How to Solve the Math of Your Own Life
In her book Almost Everything, the writer Anne Lamott said, “There is almost nothing outside you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you are waiting for a donor organ.”
You get that?
Real help in your life can’t come from outside you. You can learn from, be inspired by, challenged, motivated, coached, corrected, mentored, and pastored into knowing what you need to do, but getting it done is 100% up to you.
Now obviously, someone else can take out your appendix, teach you calculus, or braid your hair for you. But while those changes might be necessary, or even vital, they’re not going to make you a better person. Maybe just the same person with less belly pain, a better chance to pass a math test, or more stylish looks.
But real change? Real change is up to you, my friend.
Whatever you’re going through, no matter what you’ve encountered in your life so far- good or bad- if you want to make positive changes, overcome loss, fight disease or pain, find hope or faith in the hardest moments of life, or even just become a more positive, hopeful person, you’ve got some decisions to make.
It comes down to these two options, and they are mutually exclusive: do we let the past define and limit our future, or do we accept the past and use it as the place we start from for making tomorrow better?
Because if you want to see positive change in your life, you’ve got to do the math, solve the equation of the past so you can find the answers for the future.
The good news is, the numbers add up.
You just have to start looking at them in the right way to see it.
And you have to start today.
A Math Story
Let me tell you a story. I promise, no matter what you’re going through or dealing with in your life, this story will help. And it might seem a little far-fetched to think that this particular story will help you if you’re struggling, but stick with me, and I promise in a few minutes you’ll be glad you did.
So are you ready for a story?
It’s a math story.
Now, I’m not great at math, and I don’t love it.
In fact, I had a high school algebra teacher tell me I’d never get into medical school because I made a B in his class. (But I made A’s in college calculus and DID get into medical school, so there’s that!).
Life Lesson From Fibonacci
There was a guy named Leonardo of Pisa, but he’s better known by his nickname, Fibonacci. Here’s a great article about him on a website called The Story of Mathematics.
From the site: The 13th Century Italian Leonardo of Pisa, better known by his nickname Fibonacci, was perhaps the most talented Western mathematician of the Middle Ages.
Fibonacci was a great observer, and was one of the thinkers behind recognizing the superiority of Arabic over Roman numerals- so you can thank ‘ole Fibonacci every time you write that this year is “2019” instead of “MMXIX.”
But his biggest contribution to mathematics was something that we now call “The Fibonacci Sequence,” which he discovered by watching rabbits breed.
In short, if you have a pair of rabbits it takes them a couple of months to reach maturity before they can breed.
So Fibonacci noticed that a pair of rabbits doesn’t breed in the first month, which means you have one pair at the end of the first month (which he called month zero), and then one pair at the end of the second month (which he called month one).
But by then they are mature enough to breed, so at the end of the next month you have two pairs (month two). So zero plus one is one, and then one pair has another pair and one plus one is two.
The next month the first pair breeds again, but the second pair is too young and they can’t, so you have two plus one (the older pair bred successfully), which is three at the end of that month.
And the following month, the older two pairs breed and and the younger ones don’t and thus you have three plus two and you end up with five pairs of rabbits.
And Fibonacci was onto something: the sequence shows up all throughout the universe, in anatomy, in botany, in astronomy, everywhere.
The next number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two. This is not a math podcast, and I’m no mathematician, but it’s important, and here’s why:
Life is a Fibonacci sequence.
Everything you’ve ever done, thought, felt, said, or didn’t has added up to this moment, this reality, even you listening to this podcast.
Your life as you’re currently experiencing it is the sum total of all those integral parts.
Fibonacci said the next number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two… 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc. For you, for me, it’s upbringing, education, relationships, mental health, fitness, financial decisions, illness, addictions, spirituality and everything else equaling exactly where we are right now.
(Disclaimer: I made an error in the recording, and I said the sequence was 0,1,2,3… the above is correct. I told you I wasn’t a mathematician)
So the question is, where are we?
Before I sat down to write this episode, I spent some time on the treadmill.
But before we go on, here’s
This Week’s Things that Help
Last April, Lisa and I bought the Peloton Tread, and it’s changed our lives. This is an unpaid endorsement for all the great things the great folks at Peloton are doing to help thousands of people all over the world become healthier, feel better, and be happier.
We love the treadmill, but it’s really the community that’s so special. The instructors are super motivational people, like Jess Sims and Oliver Lee and so many others, and working out live with their help has made a huge difference in our overall fitness. I hurt my knee in August and couldn’t run for a while, so we also got the Peloton Bike, and it’s added a whole new dimension to our fitness. And the bike instructors are amazing too- my favorites so far are Jess King, Dennis Morton, and Alex Toussaint.
If you’re looking for some inspiration to get you started on becoming healthier, I’d seriously look into Peloton. Even if you don’t need the equipment, the Peloton app is a great way to get involved.
Trust me, this will help you. It’s helped Lisa and me tremendously.
All right. Back to the show!
Treadmills are great places for writers to find metaphors; pithy things like, no matter how fast you go on a treadmill you end up in the same place, or, a mile at 6mph is the same distance as a mile at 3mph.
But this time, as I was preparing to sit down and write to you, to finally break out of my “I’m going to start my podcast up again pretty soon” and actually get it done, something profound hit me.
I’d done a pretty good workout, at least by my standards, and I was cooling down. I set the speed to a comfortable walking pace, and started thinking about you.
This podcast is not for everyone.
It’s not even for a group of similar someones.
It’s for you.
That’s right. I realized a long time ago that as a surgeon I can only actually take care of one patient at a time, and I think the same thing is true here: if I want to be a good doctor to my listeners, then I can only doctor one patient at a time.
So like I said, this podcast is for you, friend.
As I slowly amped up the speed on the treadmill so that I could burn a few more calories before it was time to write, I stumbled onto something you needed me to know before I recorded this particular episode for you:
There is a speed you can reach where you actually work harder to keep walking than you do if you just start running.
Look: life is hard, my friend.
No sense pretending it’s not.
I know you know that already, or you wouldn’t be listening a personal development podcast.
I’ve had my share of troubles, as I’m sure you have, as we all have. But if you look at the eleven-billion-dollar personal development, or so-called “self-help” industry, you’ll likely notice what I have: a spectrum from hyper-motivational programs about positive thinking and hard work, to hyper-spiritual religious angles where you “faith it ‘till you make it” or learn how to “name it and claim it.”
All of it leaves a bad taste in your mouth… but here we are, with you listening to it and me saying it.
Why? What’s the truth?
The truth is, I don’t want to settle for a life that’s defined by the hard moments.
And I don’t want you to either.
So, if life as we’re currently living it is the sum total of all our past experiences, like a lifelong Fibonacci sequence, and if the difficulty of our lives is reaching a speed where it’s harder to keep up the pace than it would be to either quit or finally just start running, then we need some help.
Because for most of us, at least those of us who are reading self-help books, the way things are is too hard. And the way things have been is too much.
My granddaughter Scarlett, when she was tired at the end of her first day of preschool, told my wife Lisa (who had asked her to tell her about the day), that it was, “Too late and too far” to talk about!
And Scarlett’s right: we’re all tired of how the numbers are adding up, and we need to believe they can change.
I read two books recently that encapsulated the issues for me, and set the parameters of what I think keeps most people from really breaking through in their lives.
Dan Harris has made a cottage industry out of stripping the spiritual aspects out of meditation and selling people on the idea that this can make them Ten Percent Happier. I guess that’s enough for him, and for a lot of other folks.
And Joyce Meyer wrote Battlefield of the Mind, which is a stunning look at the spiritual warfare that takes place in our minds between good and evil. Meyer covers how Satan wants us to suffer and be stuck, and God wants us to be free and thrive.
Harris talks about depression and anxiety and mental struggles, and Meyer covers demons and spiritual strongholds and faith issues.
So which is it: Devil or diagnosis?
Or is it both?
Here’s the thing my friend: I don’t want you to be ten percent happier. I don’t want you to struggle to walk faster when you could actually speed up a little and experience a runner’s high in your life. And I don’t want you suffering from the thought patterns and strongholds produced by the Fibonacci sequence of your life so far.
I want you to be infinitely happier.
And the good news is, it’s not all science and self-help, and it’s not all bible and beatitudes.
The good news is, the science of how to be infinitely happier is settled.
We’re learning more about the brain every day, and an honest look at what we’ve learned about how our thinking affects the quality of our lives absolutely backs up what the bible said all along: what you set your mind on changes how your life plays out.
Remember what I shared with you earlier that Anne Lamott said: In her book Almost Everything, she wrote, “There is almost nothing outside you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you are waiting for a donor organ.”
It turns out that the number one thing that holds us back, keeps us stuck, and prevents lasting, positive change in our lives is our thinking.
Bad thinking, limiting thoughts, negativity, and fear keep us stuck.
Change those thought patterns and you will change your life.
But it’s not easy.
It takes brain surgery.
And you’re in luck: I’m a brain surgeon.
I can help you.I can teach you self-brain surgery to change your mind and change your life.
But I can’t do it for you.
It’s time to:
Get right about who you are
Get real about what you want
Get clear about how to get there
It’s time to GO GET IT
Let’s start today
You want to get:
A better spiritual life?
More financial wisdom?
You need to:
Handle stress in a more healthy way?
Be less anxious?
More hopeful in the face of hard things in your life?
These changes CAN happen, but first we have to get right, real, and clear.
I make my living performing neurosurgery, and as you’ll learn if you read my upcoming book, I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, then you’ll learn that I can often see the outcome of a case before I ever pick up the scalpel.
And that’s where all this comes together: just as Fibonacci could predict the next number in a sequence by adding up the two before, and just as it gets harder to walk at some point than it would be to slow down or speed up, your life will be predictably more difficult or infinitely better, depending on how you proceed from now on.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that if we don’t change, then neither will our lives.
But it does take brain surgery to make those changes. At least the kind we can do ourselves.
And the bottom line is that the science is settled.
Neuroscience research has made it abundantly clear that we don’t have to be victims of the nagging, negative voices we all have in our heads.
So let’s work through it.
I’ll teach you the self-brain surgery techniques you need, and together we’ll walk through the facts and the faith issues that will start changing those numbers for us. The sequence will improve so that the end result is one that feels better.
And we’ll finally break into our stride and start running.
I want it to stop feeling so hard for you, for me. I want you to get that runner’s high.
Listen my friend: It’s not impossible to become infinitely happier.
So why would we settle for less?
It’s not brain surgery.
Except that it is.
You just need someone to teach you how to do it yourself.
And that’s why I’m here.
The Golden Ratio
Fibonacci’s sequence has another quality that’s applicable to our lives: in math and architecture and botany and all over the universe there’s something called the Golden Ratio.
Basically, if you have two lines, a and b, and the ratio of a+b to a is the same as the ratio of a to b, or in math terms if (a+b)/a is the same as a/b, then it turns out that they are in the “Golden Ratio,” and the ratio is around 1.618.
From Wikipedia: Mathematicians since Euclid have studied the properties of the golden ratio. The golden ratio has also been used to analyze the proportions of natural objects as well as man-made systems such as financial markets. The golden ratio appears in some patterns in nature, including the spiral arrangement of leaves and other plant parts.
Some twentieth-century artists and architects, including Le Corbusier and Salvador Dalí, have proportioned their works to approximate the golden ratio — believing this proportion to be aesthetically pleasing.
Again, this is not a math podcast, but here’s why it’s relevant:
The Golden Ratio is the sweet spot for a lot of the dimensions in visually pleasing art, design, architecture, even biology, and it shows up all over the universe.
And guess what? If you look at a Fibonacci sequence and you divide the next number by the previous one, the solutions get closer and closer to 1.618- the Golden Ratio- the larger the Fibonacci numbers get, the closer they approach the Golden Ratio.
In other words, as we continue to add the previous numbers together to move further down the sequence, the more perfect, the more Golden, the results become.
And today, the whole point of me dragging math into my podcast- my personal development science-meets-faith, and faith-meets-doubt podcast- is this:
Your best life comes not from crashing and burning when the hard times come, and not despite those hard times.
Your best life comes from surviving those hard times, and realizing that they add up to a Golden Ratio of exactly where and who God wanted you to be right now.
(By the way, that’s exactly what the bible says in Acts 17:25-27. Gives me a chill every time.)
The numbers aren’t random, friend.
A few months ago, Lisa and I spent several hours each proofreading the final copy edit of my upcoming book I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know for the last time before it goes to print.
It was an interesting juxtaposition for us, reading my book again about how to hold on to or find your faith during hard times, because we’ve been in the midst of another very difficult stretch of time recently.
It seemed like a challenge: Are we going to live out what I wrote? Are we going to use the lessons I’m giving my readers in a few months when the book comes out?
Seems like every day something happens that makes us shake our heads and say, “Why is everything so hard right now?”
I know you can relate, because that’s life, right?
And in reviewing my book before it becomes a “real” thing that’s released out into the world, I kept running into its central theme and having to trust it all over again:
Believing is better than knowing.
What do I mean?
I mean that a lot of the things we think we “know” in life (you “know” your kids will outlive you, you “know” your investments will succeed, you “know” your spouse will always be faithful…) turn out to be just that: things we only think we know.
And when the things we think we know smash against the rocks of a different outcome, it can crush our faith.
And that’s when doubt can take root.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with having doubt. In fact, if it was wrong to have doubts sometimes, we’d have to get rid of a lot of the Bible (think Psalms, Lamentations, Jeremiah) since those writers openly expressed their doubts to God.
The problems come in when we let our doubts become things we think we know: “I know God has abandoned me;” “I don’t believe in a God who could let something like this happen;” “I always knew I wasn’t lovable enough for someone to marry me.”
The other morning, I was reading through some old notes, and I found a line I wish I had put in the book:
Faith sees forward. Doubt only sees the past and the present.
And that’s my message for you today, my friend: Doubt will make you believe that things can never change, that the past always predicts the future, that it can’t get better, you can’t get well, he/she won’t come back.
Doubt can’t see a future that’s better than the past or the present.
The problems come in when we let our doubts become things we think we know
And that’s why believing is better than knowing.
Paul wrote in Romans 4:18 that “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.”
See that? Faith lives in the gap between against and hope.
Look, you can strip any kind of spiritual context out of this and there is still tremendous benefit to hearing me right now when I say that, after twenty years of watching people grapple with mankind’s deadliest diseases and challenges, and after six years of walking through life while one of my children isn’t, hope is the essential integer in any equation for your life that produces happiness.
No matter whether you call that faith, or you just believe that somehow it’s going to be better tomorrow than it is today, the willingness to let hope spring up in your heart is what keeps you alive no matter what is happening around you. The uncoupling of circumstance from your belief that you’ll get through it. That’s the gap between against and hope, and it’s where everyone who’s somehow managed to keep their heart alive in spite of hardship has to land.
Take heart, friend. Live in the gap between against and hope. That’s where faith lives.
Recognize that believing is better than knowing.
But you have to start today.
And that’s what this podcast is about. It’s about learning how to live abundantly, happily, despite the circumstances of our lives. It’s about how to find or hold onto faith even when things are hard.
It’s about learning to discern between faith, doubt, and the things we think we know.
And it starts with three things:
Getting right about who you are.
Getting real about what you want out of your life.
And getting clear about how to get there.
A few minutes ago I talked about how to see things clearly in your life through the lens of faith, which is more reliable than doubt.
Remember what I said: Faith sees forward. Doubt only sees the past and the present.
But having faith that God will get you through things “someday” isn’t enough to give us the “abundant” life Jesus spoke of in John 10:10 when he said, “The enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy. I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”
So since Paul told us in Galatians 5:1 that “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free,” I want you to know today that you can’t really be free until you:
Get right about who you are
Get real about what you want
Get clear about how to get there
Let’s talk about the first one for a minute. We’ll get to the others in future episodes.
So many of us accumulate a bunch of labels over the course of our lives. We’re “bad,” or “fat,” or “lazy,” or “divorced,” or an “underachiever,” or we’re “weak,” etc. We allow those labels to give us a sense of self worth that’s determined by other people, past circumstances, or our past behavior.
But the truth is, no one can define you except your creator, and you don’t have to accept any labels other than the ones He placed on you.
Lisa was struggling with something recently, and I wrote to her a short list of things God says she is, most of which I got from the wonderful song from Hillsong, Who You Say I Am. I’m including the link to their video in the show notes. You need to listen to that song, friend.
The list I gave Lisa, inspired by the song, holds true for you and me too. Now, if you’re not a spiritual person this list may seem odd to you. But at least agree with me that you do not have to accept labels from other people, okay? And then at least ask yourself if you’d like to swap some of the labels you might be carrying around for some better ones. This list comes from the bible, and it’s a list of labels God has for you, and for me.
So if you’re fighting with a sense of wondering who you are or trying to live under the labels life or others have given you, then take a few minutes to remember who God says you are:
You, my friend, are:
Chosen (Ephesians 1:4),
Not forsaken (Deut 31:6),
You are who HE says you are-
He is for you, not against you (Romans 8:31).
You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).
You’re been set free by the Son, and thus
Are free indeed (John 8:36)!
You are strong, filled with resurrection power (Romans 8:11)!
You are greatly loved, noticed, and
He has taken note of your life and even collected all your tears in a bottle. (Psalm 56:8, Voice)
So, any time you doubt,
Just remember the One who defined you,
And has prepared a place for you. (John 14)
You are who HE says you are!
And you can do anything (Phil. 4:13)
Let that sink in for a minute.
Get right about who you are, and you can live free of labels that were never yours to wear.
Talk about freedom! That’ll set you free.
Get right about your identity. And start today.
I’m so glad to be back on the air bringing you this podcast again. And I’ll be back, week after week, trying to figure all this stuff out with you.
Listen: I want you to find the bedrock faith, the real hope of your life, so that the inevitable trials that are coming won’t wipe you out. I want you to be able to know that you’ll get through whatever it is you’re facing. I want you to be infinitely happier than the circumstances of your life would justify, because you learned how to separate happiness from experiences.
Remember: the math adds up. You’re right where you’re supposed to be. All the events of your life until now have made you who you are, and Fibonacci was right: the next number inevitably comes from the previous ones. It’s time to take all those lessons, put them together, change what needs changing and get to the Golden Ratio of your own life. Right?
I want you to get right about who you are.
To get real about what you want.
And to help you get clear about how to get there.
I want you to learn to find hope even when all seems lost, because it never is.
I want you to break chains, rip off labels, overcome fear, and step into this day of your life knowing you are right where you’re supposed to be, to make the next number add up to you being on your way to the life you know in your heart you’re supposed to be living.
And I want you to start today.
Thanks for listening.
The Dr. Lee Warren podcast is brought to you by I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, available from Waterbrook/Penguin Random House for pre-order now everywhere books are sold.
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Go to my website www.wleewarrenmd.com for more information about my letter, this show, my books, and more.
Remember: You can’t change your life until you change your mind. Start today.
I’m Dr. Lee Warren, and I’ll talk to you next week. God bless, and have a great day.
(Theme music for The Doctor Lee Warren Podcast is Blue Highway by Podington Bear via freemusicarchive.org)