What does it mean to become stronger? I’m not talking just physically. I have identified a 5 tiered pyramid that is the path to transcendent human strength.
Subject: The meaning of strength and how to become stronger. I lay out my concept of the Strength Pyramid and show examples of other people who have attained power through this path. Product links are affiliate links.
Length: 2541 words ~20 life changing minutes
What does it mean to become stronger? I don’t mean in terms of physical strength. The kind of strength I’m interested in is multifaceted and not well understood in the west. Perhaps that’s why it is so difficult to choose a word to describe it. Strength, power, will – all of these fall short of adequately describing this concept.
Western superheroes are strong because of their superpowers. They receive superpowers either through birthright or random happenstance. In the west, the focus is on what the character does after they receive their power. Do they use it for good and become a superhero, or for evil and become a supervillian. This paradigm is well encapsulated in the tagline of Spiderman – “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Power is granted to western heroes because to pursue power is too prideful. How to utilize power for good is an important lesson, but where is the guidance for those that aren’t born into power or arrive at it by chance? How do you become stronger?
The Japanese are much better at this lesson. In fact, 強くなりたい or “I want to become stronger!” is one of the defining elements of Japanese fiction. It is ostensibly an inversion of “with great power comes great responsibility”. A western hero receives power and decides what to protect, but a Japanese hero decides what to protect and that is what grants the power. For the Japanese, with great responsibility comes great power.
“The mission is what matters”
I prefer the Japanese view. I wasn’t born into power and I don’t have the luck to fall into it – I’m certainly not likely to be bitten by a radioactive spider anytime soon. So the idea that power can be granted to those with a cause, a mission, or just something to protect, was always a more effective inspiration.
I have identified a 5 tiered pyramid of strength – 5 areas that must be trained if you want true, transcendent strength. Your cause is the very base of this pyramid. I will be describing each layer of the pyramid in the course of this article, but first there’s an important question to ask yourself:
Do you want to become stronger?
After all, maybe you don’t need to learn anything new – you can always google the answer.
And maybe you don’t need to exercise and learn to defend yourself – the police will always be around to protect you.
And maybe you don’t need to be example to the next generation – if they care enough they can become strong themselves.
Wrong. Everyone has a responsibility to their own strength. You are responsible for you own destiny. You need to be able to rely on your own strength and not rely on others. Because there may come a time when there is no one left to help you but yourself.
You may find you don’t have the strength to save the ones you love when it comes down to it.
You might find yourself forced to watch as everything important to you is destroyed.
You’ll have to grit your teeth and curse yourself for not getting stronger while you still could – you will have to accept that your weakness is your own fault.
If you’re willing to make a solemn vow to 強くなりたい, then read on.
The strength pyramid
For each layer of the strength pyramid, I’m going to describe the areas it encompasses, provide some advice on how to train it and show some examples of people who exemplify success in these areas. The pyramid should remain a pyramid. It’s no use trying to skip straight to the top, the lower levels must be grown until they’re large enough to support the layer above. An unbalanced pyramid will at the very least be less effective than a balanced one and at worst could lead you down the path of corruption or madness.
Base layer: Cause
As discussed in the opening section, before you can hope to achieve any measure of power, you need a mission, a cause, or something to protect. This can be anything, so long as whatever it is is pretty much the most important thing in the world to you. Perhaps you want to create great works of art, or fight for political change, or just provide a good life for your family.
For some, having a cause is second nature. But there will be a subset of people who really struggle to find something that they value enough to have their entire life revolve around it. But that just means you’re having trouble finding it, not that it doesn’t exist.
Don’t skip the hard work and pick a cause that sounds good. Providing for your family is a great cause if you really value that above all else, but that doesn’t mean that if you’re single you need to start a family immediately so that you have an appropriate mission. Finding your cause requires genuine self reflection. If it isn’t intuitively obvious to you, there may be some knots in your psyche that must be unfettered.
To build this layer
Cause needn’t be built, just discovered. Meditation is the most effective way to achieve this – check out this previous article on koanic meditation for further guidance. Try meditating on some big nouns – truth, love, beauty, justice, family. Which are most resonant? Reach further and further into your psyche, what makes up your personality at it’s base level? When your skin starts to goose bump, you’re getting closer. If you feel a stirring in your heart that makes you want to cry – you’re almost there.
Layer 1: Mind/body mastery
Mind and body exist in a duality. It’s no coincidence that the most effective cognitive booster is not caffeine or an expensive nootropic, but simple exercise. The Ancient Greeks understood this well – the original gymnasiums were filled with just as many books as free weights, they were places to train both the mind and the body.
To neglect one to dedicate time to the other is almost an oxymoron. The body builder that lives in the gym and has a 1k monthly supplements bill would serve his goals better if he sat down and instead spent some time learning about biology. He might find that he doesn’t need so many powders and that much of his workout regime is superfluous. Likewise, the frail scientist might find he has more energy to pursue research if he sacrifices a small amount of time to daily exercise.
To build this layer
Exercise more and learn more. It has never been easier to get a world class education and access to exercise equipment. There are many inexpensive gyms available and the internet has more free information than 10x the library of Alexandria.
Start to build a gymnasium of your own. I’ve tried to get my own apartment to resemble Aristotle’s Lyceum as much as possible – a place that is at once a gym, a library and a debate hall. Once you own your own exercise equipment, have a vast digital collection of learning materials and some smart friends to discuss ideas with, you’ll be well on your way to mind/body mastery.
Layer 2: Self mastery
Beyond mastery over your body and mind, you also need mastery over your self. You might call this your spirit, or your personality, or consciousness.
At first, this might seem like the same thing as your mind. If this is the case, you’ve yet to place the first brick on the third layer of the strength pyramid. Don’t feel bad – I’d estimate only 10% of humans reach this level. When your knowledge and physical body have progressed to the necessary level, you’ll be able to extricate your ‘self’ from your body and your knowledge. Check out this article on the soul for some thought experiments that might be useful.
Once you’re able to identify this part of yourself, the next step is learning to control it. You need to recognize that emotions, fear, anxiety, even the subjective way you interpret a situation – these things aren’t you. You might have built pathways for processing this information in your mind that aren’t helping you.
What are the limiting beliefs about yourself that you have? I used to think it would be impossible for me to become good at drawing. I was missing the spark – and such a shame, because I really enjoyed drawing. This limiting belief was founded on a faulty notion I was fed about talent in school. That people were just good at some things and bad at others and you should do the things that suit your “talents”. I have since taken up drawing again and find myself quite capable of improvement.
You might have similar cognitive binds that need working out. The problem is that these are so close that we can’t see them – so close that many misidentify them as ‘me’. Anxiety, depression, OCD and various other neuroses can be entirely eliminated by working on self mastery.
To build this layer
Read Cernovich. Mike Cernovich is pretty much the master of self mastery. His books focus on what he calls mindset and how you can change your mindset to alter your energy levels, control your emotions and overcome anxiety, depression, or any unhealthy mental state. Cernovich was my first guide through the complexities of my own psyche, so I do not hesitate in recommending all of his work. This interview between Cernovich and Stefan Molyneux (whom also comes highly recommended) is a great starting point.
Walk this path long enough and eventually you’ll progress towards spiritual discovery. Many intelligent people are extremely skeptical of spirituality – I certainly was before I began to work on my self mastery. But spirituality is not at odds with science. For the questions that can’t be solved with empirical evidence, a Kierkegaardian leap of faith into the subjective is necessary.
There are two tools that you can use to make this leap – intense meditation and psychotropic drugs. For further spiritual guidance, I recommend the works of Alan Watts and Terrance McKenna.
Layer 3: Allure
At this level we begin moving away from inward focused strength building and start to project this strength outwardly. You have succeeded in building yourself up, now you need to build up the perception that others have of you.
This level is important if your ambitions are particularly grand. No man is an island – for real change in the world you’ll need to convince others to fight for your cause. This requires what I call allure – which encompasses things like social dynamics, persuasion and physical attractiveness.
Allure allows you skip the small battles entirely. Your time is precious, so you don’t want to have to fight every challenger to prove your strength, or debate every dissenting interlocutor to convince them.
Alluring people attract followers like magnets. This can partly be explained by the halo effect – a cognitive bias that describes how your perception of someone’s good qualities could leak into unrelated qualities. For example, studies have shown that physically attractive people are considered more trustworthy.
To build this layer
Even ugly people can build on their allure. There are many ways to improve physical attractiveness – good diet, exercise, correct posture and good hygiene can all contribute. But even if you’ve done all you can with your looks and are still coming up short, you can focus on other elements of allure.
Consider the case of Grigori Rasputin (left). Rasputin is not an attractive dude. He was born a peasant, but became a mystic and eventually his followers included the last Tsar of Russia. His allure elevated him above the level of royalty. There are many such examples in history – just recently it was revealed that South Korean president Park Geun-hye was receiving instruction from psychic cult leader Choi Soon-sil.
Studying persuasion, marketing techniques and NLP are good ways of building allure. Robert Cialdini is perhaps the master of persuasion, I recommend both of his books. Scott Adams is another persuasion guru, his blog has plenty of free tips.
Beyond this point you start to venture into genuinely arcane knowledge. Social dynamics and ‘game’ particularly are taboo subjects, but there is plenty of good information if you know where to look.
Layer 4: Fecundity
Yes, fecundity is usually used to refer to childbirth. But that is only part of what I mean here. There are essentially 2 ways to leave a legacy behind, the genetic birth and the memetic birth. Memetic birth refers to creating high quality content. It is not the same as productivity. You can release 100 hastily written books a year and not reach the level of influence that one very good book could achieve. Memetic fecundity is all about spreading your ideas (or memes) as you would your genes. You want your ideas to stick around long after you’re gone.
And so fecundity is the highest level of strength – a strength that transcends your own life and lives on without you. Whether that strength lives on through your children, your followers, or your ideas is up to you. But understand that the only person stronger than the man with the 100 year plan is the man with the 1000 year plan.
To build this layer
Create good content and spread your ideas as far as you can. Charles Dickens understood this well. He knew that if he wanted people to pay attention to the struggles of the working class in Britain, he needed to create a lot of material with sympathetic characters that made people care about their plight. He obsessed over sales figures and creating emotive works, even to the detriment of his own family life.
Wolfgang von Goethe is another great example. He was extremely prolific yet meticulous in his craft. He began early sketches for his adaptation of Faust when he was in his teens and only finished when he was in his 80s. Despite early success as a novelist, Goethe went beyond the level of most creatives and even philosophers. Rather than just discussing ideas, he took up employment as a civil servant in order to turn them into reality. Instead of just talking about how important it was to have theaters and parks, he actually had them built.
If you’ve reached this level, you probably don’t need my advice on how to proceed. But remember that you can’t just skip to the top and expect to produce great works. Only with a foundation in the lower levels will your ideas truly stand the test of time.
That concludes my concept of the strength pyramid. Thanks for reading this far. If you want any advice on any specific section, do leave a comment. If you want more support on your path to becoming stronger, might I recommend our app?
Mentioned in this article: