If You Can’t Take a Joke, Take a Cement Pill!

Exercising Parabats
Take a Cement Pill and harden up

When I served in the South African Air Force, as you'd expect, there were times when things got challenging. Tough even. Fear, hunger, cold, loneliness, fatigue, pain, a fair amount of humiliation. Not continually, not even regularly, but discomfort is common to the military. (As it is to life)

At those times your brothers would respond in one of two ways. Either,

“If you can't take a joke, you shouldn't have signed up!”

– or –

“Take a cement pill, and harden up!”

The first an effort to laugh off the discomfort. The joke was we were all conscripts, we hadn't signed up. The message: Even as conscripts we have agency. We had still made the choice not to defer, or object.

The second began as an insult from our instructors, but over time became a joke amongst the troops. It is a checkpoint to remind you a simple truth in life. Mental toughness is a decision.

You always have agency. Pain is inevitable, but suffering a choice.

So, if you can't take a joke, take a cement pill…

…and harden up.


There’s No Difference Between Theory and Practice…

Project 2012: Day 154

…in theory.

My dad always held to the principle that:

 "If you can read, you can do anything,"

and it’s a principle I pretty much hold to as well.

  • Want to cook? Read a recipe.
  • Want to program a computer? Read a (couple of) programming book(s)

You get the idea.

But I don’t hold solely to this principle, because despite what we often think, there is a significant difference between theory and practice. It’s the difference between an Astronomer and an Astronaut. Or to bring this closer to home, between a social psychologist and an advertiser. Between a music lover, and a musician.

We get caught out by this dichotomy again and again.

Last week-end a newfound friend and I looked at a couple of maps, and figured that heading due South from Ginger Tree on the Oxley Highway towards Gloucester, across 3 national parks, would get us there in about the same time as going by road via Walcha. In theory we’d be cutting 100km off the journey, and even though riding at half the speed, the route was less than half the distance.

Practice was a whole different ballgame, however. Our speed wasn’t half the road speed, it was closer to 1/4. The route wasn’t quite as direct as expected, in fact we spent some time finding connecting tracks and figuring out which way to go. There were the lookout stops, not to mention the puncture repair, and "finding fuel" stops.


To be fair, the experience was a lot more fun than I was expecting, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, puncture and all. But it wasn’t about getting to a waypoint at the same time.

That isn’t the only way that practice is different to theory though. I.e. it’s not only external factors that (adversely or positively) affect your theory. It’s also skills.

The example here is playing the guitar. You can read and memorise every chord pattern, scale and riff in the world. But until you pick up a guitar, you won’t know just how hard it is to play. Let alone to sound good.

Here’s where my dad’s principle is ultimately wrong. Just being able to read doesn’t mean you can do anything. He can chip a golf ball into a bucket across a swimming pool like I’ll never be able to. Not to mention tune an engine.

Don’t get me wrong, I can do things that he’ll struggle to achieve, despite being able to read and study the concepts ad inifinitum. The difference between theory and practice then is the application of the theory, with constant feedback and improvement.

So to conclude, two thoughts:

  1. Use prior practical experience to round out the theory of your plans. Things will take longer, cost more, earn less, and never quite go to plan as expected. That being said, the practice is always more satisfying than the theory. The astronaut gets to walk on the moon.
  2. The theory is the start of success. My old man is right inasmuch as being able to read means you can try anything, and begin the journey. One of NLP’s founding principles is:

"A human being can do anything another human can do"

I.e. if someone can do something, another person (in theory, any other person) can break that skill down to component parts, and teach/learn the skill. No I may never become an Olympic skier but I can learn to ski. You can learn to handle snakes or base jump or play the piano or dance or perform surgery.

So next time you think "I can’t" do that, think rather "what do I need to learn to do that?" and "where do I start."

And the next time you think, “This will just take me an hour, or cost $100, or earn $1000,” remember:

There is a difference between theory and practice Smile