rotten, there is no point covering it up with a coat of paint. It needs a carpenter. So watch what you are trying to do. If it is temporary relief, your crew will undermine your efforts and may even throw you overboard.
Crew members do not like negative orders. In fact, the crew will do the opposite of a negative command. If the captain says, “I do not want a fat ship”, the crew says, “Fat ship! Aye, aye, Captain” and puts some more weight on the ship. Captains must learn to say what they want and avoid what they do not want. It will keep the ship in a much better shape. Beautiful, healthy, wealthy ships have captains who are clear about what they want and look forward to a positive future.
The crew needs a lot of convincing. If your will is not strong, they will question it until you give up. A persistent captain is the only captain who can make them accept a new course. Most captains will hold a will for 3 days (starting a diet, making an effort to change attitude or reading a book and trying to implement its suggestions). As soon as they let go, the crew sees that as a sign their will is not strong enough and reverses the changes.
If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable
The crew only works with goals. The problem that most captains have is that sailing without knowing where. Research about goals found that only 10% of people live life with a sense of direction by setting themselves goals, while the rest float aimlessly.
The Roman philosopher Seneca said that people must know where they are going if they want to be able to use the circumstances to their advantage. You see, if you know where you are sailing to, instead of drifting during a storm, you can direct your sails so the wind will get to your destination faster. Life offers a variety of sun, wind and rain. Successful people do not have less of them. They just use them to their advantage.
Crew members never accept vague goal. If the Captain says, “Let’s sail there”, they crew will ask where exactly “there” is. And if the captain does not know for sure, the command is rejected immediately. The more specific the coordinates are, the more likely the crew is to follow your order. Saying “I want to look good” is not specific and so it is immediately classified as “wishful thinking” (over a long period, this creates a life of “wishful sinking”).
If you want to find a partner, be specific about what the desired character of this partner, their looks and their areas of interest. If you want to achieve a career goal, be specific about the kind of work you are looking for, what the boss should be like, how much you want to be paid and how long you are willing to commute. If you want to achieve a financial goal, be specific about how much money you want, what you want it for and how long it will take you to get it.
Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star
– W. Clement Stone
Captains do not like being specific. They are afraid they might not get to the exact same coordinated they have set for themselves. Vague goals are a cop out. They allow for the possibility of not achieving.
Crew members work with dates and calendars. Captains, for the same reason, prefer to be vague. They do not like to commit to a date and a time. They prefer to say, “One day I will travel the world”, “Someday I will be healthy”, “In the future, I will have enough money to…” which guarantees they will never get anywhere. These aspirations will be treated again as wishful thinking. Healthy, beautiful, wealthy, happy ships work with dates and calendars. They probably do not get to the destination exactly at the intended time, but getting there a day or even a month later is better than not getting there at all.
The crew does not take orders from any other captain but only from the captain of the ship they are on. So if you hear yourself saying, “My wife made me”, “I didn’t do it because of the kids” or “Having a family doesn’t give me enough time”, you are excusing yourself from achieving. No one can make you do something without your consent. Your crew did not accept any orders from your wife, kids or family without it going through your captain. On a healthy, beautiful, successful ship, the captain does not use excuses or blame to justify his failures but takes responsibility for his decisions.
Everyone has a parrot on their shoulder. Max is there to reflect our thoughts. Max has no filters – he tells us everything we think and believe, whether it is a good thing or not. Max will tell us we are losers if this is what we think and Max will tell us we are powerful beyond measure if this is what we think. He is a parrot, with no mind of his own. He reflects our fears, our motivation, our desires and he is constantly talking, even when we are not listening. On an easy sail, Max tells us we are capable, healthy, happy, loving, friendly, strong, courageous and wealthy. On a rough sail, Max tells us we are weak, unable, small, helpless, afraid, selfish, gutless and poor. Successful people control Max by controlling what they think.
Max will say things he has heard from your family, friends, teachers and other people you have known over the years. He will say things you have heard on TV or read in the paper or will draw conclusions from things that happened in the past. You cannot shut him up nor blame him for his incessant talk. Remember, Max is there all the time and can be very useful to you. When you are all by yourself thinking you may not survive, Max whispers, “Tomorrow everything will be OK” (which he probably heard in a movie or in a motivation book). To control what Max says, control what you think.
Now that you know all there is to know about sailing in the sea of life, take control and find a way to establish a new relationship between your captain and your crew, so that your ship takes the best course it can. Every frustration in life is a conflict between conscious and subconscious, but with the right techniques, this can be changed.
P.S. On the 25th of July, I am running the parenting workshop “Happy Parents Raise Happy Kids” in Brisbane. If your will to be a great parent is strong, tell your crew to register and attend. If you know any other parents who would benefit from this workshop, be a friend and let them know too.