Born in Spain in 1852, Santiago Ramon y Cajal was first a barber then a cobbler before turning to a career in medicine. He is best known for his defense of the theory of neurons that earned him the title of “the father of neuroscience.”
Santiago was the first to prove that neurons are individual, separate cells, a theory that won him the 1906 Nobel Prize for Medicine/Physiology.
One of Santiago’s works, "Advice for a Young Investigator", details factors he referred to as “diseases of the will.” In 1897, Santiago outlined six “diseases of the will” that he claimed held talented people back. Santiago used these diseases to explain why success was so often elusive. He believed that psychological obstacles often stood in the path of success.
Although Santiago’s “diseases” identified 120 years ago might be somewhat outdated, they highlight issues that both kids and adults struggle with today.
How to overcome the six diseases of the will:
1 | Push past your comfort zone
Santiago defined dilettantes or contemplators as people dedicated to the study of nature but only for its aesthetic qualities. These people lacked creativity and the will to solve problems or make any real scientific progress. In other words, contemplators make no attempt to further research or look for new ways of doing things.
What Santiago meant is that doing what you’ve always done will not get you new results. In your quest for success, you need to be creative and find new ways of doing things.
2 | Learn to have your own opinion
Santiago criticized bibliophiles and polyglots for knowing everything about everything but making little use of their acquired knowledge. He believed that these two groups were more interested in acquiring knowledge to impress others and monopolize conversations rather than for making any valuable contribution.
Bibliophiles spend their time “reading the newest book or monograph that is highly important or thought-provoking but that no one else can seem to find a copy of.”
Santiago defined the bibliophile as someone obsessed with acquiring and reading all the latest books but who has no original thoughts of his own.
To be successful in today’s world, you need to stay informed but you also need to cultivate your own opinions. For instance, there’s a lot of awesome parenting information out there, but not all of it is tailored to your context.
3 | Stop planning and start doing
Santiago defined megalomaniacs as people in a relentless quest for fame and recognition. According to him, megalomaniacs spent their entire life “planning, plotting, constructing and correcting” but nothing much came out of their schemes. He defined megalomaniacs as dreamers who spend too much time planning and too little time doing. Their lack of engagement and perseverance ultimately led them to failure.
Many of us are modern-day megalomaniacs. We spend time planning how we’ll quit our jobs, how we’ll finally start that new side gig or how we’ll finally start saving more money, but never really get around to it. As Santiago believed, the only way to “heal” is to stop planning and start taking action.
4 | Don’t let social media rule your life
According to Santiago, instrument addicts are those who overlook instruments’ fundamental value and allow instruments to prevent them from getting things done. Santiago believed that instruments were useless if they did not help people achieve their tasks.
More recent research has found that addiction to instruments is a great obstacle to productivity. Today there’s talk about the self-control challenges associated with social media and new studies suggest that the things competing for our attention have become a lot louder, driving us to choose what’s louder over what’s urgent and important.
5 | Dare to dream
Santiago defined misfits as people unable to “reconcile calling and profession” who continued to work in areas unsuited to their natural aptitudes. He exempted those forced into professions by their families or by social circumstances although he urged them to change course as soon it became possible.
This category that Santiago defined in 1897 seems to be a major social issue today. There’s no guarantee that your education will get you the job you want – or even enable you to get a job. Difficult social and economic factors mean that more and more people are staying in jobs they hate. However, there are also more working options available today for those who dare to dream and reach out for their dreams.
6 | Look beyond yourself
According to Santiago, theorists or theory builders have a creative and restless imagination. They doubt even proven theories and are always looking for concepts that fit their personal theories. Santiago defined theorists as people who preferred “beautiful concepts” to “sound concepts.”
It’s okay to have your own ideas. It’s even advisable to have opinions of your own but no one knows everything about everything. Having your own opinions but being open minded can help you “heal” from the “theorist” disease of the mind.