Self-help is a thriving and ever-expanding industry. Facebook and Twitter abound with helpful and uplifting messages. And, a plethora of people are finding their way into helping professions like coaching and training. But the current conundrum is; why do people seem to be more unsettled than ever?
After cogitating on the conundrum (yes, I LOVE alliteration!): When you don’t realize you don’t know what you want, you don’t know what stops you from obtaining what you probably don’t want as you continually try to become the person you think you should be but not necessarily who you really are.
Confused? Me, too! Or, at least I was. Then, I used the principle of ‘self-acceptance’ to get what I didn’t know I wanted. By the way, self-acceptance is considered the way to empower yourself to take targeted, methodical action in order to reach goals. This is confirmed by both scientific research and mythology. A basic tenet of Gestalt theory says, “The more one tries to be what one is not, the more one stays the same.”
It happened to me as I was hurriedly scrambling through the morning hustle on the second day of school after coming back from three weeks of vacation, enduring summer school and a sprawl of summer activities. I suddenly realized I was just not up to packing a lunch (for me not the kids) supervising the brushing of teeth (the kids’ teeth, not mine), organizing backpacks, finding long-lost shoes, packing my work and school supplies, gym clothes, clean underwear (etc.) and preparing for a 20 minute drive at the crack of dawn.
So, I did something I never imagined myself doing. I locked myself in my bedroom and lay down. Sweet surrender! Pretty soon there was a knock at the door. It was the kids, “Mom, we need you to drive us to school.” “Can you walk?” I asked. I knew the answer before they answered. “Of course not! It’s too far, we have to go on the freeway, we don’t know how to get there, it would take us hours!” Unfortunately, all of that was true. “That’s too bad, because I quit. I. can’t. do. it.” I heard silence outside the door and then whispering… and then, ”Well…we really need you to drive us and we can help you. Let’s make it work.” “Okaaaaaaayyyy” I said reluctantly, and I meant it.
It was like we all suddenly realized I’m not Super-mom. And in that truthful moment of acceptance, we really could make it work. I opened the door. “What do you need us to do?” My sons asked simultaneously. And, miraculously, I got exactly what I wanted…ease and cooperation in the mechanics of being a mom. And I got there by…drumroll and trumpets…accepting that I’m NOT there! Weird huh?
Since then, I’ve been thinking about how to explain what happened. I could say the answer is quitting, but that wouldn’t really be fair to you because that is not the truth. The truest truth about not knowing what you want and not knowing what is stopping you and not knowing where your power lies boils down to three things:
1) Too much focus on self-concept actualizing, rather than self-actualizing.
2) Overestimating our will to reach our goals
3) Overgeneralizing the obstacle(s) preventing us from reaching them.
Self-concept actualizing as opposed to self-actualizing means trying to evolve into a fixed picture of who you think you want to be. True self-actualizing is expressing more and more thoroughly in small and sometimes seemingly insignificant aspects of your life, your essence.
In other words, I may think I want to be someone who is kind and loving and funny. A more evolved me based on this self-concept would be kind and loving to more people and being more funny all the time. However, doing this would take a lot of effort, and as just described, I’m not a person whose up for something that takes that kind of effort!
If it feels like effort, I’m probably ignoring part of myself. For example, the part that is quite caustic and serious and analytical and likes to dissect interactions with other people. Sometimes that’s not so funny and does not seem kind. So true self-actualization for me is to be whatever I am (serious, analytical, kind, loving…) without caring if it fits into my (or anyone’s) self-concept. You see the distinction? I hope you’re not as confused as I am!
I could say the antidote (which I predict you are not going to like) is that being alive and naturally, growing, is messy and complex. So I’m not going to say that.
Instead, I’ll say this: the antidote is rest. In resting, you’ll stop with the ‘trying to be what I should be in order to evolve perfectly’ game, and instead play the ‘I am what I am and by accepting that I empower myself to take methodic action which leads to outcomes that I can’t imagine yet’ game. The latter doesn’t take effort, but it takes awareness.
Similarly, overestimating your will to achieve and overgeneralizing obstacles preventing you from said achievements require another type of awareness. This quote from David Deida illuminates the reason, “you have very little control over your life. Your thoughts and feelings can be intentionally shaped to some degree, but mostly you are a creature composed of habit. You can set new habits in motion, but few stick…Your life is carved by patterns and forces playing far beyond your awareness.”
Your will is guided by intention and intention is what we often hide from ourselves. In the previous example, I thought my will was to be in control of the morning activities so I tried to exert control. My true intention, which was revealed when I locked myself in the bedroom and surrendered, was to NOT be in control, but rather to have the mechanics run smoothly without my control.
Accepting the truth of what I want is what initiated it. Not accepting this also led to overgeneralizing the obstacles to having things ‘under control’. My assumption was that the problem was not being loud enough to exert control (no I’m not proud of it, but I was getting loud).
However, this was an overgeneralization. Giving instructions in a louder voice was not helpful, but letting my instinctive desire become louder was. When I let that drive my behavior, things resolved themselves. See the difference? My verbal loudness = not the problem=overgeneralization; increasing loudness of instinctive desire/drive/intention=problem solved!
The last reason for being unsatisfied is that once we relax into who we are and acknowledge our instinctive desire, we are simply bad at follow-through. Tim Ferris (author of 4 Hour Work Week, etc. international speaker and self-made man) says, “No matter how good a plan is, or how sincere our intentions, humans are horrible at self-discipline. Instructions and info aren’t enough—you need incentives and consequences.” Tim Ferriss
Not to leave you on a downer note, but I have to say this is true. Incentives and consequences are important. In other words, make goals into games for yourself and play for the results. Enjoy playing! Enjoy the awareness and the feeling that comes with moving in the same direction as your intention is pointing you and the ease of being more and more who you are. After you have reached these two goals, self-discipline is a piece of cake!
In closing I leave you with this quote, “By thought, the thing you want is brought to you, by action, you receive it.” Wallace Wattles