Sunday, January 17, 2016

Trying to be who we want to be.

This is a human. An imperfect, asymmetrical, beautiful, lovely mess. 

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles that come in the way of change in our lives is our lack of self-awareness. We all have a perception of ourselves that is more complete in terms of knowing our thoughts, our intentions, fears, and wants, but we see all of these as somewhat default reactions and ways of being.

We generally gain clarity in understanding most things we encounter in life by way of comparing and contrasting them with other things. When it comes to people around us, we are able to view them as they appear and place them beside each other in our minds, to make sense of what they are like: "Gina is a shy person while Linda is very comfortable around people." But most people see themselves as neither shy nor social until they are told. They just interact with the outside world in a way that feels like the only way they can. Their default. And because we all experience our lives and who we are from inside, it's quite a different thing to get to know ourselves.

When we grow into adults, we are given insight as to what types of personalities might do better or find it easier in life and we try to adjust ourselves accordingly. And yet, many of our efforts fail due to a sneaky tendency to assume that once we know how we should be, then we are already how we should be.

Some of the people who say "don't judge" a lot actually do a lot of premature judging themselves. Some people who keep telling other people how to be healthier are smokers.
Some people who complain about a lack of discipline in society can't even put their trash where it belongs.

It should do us some good to accept by default that we are imperfect, flawed, and learning. To try and observe ourselves as we live our lives and not as how we think we should live our lives. Even living needs practice when you put a set of values in the mix.

I am very humbled whenever I take a good look at myself. With all my learning, I'm still a very new, very elementary, very lost n00b. I know of many methods in productivity, health, business, that I know work, but I still find hard to apply anything well, because everyone's different, and will come across different things in their journey, and will have to adjust accordingly. Personally, I have a low attention span, and a great longing for habits but I am simultaneously allergic to them. I get impatient with myself and am prone to self-loathing, but I try to just learn something new about myself that might make it easier next time. And it always gets a little better next time. But I still have a long way to go.

When I try to change, I take it slow. I don't expect myself to be able to do it well right away. Because that's just not how it works. Learning takes time: nobody can say they know how to paint well just because they watched someone else do it. They have to take the time and make an effort to get there.

And they have to be ready to face the truth about where they are right now. Not to wallow about being really bad at the thing they want to be good at, but to know that there's still some-a-ways to go. I know that this quote from Ira Glass has been circulating a lot, and I'm pretty sure you've already read it in its original context:

Now try to think about this, but about how you live your life. 

About how much you want to be someone who does good in the world.

There is a gap between your understanding of what a good person is, and what you are able to bring to the table right now.

You will have to keep trying, but once you try enough, you can get there.

Just keep being honest with yourself.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Replace Rather than Resist!: Easy Tip for Simpler Change

We all have behaviours that we'd like to change. And we're especially aware of them during this time, when the year is still new. But no matter how sure we are about knowing what behaviours need to be changed, when our habits are already deeply rooted around our vices, it can get hard to resist them. Because our habits are usually done mindlessly, it can be hard to distinguish which ones lead to things we want to avoid, until it's too late.

Oh right, I was supposed to stop midnight snacking. Shit. Always forget during my nightly fridge trip.
We must remember that whenever we cut something out, we leave a void. Voids are vacuums that will fill themselves up. Your five hours of playing Candy Crush will leave you with five free hours. And if you don't put something else in there, it will be hard to keep your cursor away from automatically going for that bright candy icon.

Just... One more level. Swear I'm done.
Let's apply this to something simple. Say you're trying to eat healthier. Your first thought might be to cut out "the bad stuff", like highly processed meat, excess fats and sugars, etc. Or you tell yourself you'll just eat less of the same, plain and simple. This won't work as well as if you instead:

  • shopped for healthier food so it's what's in your house in the first place
  • cooked said food more often than ordering takeout
  • filled up your plate with more veggies first, and then putting the rest

Focusing on "including more good stuff" in your grocery list instead of "avoiding the bad stuff" is easier on your willpower reserves because it cuts the time spent trying to resist something you like. When you mentally resist something you desire, you spend time thinking about the thing you like a lot anyway. And you'll just end up giving yourself more chances to fail. It would be better if you just didn't think about it, not by telling yourself not to, but by thinking of other things right away.

This can also be applied to a bad habit I personally have: subjecting myself mental show-reels of the most embarrassing moments of my life. Read this statement, will you:

Don't think of a boy in a blue shirt holding a red balloon.

Chances are, you thought about a boy in a blue shirt holding a red balloon. You couldn't resist, there was no other choice. Stop trapping yourself in the same way by just giving yourself something else to think about and completely immerse yourself in it, instead of telling yourself I shouldn't be thinking about this. Why am I thinking about this? Stop thinking about this please!!! I promise that no matter how strong the urge is to go back and comb through every detail of the memory, any findings you may acquire during the torture would not be as valuable as the peace you'll find in knowing how to move on.

So yep. This one has been hard for me to do, but I'm getting better at it, I'm excercising my letting-go muscles. I've always been a very attached person with abandonment issues, so I understand how long it might take. But even now, as I still struggle with automatically fighting myself internally sometimes, I can already feel the benefits of practicing just moving on to the better things right away. It sure lightens the load, and when the rest of life is already such a struggle, who wouldn't want to stay at peace with their own selves?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Chasing The Present

photo: mine from Christmas Day. heheh.

Why is it so hard to stay present in our own lives?

It's probably not because of a lack of being reminded of it. We get reminded of it all the time, and yet, like being told to put sunscreen on, it soon becomes like background noise. Something you expect to hear, and agree to, it's just hard to apply it to your life. But why?

I'm guessing a lot of it is because of the fact that even though there are so many ways to put it into words (eg. live in the now, YOLO, be here now, wherever you are, there you are, be present, etc), as a concept, it has an odd ability to stay just a bit out of grasp, even after you understand it one time.

Because it's a way to be and to do things, not an activity in itself.

We can never hand out how to be present in specific, all-encompassing terms. We can only talk about what it could feel like, what it could cause, things that could probably help get us there.

It's not a one-size-fits-all type of deal. Everyone will have a different level of openness to the present that could give them the most benefit, and everyone would respond very differently to different ways to achieve this mental state.

However. it's a little bit easier to notice a severe lack of it.

We lack presence when we feel time go really fast. It means we spent a lot of time in our heads and have come back to our surroundings on a much later date or hour than we expected it to be. When we are riddled with regret, we know that we were stuck back in the past for a little bit. When everything around us seems dull compared to our dreams, we know we spent too much time imagining the future instead of being here, to make the future happen.

I guess what I'm saying is... being in the present moment is a little bit like happiness - it is best to approach it calmly, with open eyes and an open mind, and allowing it to fall into your hands. When you chase it, you lose it. Because it doesn't come from anywhere else but inside yourself.

See, it's hard to not sound mystical when trying to explain it!

But as I've said, a little bit more openness is helpful. And quite worth it, once you get to a point where it comes a lot easier. But things get a bit weird when what you need to be open to is not to do something more, but to do something less. To stop trying so hard.

Here are the personal tools I use when I attempt to pull myself back into here and now. I hope you find them helpful, if you feel open enough to receive them:

  • Stop trying to be present. When you are fully present and are used to the sensation, it should not feel like trying at all. If it feels like trying at first, that's okay. But don't try too hard. You'll lose the calm required, and you'll use up will power that you could use for other things that let you function in your life. It's alright, we are humans and we need thinking about the past and future to make sense of our surroundings and lives. The key is to just stay open and to not get lost in these thoughts, so we can let the present flow, and be at peace with whatever comes.
  • Let go of worry. A nice albeit morbid activity that I've recently embraced is to think about the impermanence of life and our eventual death, or Memento Mori. The first time I came across the idea, though. I internally flinched, because I thought I could never really think about death without feeling haunted by it. I can't not worry about it. But that actually goes against what Memento Mori is trying to achieve. Reminders of how short life is are not there to make us worry about it, which would take us away from the present, but to make us accept what's there at the end, and so we end up valuing what's here, now, even more. "Death is there, not here. Let there take care of itself, and let me take care of here."
  • Be curious. Perhaps the most natural way to be in a state of flow. Follow your curiosity, and for any other old thing that you need to deal with, be genuinely curious about that. We often take curiosity for granted, as if it's something that can only occur spontaneously, but it can be helped along by a little effort from ourselves. It can be what makes a boring, soul-sucking errand turn into an interesting, complicated and stimulating activity. This is the only thing in this list that doesn't ask you to stop doing something, and that's what makes it the most important one. Avoiding things will never be as effective as simply replacing them with something better (even with diets!). And so never forget this most important step.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Last Moments of the First Day

New Year's Happiness Guidelines, because I did say the reflecting will come later for me.

Wrote this on my journal. They are not exactly measurable Resolutions in the usual, effective sense but more of a meditation and an emotional compass. There is so much negativity and hung-up-ness that needs shedding, even after years of thinking I was a positive person. Goes to show that it's not about staying happy all the time, but about aiming for wellness, which is to say, you explore your demons and work through them and move on from them, rather than just dousing everything with icing on the surface.
I see myself as more flawed than I've ever seen myself, but at the same time I've never loved myself more.