Two themes: We choose to be who we are. And we should take charge of our present moments. I think he is hinting at the GTD mindset.
2. Taking Charge of Yourself
Nothing new. The first chapter emphasizes a theme common to many self help books. We have personal agency. We control our thoughts, which affects our emotions. Therefore, we control our emotions.
Negative thoughts create emotions which prevent us from doing what we want to do. Example, shyness prevents you from introducing yourself to someone you like, you avoid expressing your feelings because you fear offending other people.
Learning positive thought patterns to undo the reinforcement of years of negative thoughts is hard work. This reminds me I should seriously try NLP.
There are two reasons to grow, growth for growth’s sake, and growth because you feel incomplete. The first reason is better.
Growth motivated by incompleteness does not lead to happiness. Growing only because of external approval doesn’t work because external approval is fickle. Instead, accept yourself NOW, and then improve for its own sake.
But why does growth for growth’s sake lead to happiness? According to The Happiness Myth by Hecht, there are three types of happiness:
- A good day. A good day can be filled with many mild pleasures, repeatable and forgettable. Maybe like watching TV.
- Euphoria. This is intense, lasts powerfully in memory, and involves risk and vulnerability. That first kiss definitely qualifies.
- A Happy Life. This involves difficult work like studying and striving. The kind of maximize your potential stuff that cuts into time for a good day or euphoria. Like how I’ve spent a few days spread out over weeks trying to summarize this book.
So take it for granted that there are three kinds of happiness and growth for growth’s sake belongs to the third kind.
3. Self Love
Love yourself by creating a positive self image. A positive self image is a virtuous cycle. When you free yourself from the need for external approval, you are free in your pursuit of happiness without fear of opinion. A positive self image also lets you love others, who love you back. Basically, self love is good stuff.
The problem is that self image is often linked to accomplishments. The classical solution is that your self worth is not linked to your achievements. I have struggled with this. Surely self worth must be linked to performance in something? How can you love yourself simply for being, this sounds like the consolation of sportsmanship for losers: if you lose the game, at least you tried your best. Unfortunately, the classical answer is clichéd: redefine failure not as poor performance, but for not learning from our failures in those activities which we deem are important to us.
An example of self dislike
- Rejecting compliments creates a negative self image, which creates that reality. Automatically rejecting compliments distorts our perception of the truth. So does automatically believing every compliment. I believe however in creating a positive self image. So always accept a compliment, being mindful that not every compliment is true.
Rewards for not loving yourself
- You use your low self worth to avoid relationships in order to avoid rejection
- It is an excuse to stay the way you are. If you are not worthy, there is no point trying to improve.
- Gain pity from others, to substitute for the risky business of change.
- Use mini depressions to avoid changing.
- Use low self worth to avoid relationships and the risk of rejection.
How to love yourself
- Give yourself a treat because you deserve it.
Approval from others can be pleasurable. However, it should not become a need in our lives. Self esteem that depends on approval from others is always vulnerable to collapse when that approval is taken away. We also cannot pursue happiness for ourselves if we are always worrying about how other people will approve of our behavior.
Symptoms of approval seeking:
Not wanting to be judged. This is what it means when I don’t tell anyone who I’m dating because I fear what people will think.
Or typically in the office, a manager comes along and asks for an estimate on how long a fix will take. The reply: “This is a complicated fix, team A and team B will have to work together to solve this, it doesn’t just involve these people. I’ve talked to C. She said … And then … ” The explanation continues with a plodding description of the problem as the manager nods his head perfunctorily and smiles. Perhaps both already know that an estimate will not be forthcoming. Finally, “So, it’s hard to say how long this will take.”
“Ok, but could you roughly estimate. How long do you think you need.” If you don’t offer an estimate, the manager offers one for you: “Mid Aug? Will that work?”
This is met with a blank face because you can’t bring yourself to smile. Smiling is an unconscious status move. We just smile more to superiors to lower our prestige relative to them. In Mystery parlance: DLV. But under duress, we stop smiling, but are not so far gone over we actually frown. “Yeah I think that could work. We can try that.”
The manager immediately understands the unspoken thoughts because he’s been trained to be good at reading people. “I counter offer your strained face with End Aug. How does that sound?”
Visibly relieved, you immediately reply, “Yes that will work. It’s much better.”
The strategy employed is to explain the situation and stop short of offering an estimate because you fear offending the manager. That’s approval seeking behavior when other people’s reactions affect your self worth. Remember that truth should be your guide, and consider the reactions of others in this light.
Why seek approval ?
- It places responsibility for your feelings on others, if you’re lousy, hurt or depressed, it’s because someone else doesn’t approve of you.
- You need other people’s approval to change, if they don’t approve, you can’t change. You can avoid changing this way.
- Needing approval encourages self pity, reinforces a poor self image, and the immobilization from the self pity encourages you to do nothing.
How to eliminate approval seeking
- Thank someone for their feedback. Someone is merely providing data on your behavior that will help you get at the truth. Thanking someone puts an end to the approval seeking behavior. E.g Someone says you are shy and doesn’t like it. In response, you become defensive. That is bad because you accept his frame, which creates a negative self image; it is also a position of weakness because someone who is defending isn’t attacking. Instead of defending yourself or acting in a way to please that person, thank him, and end it there.
- Break the connection between what others say and do and your own self worth. If someone makes you feel low, he is hurting you. Tell yourself that no one can make you feel low without your permission. Build your self esteem (refer to chapter 1)
- Go actively after disapproval. By going after disapproval, you build up your repertoire of behavior for dealing effectively with it.
- Someone disapproves of your behavior. Rather than defending yourself: respond with, “you are getting upset and you feel that I shouldn’t think the way I do.” “You” language indicates that the disapproval belongs to him. Avoiding “I” language, also discourages him from attacking you. This is a technique which flips you from the defensive side to a position of neutrality.
- Being affected by anger is weakness. It is a form of approval seeking. If someone is manipulating you by being angry, say “generally I would shift my position in order for you to get you to like me, but I really believe in what I said, and you’ll have to deal with your own feelings about it.” Because anger does not change the truth, why should it change your behavior? (assuming you know what the truth is)
When describing ourselves, we look to our history and give labels to ourselves. Other people can also label us. The danger is when we use the label to avoid change. Labels are born when the beginner tries dancing/approaching people/being assertive and is met with disapproval. If we have poor self esteem, we label ourselves, “I’m just not good at this” to avoid the activity. Of course avoidance only reinforces the label, because no one gets better at something by avoiding it. In future when friends ask, we say, “That’s just me, I’ve always been that way.” The label becomes reality.
Labels are bad insofar as they mask the truth. Labels prevent us from seeing a problem as it really is. Get rid of the label and decide if we want to invest effort in solving the problem. You are shy because meeting people can be embarrassing. The embarrassment happens when we fail to meet the expectations, imagined or not, of others or of ourselves. Deal with that instead of saying, “I’ve always been that way”.
This is a great example of how words shape reality. Growing up must really be a minefield when the words we tag on ourselves shape us.
6. Guilt and worry
Guilt as a reaction to imposed standards from an authority figure. Or from not living up to self imposed standards, standards which you don’t really believe in. Guilt is present moment immobilization from a past event. Learn from your mistakes instead of feeling guilty. Guilt does not change the past. It is useless. Either change, or accept your behavior.
Payoffs for choosing guilt
- Win approval of others: feeling guilty shows that I know the proper way to behave, and I’m trying to fit in.
- By becoming angry that others are manipulating you into feeling guilt, you transfer responsibility for your feelings and the resulting behavior on other people.
- By using your present moments feeling guilty, you avoid the hard work of actually doing something to solve the problem that causes the guilt.
- Worry is present moment immobilization caused by events in the future. Not to be confused with planning. If the present moment activity contributes to a more effective future, that is not worrying.
Payoffs of worry,
- You can label yourself as a caring person by worrying.
- An excuse to eat more. You eat more when you worry, therefore, you worry.
- Deliberately choose to do something that conflicts with you area of worry. If you compulsively save for the future, begin to use your money today
7. Exploring the unknown
The unknown is the source of all growth and excitement. People want to grow, but their fear of failure leads them to avoid the unknown.
Failure is someone else’s idea of how we should perform. Some points: First, do we care about what other people think because we have low self esteem and need other people to think well of us? Second, failure should not be connected with our self worth. Third, the fear of failure might be caused by society encouraging perfectionism, the mindset of being, “the best in everything we do”. Fourth, the fear of failure is encouraged by linking our self worth to external security, in the form of a big house, money, a prestigious job or status. This encourages us to stick with the plan society has prescribed for us and avoiding the unknown.
Therefore, to dispel the fear of failure and explore the unknown, we must break the connection between our self worth and failure. We should equate our self worth with internal security, a strong sense that we are worthy no matter how we perform. We must redefine failure, not as a poor performance, but as a failure to learn from our mistakes in those activities we deem important to us.
Some examples of such behavior:
- Using performance rather than pleasure as criteria for what I do.
- Hiding behind the same clique of friends, never meeting different people who represent different worlds.
- Staying with the same job because of fear of unknown of new work.
- Compulsive achievement in school or on the job to avoid the unknown.
- Not contributing to a conversation because you think other people must be smarter than you and using this as a reason to avoid a new experience.
The fear of the unknown is very often a fear of someone else’s disapproval. Evaluate your behavior on your own, rather than their terms.
8. Breaking the barrier of convention.
Convention is merely a standard of behavior employed by many people. Following convention blindly creates strain in us when we do not believe in it. If it doesn’t work for us, we should discard it. We should strive to live up to our own standards instead.
This is what I was doing when I decided to fake an MC and skip a day of reservist. I had an interesting visit to Dr Ho, which I should detail in another post.
Payoffs for following convention:
- If the should affirms your current behavior, you can assign the responsibility for not changing to the should.
- If you have a poor self image, it is easier to depend on others for what to do.
- You win approval by fitting in.
- It is hard work to think for yourself, much easier to follow convention and blame it if that doesn’t bring you happiness.
9. Justice trap
Choosing to be upset by the lack of justice in the world does not change anything. It is erroneous behavior when we use it as an excuse for not changing, or when we use it as an excuse for immoral behavior. (If he can do it, so can I)
Procrastination happens when we want to do something but we continually put it off. First, we have to decide if that something is really worth doing now. In GTD terms, does this something belong to the “next actions” list, or does it belong to the “someday” list. Categorize and act on it! Procrastination wastes a life because all we have is the now to create the life we want. I should know, my writing has trickled to a once a month blog post.
- Because procrastination is a way to avoid the problem. Maybe if I don’t deal with it, the problem will solve itself.
- Putting something off allows me to delude myself into believing I’m something other than who I really am.
- By giving myself little time to do something, I can justify my poor performance in something.
- Avoid failure by never doing that something. You can avoid facing your self-doubt this way.
Examples of procrastination:
- Staying in a job you’re stuck and in which you cannot grow.
- Refusing to work on relationship difficulties, shyness. Simply waiting for it to improve by itself.
- Avoiding confrontation with others, even though the confrontation might improve the relationship. (have to work on assertiveness)
11. Declare your own independence
Independence is the freedom to pursue happiness as we see fit. It is freedom from dependent relationships in which obligation to others interferes with your own goals.
In a dependent relationship, you are obligated to behave in certain ways. This lack of choice creates resentment.
Examples of dependent relationships:
- In the family between the parent and child, the parent takes a caretaker role and continues to encourage the child’s dependence on them. This becomes a problem when the child wants independence and construes a parent’s well meaning advice or help as interference in their independence. Give the child independence instead. Hardship gives people self-confidence and self-esteem. It is a gift they give themselves. This also happens in delegation at work. Give just enough assistance to allow people to attribute their success to themselves and not to your help.
- In a marriage, a pattern of dominance and submission only breeds discontent. Typically, a male breadwinner who encourages a submissive housewife.
- By being a follower, you avoid responsiblity for your own behavior. You can blame someone else for your shortcomings and avoid the hard work of changing yourself.
- Avoid disapproval (because of your low self-esteem)
Anger is negative when you are immobilized by it. We think, why can’t people behave like we wish them to? Spending our present moments being immobilized by anger does nothing to solve the problem. People will continue to be the way they are, most of the time.
Payoffs of anger:
- We become angry so that we can direct responsibility for our actions to others.
- We can use anger to manipulater others who fear us , or create guilt in them.
- Anger in the workplace. If anger allows us to get what we want, why shouldn’t we get angry?