How Aristotle can make your personal development more effective
You need a suit, so you go to the first clothing store that comes to mind. At the store, you pick out a nice suit, ask the staff for the change rooms, and try it on. You look in the mirror and like what you see but the suit seems a little big. So you pick out another one. Again, the suit looks great, but this time it’s too tight.
This simple task of buying a suit is getting a little frustrating and you’d rather be doing other things. So you decide to visit a clothing store dedicated to men’s suits.
There the store staff quickly addresses you to help you find what you are looking for. They help you find a suit and call on the store’s tailor to take your measurement. Then they send you off while they prepare your suit.
After a couple of days, you come back, try on the suit, and instantly notice the difference. The suit not only looks good but feels great. Giving you that sophisticated look. And to think, the main difference between the suits you tried on before and this one wasn’t the style, quality, or color. But the tailoring.
And when it comes to taking advice in general, we rarely tailor it to ourselves. And Aristotle saw this issue when he was giving out lectures in ancient Greece. So he came up with the idea of achieving the subjective mean for his students.
So what is the ‘subjective mean’ exactly?
We know what a mean is in general, especially in mathematics, it’s defined as the arithmetic average of a set of given numbers. So if you have numbers from 1-10, then the mean is 5.5 Or if you have another set of numbers from 5-15, the mean would be 10.
Alright, that’s enough of me flexing my junior high level math skills. But you get the idea. Yet, the subjective mean has nothing to do with arithmetic/math. Instead, it has to do with what’s relative to you.
Aristotle is the one who came up with this subjective mean idea.
So let’s use an example from one of his lectures. He said that if 10 pounds of food is a large amount and 2 pounds of food is small, then the arithmetic mean would be 6 pounds of food. But this ‘mean’ is useless. Because 6 pounds of food would be small for a professional Greco-Roman wrestler but too much for a beginner.
So whenever we are pursuing non-math topics like personal development, we have to develop a mean relative to us in our current situations. A lot of people blindly follow advice, crashing and burning in the process. This happens because they aim for the mean that the guru has put out there. And the guru’s mean can seem ridiculous for beginners. So it’s wise to customize it to our current needs. Not too much where it is difficult to achieve nor too little where it is very easy. But right in the middle for you in your current situation.
Alright, we get what a subjective mean is.
But what do we need to create one? This is very simple and requires a little bit of self-honesty.
The first thing you need to develop your subjective mean is to audit your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t over-complicate this, just write down all of your strengths and weaknesses on a piece of paper. And please, be honest. This is for your eyes only, so you don’t have to hide anything.
Once this is done, choose an area where you would like to improve on.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s choose social skills. In this strictly hypothetical case, social skills are a weakness, so we have to now apply a subjective means.
Okay, how does this work?
Continuing with the example of social skills, it would be foolish to go out and talk to random strangers. That would be too much for someone struggling to be social. At the same time, it wouldn’t be wise to only interact with friends we’ve known for years.
That being said, the subjective mean would be to make one very small social contact with a stranger on a daily basis. A small social contact can be eye contact, smiling without saying anything, etc. Something just very small to get you to interact with one other person you don’t know.
And just like that, we applied the subjective mean.
So in any area where you have a weakness, look at what is appropriate for an adjusted mean. And then make sure to commit to achieving that mean on a consistent basis. If we consciously do this with our weaknesses, then naturally over time, we’ll grow into well-rounded individuals.
But what happens next after achieving the ‘subjective mean’?
Once we achieve the subjective mean, we have to readjust it! Life is a process of growth and maturity. And once we have made an achievement, we have to push the target a little further to develop ourselves more.
Again, sticking with the social skills example.
Once you are comfortable making one social contact with a stranger, then you bump it up to five small social contacts with strangers daily. Hence, getting you even more comfortable with being social. Then after you are comfortable with that, you can readjust the mean to engaging in small talk with a stranger (i.e. cashier, people you see in your office building). And so and so on.
The subjective mean is all about readjusting to your current skills and situation. Most people reach a comfortable mean and stop. Not ever challenging themselves to grow further in their lifetime. But you, with your readjustments, will continually grow and mature. And people will wonder how you became such a well-rounded interesting person. Now, I know this all sounds nice. But it seems like a lot of work with all of the constant self-reflection and adjustments.
So it’s only natural that some of you just want to follow ready-made systems.
The thing with following a system that XYZ gurus preach is that it will give random results. These systems that these gurus recommend don’t take into account your situations or skills. They just tell you to follow it and to not think about it.
But that’s now it works in the real world.
If you look at coaching, a lot of coaches have a system they apply to all their students, but they also tailor it to their students. Every coach knows that students have their own strengths and weaknesses. So to get the best out of them, coaches tailor the advice to achieve a subjective means for each student.
Yet, when people blindly follow an online guru, buying their courses and systems, they are doing it, not realizing that they are aiming for the subjective mean of the guru’s and not theirs. So they apply the system and end up failing. So whatever it is you approach in life, you can’t blindly just follow anyone or anything (which includes me).
You have to adjust to you and only you.
An area where I had to constantly adjust the subjective means was in one of my high school jobs.
Back when I was 16, I became a swimming instructor.
It was a fun job for me. Anyways, I had to teach a wide variety of students, from beginners to advanced.
Although all my students were learning about swimming, I couldn’t just bark orders and watch them. For each level, I had to adjust the lessons to their current level (or subjective mean) of swimming. And on top of that, I had to give personalized advice to each student to reach the subjective mean of the class. If the students achieved the targeted mean through the swimming lessons, they would pass on to the next level, where they would have another adjusted mean.
And by the time most students finished all the swimming levels, they would be decent to great swimmers. All through hitting the subjective means of progressive swimming levels.
Alright, let’s get out of the pool to the summary.
The subjective mean is the mean that is relative to you with your current skill and situation.
To find your subjective mean, you first need to audit your strengths and weaknesses.
To apply the subjective mean, take a look at your skills and see what adjusted mean is achievable.
Once you achieve a subjective mean, you readjust it and try to achieve the new mean. You do this for life for all areas you want to work on.
The problem with ready-made systems is that it tells you to follow it without taking into account your subjective means (with your current situation or skills).
I hope this article makes you realize how you need to tailor any advice you hear from.
Because with consistent action and readjustment of the subjective mean. You’ll be able to make the most of any advice given to you. Making you look and feel good like a well-fitted suit.