“‎You’re not the same as you were before,” he said. “You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.”

-The Mad Hatter, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Received wisdom recommends that we do all things in moderation. Never going too far in one direction or another, never more or less than seems reasonable. At first glance this sounds like good advice, doesn’t it? But on closer reading, isn’t the very idea of doing everything moderately itself an extreme choice? And while it feels warm and fuzzy, urging us towards a gentle, balanced existence, does it provide us with any real sense of what we should and shouldn’t do and exactly where moderation lies in each instance? After all, what is a moderate amount of kindness? Or a moderate amount of murder? And more to today’s point, what’s the moderate amount of you?

It may seem an odd question but if you would cast your mind back to a couple of weeks ago you may recall that I began to discuss what it means to discover and develop your Power Reputation. In this discussion I offered three rules.

  1. Your Power Reputation must be authentic; it doesn’t matter what you wish people thought about you. What matters is what is true about you. Power comes from truth.
  2. Your Power Reputation must be something extreme; we’re talking here about the most, the best, the biggest. There’s no point building a reputation on being a jack of all trades. Mediocrity is cheap.
  3. Know how your Power Reputation makes you strong, and how it makes you weak. All reputations have upsides and downsides. Know yours.

We’ve since gone a little deeper into the question of authenticity, exploring how people become trapped by what they perceive to be the “facts” of their life. Today I want to talk about the question of extremes. Because, though we live in a world which tends to prefer us moderate, moderation, while comfortable and comforting, is not the path to power.

Moderation, while comfortable and comforting, is not the path to powerClick To Tweet

Lets begin by unpacking this idea of moderation. It should be obvious already that moderation is, in many cases, an empty word defined entirely by society’s present beliefs about what it means to be extreme. Moderation may help you decide how much to drink at a restaurant or what to tip your waiter after the meal, but it doesn’t tell us much about things which are less firmly bounded.

How much you can drink is likely to lie somewhere between nothing and so much that you fall down with alcohol poisoning. We can probably pick somewhere around half way between those two extremes and be not too far away from a reasonable choice. As for tipping, you can probably think about how wealthy you are and then combine that with the generally accepted norms and get a reasonable figure. But what about perusing your dreams? What counts as a moderate position when attempting to live your one and only life the way your heart desires?

The idea of moderation is of little help

When we ask these big, complex questions, the idea of moderation is of little help. If you intend to become a concert pianist you can’t practice moderately. If you want to own your own fashion brand you can hardly put yourself moderately into it. And what does it mean to moderately be a parent? I imagine something between resentful children and a call from social services.

Taken a step further, with an eye on awareness and presence, there is a way to think of life as being incompatible with anything less than absolute commitment.

Mindfulness meditation forms a part of what I offer to my clients. It is extraordinarily simple; all it requires is to do one thing at a time. Sit, breath, focus on the breathing. But this seemingly gentle practice is absolutely extreme, nothing moderate about it. It calls for no less than your entire mind. To meditate moderately is an oxymoron. You’re either meditating or you’re not.

To meditate moderately is an oxymoron

Humans have a tendency to believe that they can do two things at once. They can’t. Not, at least, in a present, deliberate way. Yes, we can all walk and chew gum at the same time but when we do so we aren’t really doing either.

Mindfulness practice, when applied to other aspects of life, is a great way to experience this for yourself. Have you ever sat and listened to music? I mean actually listened to it? Not reading a book, eating a meal or chatting with someone. Just listening. The experience is, for me at least, quite extraordinary. Of course the same can be said for those other activities. All of them are many times more enjoyable when done to the extreme.

The same is true for loving ones friends and family, practicing a new skill, or taking part in a political movement; these things are like being on a boat; you’re either on the boat, or you’re wet.

You’re either on the boat, or you’re wet

Speaking of skills, consider those who delighted and surprised the world with their creative abilities. Do these people seem moderate to you? Or are they all extremists of one sort or another? Extremely focused, extremely stubborn, extremely resourceful? To put it another way, have you ever looked at someone with admiration in your eyes and thought to yourself “wow, that guy is so moderate”? Thought not.

So I think we can happily let go of the notion that moderation is inherently virtuous. Knowing when to reign things in a little may well be a virtue, but moderation itself is no more than a notional concept of what is generally safe. Safety, here, being a relative term. Don’t forget that you are a thinking bag of meat made of many, many delicate pieces the failure of any one of which could easily kill you. Just a thought.

If we have established that moderation is not virtuous and the world is moved by extreme men and women acting beyond the bounds of normally acceptable behaviour we should probably get back to the question of your Power Reputation and consider how being extreme forms a vital part.

“You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do!”

-Olin Miller, 1937

Human brains are novelty seeking missiles, constantly on the hunt for what is different or remarkable. Craving the next dopamine hit we bounce between computer games and social networks, news feeds and local gossip with an ever present fear of missing out (the irony should not be missed that this constant distraction is precisely why we miss out on almost everything). In such a landscape, standing around being particularly unobjectionable is hardly likely to get you noticed, let alone get you noticed so regularly that you end up with a reputation worth speaking of.

“After all, everyone’s favourite subject is themselves.”

-Neil Strauss The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists

If we’re not thinking about our next dopamine hit we’re probably thinking about ourselves. We are our own favourite subject. So much so that we tend to think of most other people as hardly people at all. Into this world, where you are to others something less than fully human, you have to project an image that is larger than life.

To help you get this image nice and clear I have drawn a “scientifically accurate” diagram of the human brain and how much space is devoted to anything that isn’t it or its.

Robin Dunbar, with his famous Dunbar Number, suggests that humans are capable of having specific and meaningful feelings about no more than 150 people. We can extrapolate from this that the top of that list will be lovers, family, close friends and mortal enemies. Towards the middle will be co-workers and distant relatives. Around the bottom end will be acquaintances of various sorts, not important but at least individuals. To have a reputation of any sort you need to be in that 150. To have a Power Reputation you need to be near to the top of it. Will moderation bump Aunty Ethel from the inner circle? No chance, because Ethel has had decades to get into that group. She has put in the hours. You don’t have that long.

People's brains are occupied territory and you are the invading forceClick To Tweet

As you can see, people’s brains are occupied territory and you are the invading force. You need to find a foothold and then expand. That initial push into new lands isn’t easy. You need to make your target or targets want to think about you. You need to make yourself not only stand out but do so in a way that is easy for the audience to grasp.

Extreme is scary, right?

But extreme is scary, right? Sure. And maybe you’re uncomfortable with it. To this I say, no problem. It’s your choice. But if you choose moderation, if you choose fitting in. If you choose that path, and it is an easier path, don’t do so under the impression that it is a moral choice. There is nothing morally pure about moderation just as their is nothing inherently immoral about being extreme.

Of course, moderation has its place. Spinning off wildly in all directions on a moment’s notice would lead to a stressful and unproductive life. We need to choose the things we can commit ourselves too. And this is the fundamental point of the Extreme Element of the Power Reputation. You have to be ruthless in whittling down to that element of yourself that you can apply so intensely that you will become a permanent fixture in the minds of those whom you wish to influence.

Moderation is a fine thing, in moderation. But when it comes to power, intensity is what counts.

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“‎You're not the same as you were before,' he said. 'You were much more... muchier... you've lost your muchness.” -The Mad Hatter, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Received wisdom recommends that we do all things in moderation. Never going too far in one direction or another, never more or less than seems...
Aran Rees
Founder and Coach at Sabre Tooth Panda
Aran is a creativity coach, facilitator and communicator, founder of Sabre Tooth Panda and creator of No Wrong Answers: the hypothetical quiz. He believes that expressing creativity is all about how you and those around you relate to creativity both at an emotional and intellectual level. He helps his clients to get cosy with creativity to solve big problems and have more fun.