“The Thing You Think You Cannot Do” by Gordon Livingston, M.D.

c.2012, DaCapo Lifelong
$19.99 / $23.00 Canada
199 pages



The weather might be nice. The sun’s shining and people are walking around outside, the temperature’s comfortable but you’re completely frozen.

Once upon a time, you were able to take risks. Then, you seized opportunity. Now, though you know things could be better, something’s holding you back. You’re stuck, but you don’t know why.

The reason is fear, says Gordon Livingston, M.D., and it’s affecting your ability to think clearly. In his new book “The Thing You Think You Cannot Do,” he tells you how to overcome your situation.

Fear was once a good thing. It saved our ancestors from being eaten but now, it’s “corrosive” and exploited. The fear we feel today, says Livingston, only makes us preoccupied with safety, but total safety is impossible because life “is intrinsically unsafe.”

It’s so unsafe, in fact, that we’re all going to die. We can exercise, eat all the “right” foods, give up our vices, follow doctor’s orders to the letter, withdraw completely from society to avoid contagion, and we’ll still die. It’s inevitable.

The best we can do, Livingston says, is to find “the courage required to confront adversity of all sorts.”  Courageous behavior involves a combination of choice, risk, and willingness to benefit others, and it ultimately gives life meaning. It also allows us to conquer fear, which we must do because fearful people “do not make good decisions” and “fear is the death of reason.”

It’s easy to think, in this search, that we have courage because we’ve been through extreme travails and survived. The problem, Livingston says, is that we are not “heroes” for doing something we have no choice in completing, and we have never “suffered enough.” Likewise, we won’t find courage in belying our age or staying “stupid,” and we don’t get credit for effort.

In life, things are going to go wrong, Livingston says, and we may as well face the fact because the “only way to overcome fear is to confront it.” Meanwhile, keep a sense of humor, nurture hope in your life, and learn to treat others well because we’re “all in this together.”

Feeling a little bit of inertia in this time of uncertainty?  “The Thing You Think You Cannot Do” will help you get off your fanny, but be ready for some controversy.

Author Gordon Livingston, M.D. writes with conviction and a no-nonsense manner. His thoughts are well-conceived, they make sense, and they’re empowering. His words offer the hope about which he writes, and that’s very comforting.

But beware, because Livingston has some blunt things to say about religion, military service, and our definition of “heroes.” He isn’t very complimentary about many aspects of today’s society, either, but his opinions are backed by his experiences in war and in his practice, which gives this book a certain solidness.

“The Thing You Think You Cannot Do” takes no prisoners, accepts no whining, and it won’t make friends. But if you’re stuck in life and need a nudge, reading it may be the best thing you can do.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.