I love aphorisms, proverbs, koans, paradoxes, fables, and teaching stories. Lately I’ve been spent a lot of time thinking and reading about aphorisms.
Now, what exactly is an “aphorism?” As with just about everything, people argue about definitions. Aphorism expert (yes, such an expertise exists) James Geary argues for “FIVE LAWS OF THE APHORISM: It Must Be Brief, It Must Be Personal, It Must Be Definitive, It Must Be Philosophical, and It Must Have a Twist.”
Here’s how I define aphorism: An aphorism is a concise, powerful, general observation attributed to a particular person.
Because they’re sharp and short, they’re grand generalizations, and by saying little, they manage to suggest a lot. I ask myself, “What exactly does the statement mean?” and “Do I agree?” When an idea is expressed in a short, powerful way, it’s more suggestive and has more power in our minds.
Their brevity gives them extra punch.
I’ve collected hundreds of brilliant aphorisms. I don’t necessarily agree or even completely understand all of them, but I find them enormously thought-provoking.
Here are a few of my current favorite aphorisms:
- “Don’t cut what you can untie.” Joubert
- “You can sink so fast that you think you’re flying.” Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
- “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Archilochus
- “People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply: by the lives they lead.” James Baldwin
- “Pleasure is Nature’s test, her sign of approval.” Oscar Wilde
- “He who can achieve great things is not necessarily capable of small.” Marcel Proust
- “Failure is a good preparation for success, which comes as a pleasant surprise, but success is poor preparation for failure.” Sarah Manguso
- “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” Carl Sagan
I love reading aphorisms, and I love writing them. For many years, without quite realizing it, I’ve been drawn to the elegance of aphorisms.
Here are some aphorisms that I wrote as part of previous books:
- The days are long, but the years are short.
- Outer order contributes to inner calm.
- The opposite of a profound truth is also true.
- A strong voice repels as well as attracts.
- Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life.
- If you hold the line, others will fall into line. (This is from my current Quitting Sugar project.)
- Starting again is often harder than starting.
- Choose the bigger life.
- Giving can be a sign of neediness, and we can be generous by taking.
For me, it’s an exciting intellectual challenge to try to distill a big thought into one sentence. I’m forced to abandon my lawyer’s desire to account for every exception or variation, to explain, or to permit myself to use many words to express an idea.
Here are a few aphorisms that I’ve written recently:
- When people are free to find their own way, some get lost.
- The body can be denied, but it won’t be ignored.
- Categories may lack the accuracy of continua, but they’re simpler to grasp and are therefore more powerful in the mind. (I realized this as I was thinking about my Four Tendencies framework)
- You can’t gorge on perfume.
- Chasing petty happiness pushes greater happiness out of reach.
- No one grows up in the wilderness.
- Everyone agrees that it’s important to think for yourself.
- Everything becomes interesting when it’s put under a glass case.
- Why put a strong lock on a weak door?
- Red is the salt of color.
I use aphorisms as a way to prompt reflection. In the tumult of everyday life, I find it refreshing to quiet my mind, to focus on a large and spacious thought. I turn the aphorism over in my mind, I think of examples, I argue against it, I ponder its relevance.
Meditation has never worked for me; I prefer the contemplation of aphorisms as an exercise.
For instance, one of my favorite aphorisms to invoke is from Boethius: “Contemplate the extent and stability of the heavens, and then at last cease to admire worthless things.”
- Soap and water removes most stains.
- Turning a computer off and on often fixes a glitch.
- Over-the-counter medications are very effective.
- Always visit the bathroom before boarding the subway.
I love aphorisms, and I also love proverbs. A proverb is a piece of folk wisdom that’s old and unattributed—such as “A stitch in time saves nine” or “Make haste slowly.” Some of my favorites:
- The stewing is worse than the doing.
- A stumble may prevent a fall.
- Ships fear fire more than water.fo
- You measure every man’s honesty by your own.
- New dishes beget new appetites.
- No receiver, no thief.
I’m collecting proverbs, and in particular, “proverbs of the professions.”
- Gardener: “First year sleep; Second year creep; Third year leap.”
- Hospice worker: “People die how they lived.”
- Lawyer: “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, argue.”
- Journalist: “If it bleeds, it leads.”
- Basketball coach: “You can’t teach tall.”
- Therapist: “Under stress, we regress.”
- Cheese and wine specialist: “What grows together, goes together.”
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Freddy Marschall.
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The post “Red Is the Salt of Color,” or, Why I Love the Short, Powerful Observation of the Aphorism. appeared first on Positively Positive.
I remember that feeling so vividly.
Cruising on the bike… If I could just maintain my position, I’d gain all the distance on the run…
I was on fire.
And just like that I was flat out on the ground.
And the pain in my hip was unbelievable.
What had just happened?
Was my race over? After all those months of training? All those sessions? All that commitment?
Yes. It was.
Someone had tacked the course and my tire popped. Unbelievable
And on top of it I knew I was completely out of commission for a while.
My knee was tweaked too.
My GAWD. I had poured so much into this season. These races. This National Championship.
And just like that it was over. And not on my timeline.
Did you know that about me? What a huge failure that was for me?
And how afraid I was afterwards to get back on the bike (No pun intended) and put that kind of commitment into my training again for fear of it being taken away just like that again?
Fear twists your mind, doesn’t it? It simultaneously gets your body pumping while mentally bringing on wild thoughts you can’t control.
What if you could change your natural response to fear, though?
I mean, you’ll still experience being afraid… but what if you knew what to do in that moment other than cry, or sweat like crazy, or flip out?
Here’s why you need to learn how to manage it – when you’re afraid of something, you don’t want to run because it most likely means you’re on the edge of a breakthrough.
If you push through.
Someone’s testing me, you’re asking? YES. They are. And if you’re strong enough to push through the door to the other side, you’ve passed the test.
Fear is usually this gatekeeper to greatness (you can put that on a mug if you want).
Which means being able to hack your way through a fear response is a killer tactic to have in your toolbox.
How we instinctively deal with fear is a subconscious reaction… being aware of it is a conscious choice. You get that, right?
You can clue into what’s happening, then choose to react differently in the moment if you train your brain on it.
I’m gonna let my nerd flag fly here for a sec and tell you that neurohacks are kinda my jam. I love researching them and learning about how to improve myself at this level. That’s what inspired this entire post, TBH.
I’m gonna share my top three ways to reprogram your brain when dealing with fear. Ready?
No. I am not talking about getting a car with a super awesome sunroof.
When we get afraid, or we’re stressed, multiple things happen physically and psychologically to our bodies. Our pupils get large. Our heart rate gets rapid. Breath gets short. Thoughts get jumbled.
And when we are in a state like that, our vision – figuratively and literally – narrows.
Think about the last time you were incredibly stressed out and how you could really only focus on one thing (the thing driving you crazy). And maybe at the same time you focused on physically doing one thing (obsessively cleaning a countertop for example, lol……).
This is tunnel vision. And tunnel vision prevents you from shifting your focus to the bigger picture.
That’s where “panoramic vision” comes into play. When you dial out your focus, it makes you have a faster, better and more precise reaction.
A great example of this is the end of the month in my biz. Every month as it winds down, I have to figure out where my biz is and whether I’ll be hitting my goals or not.
There are definitely some months where it cuts close… or looks like it won’t hit at all.
When that happens, I could choose to narrow my focus and flip out. Because of being afraid of not making enough money, or not hitting my rank.
But, because I know how to manage my response, instead of take in the larger picture and am aware of specific steps I can take to keep moving toward my goals.
When you don’t intensely focus on one small thing, you actually open yourself up to bigger things.
And you literally rob fear of its power which is pretty great.
Get Your Breath On
Okay, if you really want to take panoramic vision to the next level, layer some breathing exercises on top of it.
Yeah yeah yeah we have all heard that – “take deep breaths when you’re stressed out!” but that’s not really what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about focused, purposeful breathing that you do while visually taking in your surroundings. The breath part helps your blood oxygenate more, which will begin to calm your heart rate (and get rid of your sweaty pits, too. #bonus).
So while doing a big picture, visual sweep become mindful of your breathing. Do a few breaths in and out, then one big breath in that you hold for a few seconds and release. Repeat.
Then bask in your state of calm that’s enabling you to tackle the thing in front of you as you suddenly are able to come up with a plan in-the-moment to deal with it.
Hypnosis. If all else fails, you can try something like this. Hypnosis has a lot of benefits, so don’t laugh this one off because you think it’s woo.
Sometimes the unconventional thing is the thing that ends up working best.
When you allow yourself to be hypnotized by a hypnotherapist, they’ll help you root out subconsciously what’s been causing you so much fear.
Maybe something from childhood? Maybe something more recent that was traumatic for you? Whatever it is, the story will come to the surface.
And when it comes up, your hypnotherapist will help you rewrite it in your subconscious mind during the session. This is through the art of suggestion, and other spoken prompts.
Why this is so cool is that when you return to your mindful state, your subconscious brain will start doing the work of believing this new story about whatever it was that you had been afraid of.
Then the next time you might get triggered, you’ll know how to handle it. Pretty amazing, right?
You bet it is.
Hayley Hobson is an author, speaker, Kick-A$$ Business Guru, 7 Figure MOM-treprenuer. and passionate about empowering others to live the life of their dreams and is based in Boulder, CO. Hayley creates lifestyle transformations by coaching her clients to become the best WHOLE version of themselves possible. To learn more about her nutritional courses, events, and custom programs, visit hayleyhobson.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
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