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The 40% Rule, Golden Mean, & Erikson’s Stages

By: Michael Blankenship |

I am thankful for all of those who said, “no” to me. It’s because of them I’m doing it myself.

– Albert Einstein

Greetings from LA and Oahu!

This week we’re introducing you to Aristotle’s “golden mean” for finding the virtue between vices, Goggin’s 40% rule for pushing yourself past your perceived limits, and Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development for gaining a better understanding of what people need at every stage of life. 


The Golden Mean

Are you a good person? 

For thousands of years, people like Aristotle and Kant have tried to create systems to help humans answer that question — and to help us know what “the right thing” is to do in any given situation. 

But where many ethicists focussed on doing the right thing, Plato and Aristotle created something called Virtue Ethics, which focussed on being a good person and finding the “golden mean” or virtue between every vice. 

That is, they encourage us to find the middle-ground between things like… 

  • Cowardice and Foolhardinees (Courage)
  • Ignorance and Pride (Wisdom)

In How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question, Michael Schurr (writer for The Office and creator of The Good Place) explains this in more detail…

“Think of any of these qualities we’re seeking — generosity, temperance, whatever — as a perfectly balanced seesaw, parallel to the ground. If we sit right in the middle, everything will remain upright, even, and harmonious. That’s the golden mean of this quality: the perfect middle spot, representing the exact amount of the quality in question that keeps the seesaw level.”

We think that’s a great way to view ethics. 

And if you want to learn more about moral ethics — without beating your head against a wall — pick up Schurr’s book. It’s approachable, funny, and super interesting. 

The 40% Rule

Marathon and ultra-marathon runners often talk about how they hit a “wall” at some point during every race.

This is the point where they feel like they can’t go any further… where they desperately want to stop. 

But how much “gas” does that person actually have left in the tank? 

More relevantly, how much do we actually have left in the tank when we feel like giving up… no matter what the pursuit might be? 

David Goggins believes that once we hit our wall… we’re only at 40%. 

Here’s the full video.

If you think he’s wrong… or if you think he’s right… the video is only 3:51 and it’s well worth watching. 

Erikson’s Stages

You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

But have you heard of Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development? His theory is fundamental and informative for the growth and well-being of individuals. 

He theorized that people, as they go from infancy to maturity, journey through various stages of psychosocial development. 

Their social and mental well-being depends on their experience in each of these stages. Here’s an overview of the stages, with the possible outcomes. 

Infancy — Trust Vs. Mistrust. “If a child successfully develops trust, the child will feel safe and secure in the world. Caregivers who are inconsistent, emotionally unavailable, or rejecting contribute to feelings of mistrust in the children under their care. Failure to develop trust will result in fear and a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.”

Early Childhood — Autonomy Vs. Shame and Doubt. “Children who struggle and who are shamed for their accidents may be left without a sense of personal control. Success during this stage of psychosocial development leads to feelings of autonomy; failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.”

Preschool — Initiative Vs. Guilt. “The major theme of the third stage of psychosocial development is that children need to begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt.”

School Age — Industry Vs. Inferiority. “Children who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers develop a feeling of competence and belief in their skills. Those who receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers, or peers will doubt their abilities to be successful.”

Adolescence — Identity Vs. Confusion. “During adolescence, children explore their independence and develop a sense of self. Those who receive proper encouragement and reinforcement through personal exploration will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and feelings of independence and control. Those who remain unsure of their beliefs and desires will feel insecure and confused about themselves and the future.”

Young Adulthood — Intimacy Vs. Isolation. “Young adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation. This stage covers the period of early adulthood when people are exploring personal relationships.”

Middle Adulthood — Generativity Vs. Stagnation. “During adulthood, we continue to build our lives, focusing on our career and family. Those who are successful during this phase will feel that they are contributing to the world by being active in their home and community.2 Those who fail to attain this skill will feel unproductive and uninvolved in the world.”

Maturity — Integrity Vs. Despair. “At this stage, people reflect back on the events of their lives and take stock. Those who look back on a life they feel was well-lived will feel satisfied and ready to face the end of their lives with a sense of peace. Those who look back and only feel regret will instead feel fearful that their lives will end without accomplishing the things they feel they should have.​”

Think about your own life. 

What stage are you currently in? How are you doing within that stage? How might previous stages have had an impact on your current worldview? 

Answering those questions will help you identify areas for improvement and make changes to your lifestyle to ensure you’re getting the reassurance you need. 

Extra Stuff

Here is some other random stuff we found interesting this last week!

This Week’s Photo

Robertus Pudyanto / Getty

“An Indonesian devotee cleans and purifies a holy statue with tea, roses, and cendana water at Suka Loka Tri Dharma Temple in Surabaya, Indonesia, on January 26, 2022. Countries around Southeast Asia are preparing to welcome the Lunar New Year on February 1, which will usher in the Year of the Tiger.” via The Atlantic

This Week’s Riddle

Here’s this week’s riddle — the answer is at the bottom of the email!

A barrel of water weighs 60 pounds. What must you put in it for it to weigh 40 pounds?

This Week’s Question

Answer this question — either privately or by replying to this email. If your answer inspires us, then we’ll ask for permission to include it in a future email!

What’s a book you’ve read recently that you loved? Sum up your main takeaway in three sentences. 

This Week’s Challenge

The next time you hit a wall, think about the 40% rule that Goggins believes in. Ask yourself, “Am I really completely exerted? Or is my mind/body just telling me to stop even though I’ve got more left in the tank?” This will make you re-examine your own limits and push a little bit further.

Until next week, 

Mike & Alec

Riddle Answer: A hole.

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