Accepting Less As More

By offering our minds only two extremes, we are much more willing to accept a compromise that we would have otherwise rejected outright.

When I was a teenager and my friends and I started driving, one of my friends had a trick he would use when he wanted to turn the volume of the music down in his car without it feeling too quiet. He would turn the volume of the relatively loud music down really low for a little while, lower than he was actually going to listen to it, and then he would turn it up to the mid-level volume he wanted. By using this method, he would trick his ears into accepting the new volume, which was quieter than when he started, as sufficiently loud compared to the very low volume he used as a transition.

At first, I thought this was kind of funny, but then I noticed that it actually worked very well and, eventually, I started using this trick myself. When I found that the volume of the music in my car was too loud, instead of simply turning it down to where I wanted it, which would feel a bit like a loss at first, I would turn the music down to a point where I actually wanted it louder, and then I would turn it back up to an acceptable mid range, which my mind would gratefully accept as at least being better than the low volume I wanted even less than the original loud volume. If I would have adjusted the volume directly to this new normal, my mind would have rejected it and felt slighted, but by first going to another extreme, coming back up to a lower volume felt like a relief, even a gift.

Perception is a funny thing in this way. By moving from one undesirable extreme to another, we are much more willing to accept a middle ground, a compromise of our desires and even our values, that we may have otherwise rejected outright. When compared to extreme noise and extreme quiet, this compromised state feels comfortable. It feels safe. It feels like we wanted to be there all along in spite of the fact that, if we went there directly from our original state, we would have felt much differently. Instead of rejecting this compromise, we welcome it and are thankful for it because at least it is not the intolerable opposite extreme of what we once had.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh unless otherwise noted.

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