Niccolò Machiavelli lived in Florence, Italy during the Renaissance, when Italy was experiencing a lot of chaos and war. He was a senior official in the Florentine Republic, with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs, giving advice to the King.
Machiavelli was also a philosopher. He studied the Greek philosopher Plato, who talked about striving for ideals in human behavior, like love, kindness, and goodness. Seeing Italy’s chaotic situation demonstrated to him that Plato’s ideal didn’t exist in the real world. Sure, it was fine to strive toward an ideal, but in the meantime, it was important to deal with humans as they really were: greedy, violent, and rotten. He wrote The Prince as an instruction book for the King to deal with the chaotic situation.
Machiavellian philosophy is considered negative because it encourages unscrupulous behavior. The philosophy boils down to: the end justifies the means. In other words, stopping the violence and achieving a peaceful state in Italy was justified by any means including lying, being devious, and even killing innocent people.
Justifying our behaviors
Before we think Machiavelli was a bad philosopher, we need to look at our own behaviors. We can be addicted to achievement, justifying any behaviors to achieve an end goal. We strive to achieve goals, get frustrated when we’re not achieving them quickly, and even experience “post-send” depression. Soon, we’re either immersed in frustration striving toward another goal, or depressed because we haven’t filled the void left by the achievement. When we exhibit these behaviors, we participate in a Machiavellian-type approach to climbing. We justify any means for achieving an end goal, become continually addicted to achievement, and are never truly satisfied.
Being addicted to achievement can make us feel lost. We wonder “What do I do now?” after we’ve achieved a goal. Instead of answering the question by setting another goal to achieve, we can answer it in a way that shifts our focus inward. The best answer to feeling lost, is finding ourselves, our true selves, so we don’t get lost again.
First, we identify what part of us is driving the Machiavellian-type behaviors. It’s the 1000-headed ego dragon. Achievement feeds the ego dragon, but it’s fleeting. It’s constantly hungry and therefore needs to be constantly fed to feel satisfied. Since we can’t achieve goals every day, the ego makes us live in a state of being constantly dissatisfied. Our friends may be amazed about what we’re able to accomplish and how courageous we are. In reality, we’re wearing a thin ego-mask of courage that covers up fear. We’re afraid of looking at our motivation because of what we might find. Instead of acting courageously, we’re actually fearful of not achieving.
Second, we shift from an ego-self to our real-self. This shift requires slaying the ego dragon. Doing this takes real courage. It requires facing our fears and digging deep into our own psychology in an honest way. It requires being warriors so we can summon the courage to go within, into the dark recesses of our own minds.
The ego creates inner self-talk that equates our worth with achievement and then chastises us when we aren’t achieving quickly enough. “I suck. I’m not strong enough, smart enough, worthy enough…I’m not enough.” This kind of ego self-talk needs to be cut off at the root.
We begin slaying the ego dragon by making self-worth a non-issue; self-worth isn’t dependent on achievement. We’re worthwhile right now. Next, we notice ego thoughts about self-worth and label them as such. Doing this exposes the ego from its hiding place, reveals its motivation, and prevents it from escaping. Finally, we slice off one of the ego dragon’s many heads by shifting our self-talk toward the learning process. We do this by being curious. “Why do I climb? Why did I fall? What do I need to learn here?” This kind of self-talk shifts toward a learning-based motivation that is intrinsic, one that originates within us from our real-self, a self interested in learning.
Love what climbing teaches us
We may still be addicted to climbing once we’ve found our real-self, but it’ll be because we love what climbing teaches us about ourselves. From that perspective it’s impossible to be frustrated or depressed. We’re happy because we’re learning; we’re happy because we achieve goals; we’re happy afterwards once we’ve achieved goals.
Instead of justifying striving, frustration, or depression as a necessary means to achieve an end, the means of the learning process becomes an end in itself. We don’t have to exhibit Machiavelli’s worst expression of human behavior. We can actually live Plato’s ideal, while enjoying our challenging life journeys.
Practice Tip: Learning Addiction
Be addicted to learning instead of achievement. Notice behaviors such as striving, frustration, and depression. Label them as originating from the ego dragon that engages in any behavior—any means—to justify achieving an end goal.
Shift your behavior to being curious. Instead of letting achieving a goal justify your worst behaviors, let your new behavior of curiosity become an end in itself. Ask yourself: “Why am I frustrated? Why did I fall? What do I need to learn?” These questions will shift your focus toward Plato’s ideal, instead of Machiavelli’s worst expression of human behavior.