Confessions of a professional self-helper

Confessions of a professional self-helper

I could put one of dozens clever quotes at the top of this post that would set the mood for some great life lesson I want to talk about, but not today dear reader.

“If you are waiting for anything in order to live and love without holding back, then you suffer.” 
― David Deida

Alright, alright, one small quote will do.

A funny thing starts to happen when you gain when you develop an addiction to learning, though even that’s an odd concept isn’t it? There are certainly worse addictions, though most of those are more noticeably bad, which gives them a leg-up over this one.

Analysis Paralysis

I can tell you hundreds of things about human behavior, why this guy said this thing, what she meant by that statement, what this guy’s body language is saying, and certainly most of them I’ve confirmed in person too, beyond simply study.

At some point it reaches a peak where more doesn’t seem beneficial. Most of the world has gotten by just fine without learning all of these intricacies, they aren’t necessary for survival, yet they certainly help if you intend to thrive instead of simply survive.

Analysis Paralysis is the over-thinking and over-analyzing of situations, which I’m certain you can see how it could effect someone who has studied things to such depths.

Finding The Best Way

Tied to the above, a part of me always feels the need to figure out the best way to do something. Spending more time planning and looking for the best angles, and spending far too long trying to perfect a thing before beginning it. This is a lot less of a fun way to live.

Spoiler Alert: While there are more effective ways to do something, there is never a best way. You can waste a whole lot of time in this search. [With the exception of things that require technical skill, like a surgery or building a bridge, those need to be pretty spot on]

Moving Towards A Solution

This is a subject I’ve yet to find the perfect solution for. Wow, I actually wrote that! I wrote that I was looking for a perfect solution to no longer finding a perfect solution to things!

That live insight aside, I’ve come to appreciate a focus on practice. On seeing where I can take action on my goals in a way that might end up like a bit of a dorky fumble, but that at least gets me out of the state of planning for perfection.

I’ve done so by taking things a week at a time. By scheduling little things in a few growth areas, and seeing how I can eliminate time and activities which don’t line up to where I’d want to be a year from now. As they say, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. It’s really difficult for me to intellectually accept taking things slowly, but I’m seeing how paralyzed process is much slower than baby steps.

I’ll certainly make future posts about the progress in this area.

A Celebration In Each Moment

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out.”Thich Nhat Hanh

There are times when we feel inspired to behave in what is what we consider to be the right way, and other times this inspiration doesn’t come no matter how much we grasp at it. Is there a way to break out of the ebb and flow of life? There are two primary “opponents” that seem to prevent this. The imaginary one is the outside world. What people think of us, what they say about us, if a situation seems fair or unfair. The second is our inner world. The thoughts like “I am not good enough” or “I don’t deserve to be happy if others are suffering.” Let’s look at each obstacle individually.

The Outside World

The Stoic philosophers spoke a lot about knowing what you can and can’t control and not surprisingly, to not worry so much about what is outside of your control. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and follower of Stoic philosophies wrote in his journal “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” The outside world is subject to countless influences that we could not possibly control with all of the effort in the world. Friends or family may become ill, companies lose business, anything which seems convincingly predictable, can change at a moment’s notice.

In some regard that may make the world seem like a chaotic and unpredictable place which forces you to always be on the lookout for what tragedy might strike next. That’s certainly a valid way to see the world if you so choose, but it may not get you the peace of mind you so desire. There is actually no need to fight this opponent at all because there is nothing to fight. You recreate the outside world in your own psyche whenever you interpret something, and then color the experience based off your own expectations and interpretations. This outside world is a straw-man for the real culprit, which is your inner world.

Your Inner World

The good news is that since the interpretation of outside events matter more then outside events, you have far more control then you could have ever imagined to your personal state of mind and enjoyment. As the quote from Thich Nhat Hanh mentions in the opening of this article, freedom from these ebbs and flows of life can be cultivated through daily practice. Have you ever noticed when you’re terribly sick or upset, that a part of you notices that something is off balance? That a part of you is unmoved by the experience but continues to observe it as it occurs? If not, see this for yourself next time you are in such a situation. The only reason frustration gets out of hand, is because it is fully accepted and takes the driver seat of your entire being.

A simple shift of realizing this place from which you notice your frustration, allows you to much more easily return to a natural state of being. This is not done with effort, but with realizing, and allowing yourself to return to your natural state. This idea of effort is another delusion of the mind. We try to be somebody in the outside world by changing ourselves, but then you are trying to be somebody in the world that appears to be so chaotic and ever-changing. You are already somebody, you cannot not be somebody. Who are you when you aren’t somebody? How can you tell when you’ve become “somebody”? You cannot, this is a conflict with no end.

The Way Out is Through

The act of struggling and constant conscious effort to alter or control things is the very thing that prevents your success. You may believe that the moment you stop trying so hard everything will fall apart and you’ll lose whatever progress you’ve worked so hard towards. Yet too much conscious effort is exactly what prevents our natural spontaneous self from being expressed. Have you noticed how when one tries to do well at an interview or a date, they seem to have the exact opposite happen? Always trying to think of what to say or do next prevents your ability to be present and spontaneous. Have you noticed when an interview or date did go well, it came off as effortless? You weren’t concerned with the outcome, you simply enjoyed the process and kept a relaxed state.

The freedom which comes from trusting ourselves must be cultivated only because we have spent so long believing otherwise. Yet this practice is worth more then anything else, it is your ticket to be able to celebrate each moment of life, simply because you are present to it and trust you will be able to handle whatever comes up. It is to see the difficult parts of life as an obstacle to be overcome, not a tragedy which has happened to you. It is to see the world the way it really is, instead of through a filter of your personal biases based off past ineffective beliefs. Take great joy in this practice, as the more you see it through on a day to day basis, the more you can enjoy life in that way you’ve always wanted, not subject to each passing wind pulling you in every imaginable direction. It is to be still and centered even in the wildest of storms.

The way out is through daily practice. Through a daily awareness of what is actually happening and what is colored by your past experiences. It is to return to the present moment instead of fighting past or future demons in some attempt to deal with something that isn’t actually happening right now. The result is the ability to celebrate each moment of life, because each moment is worth celebration.

 

 

Take Responsibility

“If we wish to free ourselves from enslavement, we must choose freedom and the responsibility this entails.” – Leo Buscaglia

I’ve just woken up from a dream where I got into a text debate with an old acquaintance, and I felt the immediate need to write about the exchange. Last night I recorded a podcast with a friend, and at one point we discussed the idea of empowering yourself through responsibility. That most people would rather blame their childhood, their parents, their partner, their city, the recurring illness they may have, a traumatic experience from their past, as the reason that they “can’t have” something. That something being happiness, success, love, or well, anything.

In this text conversation in my dream, this person was trying to blame me for the negative circumstances for their life, and make me feel bad for what I had achieved. I am fully aware that some years ago, an idea like this would have made me crumble and I would have accepted both ideas fully.

Fault and responsibility are not best friends who go everywhere together. If something is someone else’s fault, your environment’s fault, the neighbor’s dog’s fault, it’s always still your responsibility to deal with if it. “What!? But I didn’t do anything!”, correct! The thing is, if something that wasn’t your fault is effecting you, you basically have two choices. You can deal with it inside yourself and be okay with it, ultimately coming to a solution, or you can spend the rest of your life giving away your power to some person or circumstance who “ruined your life”.

This isn’t just for large, dramatic things either. You can take responsibility on a daily basis. If you lose your patience to everyone who walks slowly down the street, who doesn’t behave exactly the way you want them to, you’re literally handing out your power of responsibility to EVERYONE. You’re actively dis-empowering yourself on a daily basis.

Worry not dear reader, awareness is the first and nearly only step. You’ve got all you need now to immediately shift the perspective. Next time you think “wow, what a jerk that guy is, how dare he cut me off / say that to me / not see how amazing I am”, let the fault go where it wants to, but take responsibility to not let it get to you. Like anything worth doing, it’ll take practice, but it might be one of the most important things you’ve ever done.

How To Be More Wrong: The Defence Against Dogma

When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. – Anaïs Nin

Imagine a world where each and every person happens to follow your beliefs in their entirety. They meditate or pray at the designated times, they have the right kind of diet, their values too, are fully in line with yours. Whether it’s a religion, political party, philosophy or spiritual system, I want you to take it and simply imagine that it applies to the whole world.
Now imagine that a child is born into this world. They would grow up to believe exactly what you believe. They would follow all the same practices, and be driven by all the same morals. Chances are, while at some point you may have thought that converting the whole world to your way of thinking, the scenario above likely horrifies you.

Classically, the term philosophy translates as love of wisdom“, there is meant to be a constant ongoing discussion, a questioning, of what things mean and the right way to do things. Though in this, the questioning is everything, it is the discussion that is the purpose.

I’ve noticed a phenomenon in my own experience, which was reminded to me by Mark Manson’s wonderful new book. While I’ve learned and experienced loads of new things since living with more awareness in the past two years, it’s been a constant process of being a little less wrong about everything along the way. When I think about the ideas I had about myself or the world three months ago, I find it easy to laugh at myself. Then I realize that’s been happening every few months, and it’s bound to happen a few months from now. Meaning at this moment, I must be wrong about loads of things.

It’s hard to accept, we’re heavily invested in knowing the answers to everything. I’m not sure if we’re to blame or maybe society, culture, school, parents or anyone else, but we can sure take the power back to be okay with it. If you’re interested in growth, does it seem like a better mindset to know you’re wrong about things, and continue to learn, or would you prefer to think you’ve found “the answer” and now commit to holding strong to your ideas until the whole world begins to believe the same things as you?

Of course, there is a need to trust in yourself as well. But trust in your direct experiences to life, in what you’ve seen for yourself, well before you trust in an idea that sounds convenient that came from someone else. Discover for yourself how much benefit there is not to invest so much in what you know, and convincing the world of what you know. Chances are, you wouldn’t want a world filled with robots who only believe and behave in the same way as you. The beauty of life comes from our willingness to choose and commit to something that is born from our own experiences and understanding. Even if we end up having to read and analyze a lot just to drop it all and finally trust in ourselves.

In My Head: The Main Tenants

 

At times, I just scribble out thoughts on paper or in a digital note, I figured some people may be curious to see what it’s like to see a totally unedited flood of my thoughts, so here is the first segment of this new section called “In My Head.

  • The obstacle is the way. Once you’re on the path, the universe will test your skills to determine your resolve. Taking action is the only requirement, success may come at any moment.
  • Worthiness is the ability to exist. Worthiness cannot exist in comparison to others or in reference to others, as those are all changing. Worthiness comes in the realization that you are the observer of all, and nothing changing can be tied to worthiness.
  • In the kindness towards others, you can remember our oneness. To smile and love and feel at peace in the world is to be one with the world at a very fundamental level.
  • All feelings of upset, frustration, anger, impatience and greed, arise as an opportunity from the universe to release that which is being suppressed, in order to return to the feeling of oneness. Become excited at a frustrating emotion and chase it to its root to be able to yank it out. This fuels the love of the universe and allows for your growth as well as those around you, as you are all one.
  • There is nothing to do, nowhere to be, nothing to accomplish, no legacy or imprint to leave behind. There is only taking the steps towards where your heart drives you, and allowing the journey to take its course. To understand that the universe is on your side and truly will conspire to help you out. Don’t forget this simply because the lesson of the moment is difficult or seems hopeless, as this is a part of the journey too. A most valuable part. For the thing easily obtained is easily ignored and forgotten. Let go and allow. Fully experience as the observer. Always remember the universe is on your side.

End Game Concept #4: Let Go

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”― Albert Ellis

I was walking down the street, doing a social exercise of saying “Hi” to random strangers, and I was suddenly in a place I had not been. I was not familiar with the place and was feeling out of my element. I wondered “What sort of meditation might make me grounded enough to be comfortable in this situation?”. Then I quickly realized how irrational that thinking was, and thought “well I’ll just say Hi and see what happens”, and so I did.

So if you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a long time eating up lots of information, trying different systems, and even various forms of meditation. You may have had varying levels of success, and perhaps some worked miraculously well even. You just want to run into the streets and tell all your friends and every stranger willing to listen how amazing this one thing you’ve discovered is.

This works as an excellent foundation, a sort of training wheels that allows you to get started down a path that might be foreign to you previously. Essentially to “fake it until you make it”. At some point you don’t need to worry about what the likes of Socrates or Jesus may have said, but you can believe in what you have to say.

There is a danger to all this too, and it is a pitfall I’ve fallen into several times, analysis paralysis. “The next book might get me over this one thing I need to learn”, “But wait, is that the right way to look at death? Let me read 10 more books on it from varying beliefs”.

Thus is what happened in my opening story, trying to think of what system, belief or strategy I may throw at the situation, when instead, the answer was just to do it. You do it, and you deal with it. You let go of your expectations or a particular outcome. You let go of the need to fully control yourself and others.

You learn and you learn, and you learn that you didn’t need to learn. Instead you remember, you remember how you were before so many ideas filled your head of how you need to be, how you need to act, how you need to present yourself.

This End Game Concept is tricky but also very liberating. It is to take all the things you’ve learned, all the things you do, all the things you want, and let them go. Not to stop what you’re doing, but to let go of all these things you’ve built up about yourself, and how you should be. It is like the number one thing you learn from self improvement, is that there is no self to improve.

If you are simply a person who does what they’re inspired to do, you don’t need to attach any of those things to yourself. You can take action which shows courage, but not label yourself a courageous person. For perhaps you end up in a truly dangerous situation, and you’re not a ‘courageous person’ and now you feel bad. Instead, let go. Do the act of courage when it feels right to you, but realize it can never define who you are. There is no benefit to placing unnecessary labels on yourself. Simply do. Let go. And do again.

End Game Concept #3: The Golden Mean

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha

“Always look on the bright side of life” the characters sing at the ending of the Monty Python film A Life of Brian, optimistic right until the bitter end!

Life isn’t so much about being optimistic all the time, but in finding a balance, while also holding onto the knowledge that to some extent, you will always dictate your reality. There have been countless times when I’ve made a biased decision about a situation that was decidedly negative or hurtful.

Take for instance something as common as your day job. Chances are, if you’ve worked in one place for a decidedly long time, your opinion of it is pretty concrete. Perhaps it’s ‘just paying the bills’ or ‘something you got forced into taking because of the schooling your parents made you take’. And so all of your life perspective surrounding your job will always be, to some extent or another, unpleasant. Just as a hotel cleaning staff can see their job as “picking up other people’s garbage” or “helping provide a clean and comfortable environment for guests”, it’s possible to see your job in a similar light.

If you view the above as lying to yourself, and impossible, you’re right. As viewed, so appears. Whether you’ve been working in a place for one year or five years, it’s still very much possible to change the story of your situation, or it’s not possible, if that is the story you’ve decided.

Storytelling is something we’re great at as a society. “I’m not good enough for that person”, “Nothing I do matters anyways”, “It’s too late for me to make that big of a chance at this age”. All of the above are decidedly, very real, and completely true for the people who are saying them. Though I’m not here to tell you to put on the sound of the ocean and chant “I am abundant”, that may not be the straightest route to changing your perspective.

Aristotle has a philosophic rule called the golden mean, that is, the desirable middle between two extremes.

The golden mean could be something like “I have goals and dreams, I’m willing to take action that matters to me to go towards those”. A realistic and humble story, is one that is much easier to swallow, and much closer to the objective truth. The ego loves the extremes, “Of course I’m a failure, look at all the times I messed up, pity me!” or alternatively “Look at how amazing I am, I can do not wrong, bow before me!” but it has difficulty inflating or deflating humility, there is little to corrupt in the truth.

You may not have the power to create massive change in your current situation right now, and perhaps aiming for massive change at the offset is a problematic way to start off anyways. It can take daily effort to stay out of one of the two extremes. If you proceed with the knowledge that you’re putting in the effort, and not doing so because you’re afraid of being a failure or trying to be the greatest ever, the chances of success in any aspect of life are that much greater. The grind is real.