Part of cultivating a growth mindset, is seeing how much we hate our failures, mistakes, and imperfections. These are key clues and symptoms of a fixed mindset.
Interpersonal conflicts always somehow include our buttons/triggers. The effect of a trigger is that our judgment and emotional response blend with the facts. This creates a distorted subjective perception of what is actually happening. Yet we have no reference that this is happening. Our perception seems like reality.
If I act from scarcity, I create scarcity.
Practice makes perfect. When I practice stress and anxiety each day, the future will not relieve stress and anxiety. What difference do external conditions make in the face of such disciplined habit? I can't feed stress and anxiety super-sized meals and hope they become fit.
(7 minute read)
One strong impression sticks with me above others from my law school days.
I would read a monumental Supreme Court Decision—one of these hotly debated 5-4 decisions. It would be something of great import to the nation.
I would read the majority decision. I would think, whoa, thank god. Hot damn. They got that one right. They nailed it! (I almost feel like Napoleon Dynamite when I say that last part.)
Then I would read the dissenting opinion. I would then fill with doubt. I would no longer be so sure.
These were the brightest legal minds our nation could offer. They could dive into the nuances and legal intricacies and swim gracefully. They could see far-reaching practical implications. They could identify deep ethical and moral considerations. Of course there were brilliant arguments on both sides of such crucial issues.
And this is in many respects like every important decision we face. We do not have 9 judges deliberating on our options. Yet our minds can create brilliant reasoning to back each possible alternative.
For many, this can be a daunting challenge. It can be easy to freeze in the headlights with indecision. It’s pretty common.
A tough decision is the type that has a huge bearing on the quality of our lives. It calls on our power of contemplation, self-reflection, soul-searching.
I present a framework here for working through a Good, Tough Decision (GTD). I provide simple, concrete examples as we go along.
As always, I aim to add texture to self-reflection. I don’t offer a set of rules to avoid self-reflection.
II. Start from the Inside Out
Before we get to the step-by-step, let’s start with the biggest key. Attitude is more important than what we decide. Attitude is about process. Process is in our control, outcome is not.
Navigating life means no fool-proof plans. Living with increasing maturity means embracing uncertainty. Bringing our utmost to the process is the best we can do. It's rewarding. We can look back with self-acceptance and minimal regret if we approach the process with care.
But we typically place much more attention in the what than the how and why.
We sometimes neglect to see that the what is the most superficial aspect of the decision. The decision is best served when we dig deeper, into our core. Deciding who you choose to be relative to any particular situation is an act of self-creation. It’s an act of declaration to yourself, to others, to life, to the universe. Its best when it comes from the Inside Out. An Inside Out decision is much more satisfying and effective than an Outside In approach.
An Outside-In approach complicates the process. It focuses on the what. It elevates superficial appearances above our natural inclination. Our ideas of who we are supposed to be and how we want to appear get in the way of what we actually feel and want. The fight between who we are supposed to be and who we actually are brings on self-judgment and labels. It emerges from limiting beliefs.
Let’s try a simple example to illustrate. Let's say we hold the belief that it’s cool to be the type of person who says “yes” to things. We believe saying yes is taking a plunge and being open to life. This can be at best a half truth. It can’t apply 100% of the time. Life is too vast to simplify and generalize like that. It doesn’t pay to make this a rigid rule, harden it into a “final solution” that applies regardless of context.
We give away our power to discern what is actually right for us when we try to live up to a final solution, a set way of being. Context rules.
Saying no to someone or something can be in fact the strongest way to say yes to ourselves. So, the bias of saying yes interferes with who we actually want to be relative to this situation. It’s a superimposed dogma that we have not yet challenged. It influences and limits us unconsciously. It creates a disturbance in the decision making process. It creates the feeling that there are more than two sides inside you. The challenge is realizing which internal voice feels more core. What is the "should" here and what is YOU?
Our challenge is to identify what the noise is and cut through it. We want to give ourselves permission to accept what we actually want. We want to validate our own experience. This means that we are “allowed” to want what we actually want, instead of what others around us think we should want.
When we honor our actual inclination rather than a pre-defined notion of who we are supposed to be, we relax. How many times have we heard the advice to be ourselves? It often is difficult. It’s our formidable idealized self-concept and vanity that get in the way, never other people. I honor the challenge we face in this.
III. GTD Framework
The challenge calls on us to proceed with self-awareness, self-responsibility, and self-trust. What do those qualities look like in practical terms?
These qualities mean recognizing no option will create pure advantage only. If it’s a tough decision, there will be some downside to any course of action. There is a price to be paid. We often don’t want to embrace or hear that. We sometimes get lost wishing for life to be different than how it's showing up in the moment. It can take the edge off for a sec, but it’s in the end pointless and unconstructive.
Determining what we want given the circumstances and the downsides is an act of maturity. Like the judges, "5-4" type decisions mean not all parts of ourselves will be thrilled.
Here's a guiding principle. Our core/heart/intuition provides our most effective, powerful, satisfying decisions. Our reasoning power will understand and follow our heart after we feel into our best option. Yet, when we can’t feel our best option, we need to use our power of reason to make the decision.
The steps below can support our reasoning process when it is not clear what our heart wants.
Step 1: Hear yourself think.
When it's hazy, we don’t have access to feeling into the options with sufficient clarity.
Let each alternative speak out its strongest argument. Listen to each side of yourself from a place of spaciousness and objectivity. Try to listen for what resonates with you most. See what sounds like appearance-based concerns. Try to detect what your core actually wants.
Step 2: Speak it out with a good friend.
If you speak it out loud to a friend, can you feel something new as you speak? Or can they reflect what it sounds like you actually want? Sometimes it’s not so much hazy as rather we aren’t willing to accept the downside of our preferred choice.
It’s rare that there isn’t at least a 55/45 inclination one way. The challenge in this case can be more about willingness to follow through. We may have sufficient clarity for a 5-4 decision but be in denial about the downside, the price to be paid.
Don't take your friend's reflection back as the absolute truth either. That can be an easy way out. See what you learn and what resonates with you.
You may already have your GTD if you can feel that inclination and are willing to maturely accept the price.
In steps 1 + 2, we have been seeing if we could discern the voice emitting from the core. The following steps tap further into our power of reason in the absence of that.
Step 3: Dropping the RIGHT decision.
Unhealthy attachment to finding the RIGHT decision brings complication. The practical consequence is placing undue pressure on ourselves and creating unnecessary stress. Often this attitude connects to our fear of uncertainty and our fear of making a mistake.
It’s worth reminding your fear that you are strong enough to handle whatever comes of this decision. You have been in challenging situations before and you came out fine. And you always learned something. What happens when we let go of the idea of one right decision? We can navigate with more calm and tranquility.
Step 4: Shifting towards curiosity and experimentation.
A great remedy for this type of block is taking the attitude of a scientist conducting an experiment. Gandhi titled his autobiography the Story of My Experiments with Truth. True science can happen in our own lives, from the intentional willingness to learn from experience.
We can’t possibly know how something is going to turn out. What is the more interesting experiment to conduct? This means shifting one’s attitude towards curiosity about possibilities. That's more practical than the attitude that this is some sort of, say, final exam.
Here are some questions that can feed the inner scientist. Perhaps not all will be directly relevant to your situation. The point is to move back to your center, be as mindful as possible, and take an action that you can be proud of.
Giving one's best is a tastier recipe for the well-lived life than dependence on things turning out as we insist.
- In what ways is this challenging decision actually something positive? (There are always some.)
- What have you done in this type of situation before? How has that turned out?
- What further information could have a bearing?
- What is your hypothesis about each course of action?
- What steps are in your power to prevent and limit the downsides?
- What options would you have to address worse-case scenarios?
- What decision gives you the best chance to learn something interesting?
- What personal values are most important to express in making this decision?
All along the way, we are still listening for clues from our intuition. Yet we may not know what our core wants. If that's the case, then we simply pull the trigger based on the best our inquiry and reason can bring us. Maybe we sleep on it one more night. But we don't allow the indecision to linger indefinitely. Investing in process can also become distorted if taken too far.
Step 5: Double-check.
Even when the decision approaches clarity, it can help to entertain and double check the other option(s). This means letting the dissenting opinion speak out its most stellar argument. Hearing out the dissenting opinion can offer possibilities to strengthen the course of action. Sometimes there is a valid consideration easily addressed.
But sometimes the dissenting opinion gets personal at this stage, bringing self-harshness. It is good to be aware and prepared. When this tone emerges, it’s usually based on rigid ideas of what is right and wrong. It wants to create labels that you are not living up to and demean you for that. It neglects to see the nuances of the situation. It definitely works against your own self-acceptance. It can be very insistent and persuasive.
If you stand firm after hearing out the noise, your conviction and resolve strengthen. It also means that you can look on the decision knowing you did it as consciously as possible.
This also gives us insight into the part of ourselves that is actively working against us. These observations can be precious because we know what it sounds like and how it operates.
This is all part of bringing our utmost to the decision-making process.
Step 6: Aftermath.
It will never be possible to know what the other alternative(s) would have yielded. In the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books, you could retrace steps and discover where the other trails led. Life doesn’t afford that opportunity.
In the aftermath, the dissenting opinion may not let go. It may be bitter and try to pick moments to launch into doubt, regret, or attack. When you followed what you actually wanted and gave the utmost of yourself to the process, remember not to jump on that train. Simply don’t feed it without needing to fight and resist it either.
We will always have the comfort or burden of knowing how much or little we invested ourselves in the process. The better our process, the more readily we will live with the outcome. I wish you well with your GTDs.
(7 MIN READ + Videos)
I suppose the body to be just a statue or a machine made of earth. ~Rene Descartes
Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it. ~Rene Descartes
I am indeed amazed when I consider how weak my mind is and how prone to error. ~Rene Descartes
Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else. ~Leonardo Da Vinci
A group of friends and I decided to do an intense workout challenge together. We’re all enjoying it, for the most part. We live in different parts of the world. We use a WhatsApp group to encourage, groan, tease, joke, and share the experience. Other friends who get wind of it seem to be joining daily. There are any number of observations I could share about it.
One of the women in the program, Tanya, shows great endurance and determination. The fitness professional leading the program has dubbed her, “The machine”. It's intended and received as a compliment.
When a team or organization functions well, we often call it a well-oiled machine.
From where do these mechanistic conceptions arise? What are the implications?
It paints an outdated relationship to ourselves, life, animals, and the planet. The wide-ranging implications include our ongoing survival and well-being.
II. Descartes’ Great Mistake
Prominent historical ideas gain traction and can exert influence even centuries later. Descartes' underlying principle was that the world and living organisms are machine-like, mechanistic. The essence of this belief lies potent and largely unexamined in our culture. Our mechanistic analogies hint at the lingering power of these historical artefacts.
An important corollary of mechanistic thinking is breaking things down to analyze them. Yet, Life itself emerges as something wondrous, beyond an assembly of natural, periodic elements. We disregard our own wisdom that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. As a Cartesian habit, we miss the possibilities of systemic, holistic thinking.
Of course, his methods and accomplishments have also benefited society. Certain problems are indeed best solved by analysis and breaking them down. There are shades of grey. Context always remains vital.
Our mindsets express through our speech and action. As one commentator put it:
Descartes and his followers performed experiments in which they nailed animals by their paws onto boards and cut them open to reveal their beating hearts. They burned, scalded, and mutilated animals in every conceivable manner. When the animals reacted as though they were suffering pain, Descartes dismissed the reaction as no different from the sound of a machine that was functioning improperly. A crying dog, Descartes maintained, is no different from a whining gear that needs oil.
Today, most agree this is inhumane. Yet, mechanistic analogies also go further, limiting our potential in other destructive ways. The underlying thought process ignores higher potential perspectives. I touch next in the context of organizational life because many can relate. I then go onto a bigger, deeper challenge facing us.
I like to focus on the learning always inherent in the current moment. I am not a fan of regret and critique for the sake of being a critic.
III. The Virtue of Learning in Organizations
Most societal forward movement comes from organizations. Organizations are groups of people banding together to achieve a common purpose. In some cases, the purpose is survival, status, and material well-being. In other cases, it is something more than that. (There’s low hanging fruit there but we’ll ignore it for today.) For now, our primary org references remain mechanistic. This comes at great cost to our effectiveness and fulfillment.
In the early 1900’s, Frederick Taylor, measured people with a stop-watch. He timed them doing repetitive, simple, mind-numbing tasks, minute after minute, hour after hour. He encouraged managers to get their staff to reduce “wasteful” movements. This came to be known as“scientific management”.
This organizational approach limits adaptability at the very least. (Change is constant. And it seems to only get faster and faster. Machines breakdown when used for unintended purposes.)
From the Harvard Business Review:
“Since the early 1900s, this [mechanistic] model has been the prevailing paradigm for how organizations are designed and run.
The problem is that while this approach enables large-scale production, it doesn’t seem to work for innovation. Over the past several years, we have compared... teams in a dozen global organizations. One of our key findings was that teams functioning more like machines – blindly following highly defined processes and execution plans — were the least effective at achieving their goals and coming up with innovations. The most successful teams, on the other hand, operated less like highly efficient machines and more like ant colonies. These teams were able to quickly adapt to changes in their environment, because they had a set of simple [principles] and a clear goal, allowing them more flexibility and ability to learn along the way.”
And the digitalist has this to add:
"In the knowledge economy, the business was typically considered “a machine.”…
Machines remain static; however, companies must grow… An organism’s purpose comes from within. An organism strives over time to realize its goals in the world. As conditions in the environment change, an organism responds…it learns. [emphasis added]
For many years, the “machine” mindset has prevailed. As a result, many companies are designed as information-processing and production machines…But information processing is not learning. Production is not learning. Learning is a creative process, not a mechanical one.
Inherent in the mechanical viewpoint, all knowledge is explicit and can be represented in manuals, documentation, and quantitative metrics….This harkens back to Frederick Taylor, the father of scientific management. His theory is based on measuring and analyzing work with the making it more efficient. Scientific management is focused on defining and measuring work in the form of words, charts, and numbers. In other words, what can be seen and recorded is the only thing that matters.”
Yet, many of us have learned the mechanical viewpoint doesn’t feel very good. ~70-80% of people are disengaged at work. Projections say 50% of the work force will be freelance or entrepreneur by 2020. People are exiting work environments that are mechanistic and unnatural. The feeling of unfulfillment is strong.
Perhaps the Life or magic in work emerges from beyond what can be broken down and measured. Whole > Sum.
(For those interested in the topic of learning organizations, the book The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge is the seminal work.)
Let’s continue to other terrible implications which unfold from the mechanistic model.
IV. On the Sanctity of Cows
There are tremendous positive developments connected with our environment. But there is tremendous distance to travel yet. The mechanistic view contrasts with seeing the interconnectedness of all things.
Our relationship to animals is the greatest source of environmental destruction. Most people don't know that and the systemic connections are missed.
I accept the sanctity of each one’s choices. I encourage people to inform themselves and make conscious decisions. Our guiding principles should be eminently practical--higher forms of well-being.
Here are some interesting facts (find the infographic below at the bottom of this post):
- 51% of Global Greenhouse Gas emissions come from livestock and their byproducts, 13% due to transport
- Livestock covers 45% of the Earth’s total land
- Animal Agriculture and mostly cattle agriculture is responsible for 91% of the deforestation of the Amazon, sometimes called the lungs of the earth. Another 1-2 acres are cleared every second.
- The waste from 2500 Dairy Cows = the Waste from a city of 411,000 people
- 1 Hamburger takes 660 gallons of fresh water to make
- Every minute, 7 million pounds of excitement are produced by animals raised for food in the US
- 110 species go extinct everyday because of rainforest destruction
These figures are self-evident. The way we raise, slaughter, and eat cows, is one of the single biggest threats to our world. (Nuclear codes in the hands of kids is one of the others.)
We often look for huge ways to contribute to a better world. But the solutions are often not so complex as clear, simple, and straightforward. Small is beautiful.
Most people also shrug their shoulders at or ignore the rate of climate change. Cartesian thinking is part of the problem, because we tend to isolate our behavior from the impact on the whole. We don’t think systemically and see the interconnection of all things. We don't see our connection to everything else.
Here’s a video that can help us remember how nature relies on balance and interconnectedness.
In Indian traditions, cows are seen with Shiva, Krishna, Indra and other Indian deities. They are inherently associated with divinity and nature.
The ancient yogis in India had great insight and wisdom. They studied the nature of life. They saw the interconnectedness of all things. They recognized that how we treat cows is deeply symbolic of how we treat the earth. They perhaps intuited we would imperil ourselves and our existence in how we relate to cows.
One view of man places him atop the animal kingdom. In this view, inhumane treatment is acceptable. Top of the food chain. This puts forth man’s animalistic aspects. We see self-destruction in this perspective.
Another view of man places him as friend of the earth. This connects to wiser ways of being.
It's practical to see how our actions impact our surviving and thriving.
Here is an inspiring video which shows how man’s relationship with nature could be different:
Ignorance includes stepping away from the satisfaction of being in integrity with ourselves. Especially once we know better. Who wants to be willfully ignorant?
Ahimsa, which we often translate as nonviolence, is the foundation of Yoga. By yoga here, I mean more than asana/postures. I mean the science, study, and practice of the highest forms of living. At its root, it is exactly the same word as religion—which is union. Nonviolence is nothing other than the Golden Rule actually. Its fundamentals include acknowledging the sentience of animals.
There is much further we could go with this that includes bulls raping cows, in the dairy industry. I also focus only on small elements of environmental and ethical considerations. There are many other dimensions we could explore. I’ll leave that aside for today.
I am not making a specific comment on whether you choose to eat meat or not. Yet, our impact on the whole is in some way felt by us. It may be of practical benefit to consider even one meatless day a week. Be informed and do as you please.
Many dis-empower themselves, not seeing their choices matter and have real-world impact. Cheap clothes made in sweatshops and plastic entombed convenience items reflect the issue too. Lisa once showed me how the shrimp industry creates slavery and cyclone destruction in Bangladesh. A messy world accumulates from dis-empowered people believing their choices don’t matter.
The mechanistic view continues to wield destructive influence across broad swaths of life in this world. Seeing the deep interconnectedness of things helps us to make better choices.
For those who don't know Leonardo Da Vinci beyond his artwork, he might be considered one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived. He studied art and science with such intensity that they became each other. He saw the interconnectedness of all things. As many commentators have noted, he also studied the nature of life. He was in his own way a yogi.
I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men. ~Leonardo Da Vinci
PS- Here's the InfoGraphic I referred to above.
This post is for those that felt very different than others growing up. This post is to describe and validate that experience, as well as give a hint at some current implications.
It doesn’t matter what the source of feeling different was. It could have been ethnicity, race, wealth or lack of it, sexual orientation, parents who were alcoholics, immigration status, learning disability, any type of family dysfunction, the experience of abuse, what side of the tracks you lived on…The origin of that sense of otherness could have come from any identifying characteristic.
II. The Secret Knowledge Club
Otherness is directly connected to a phenomenon I call the Secret Knowledge Club. It’s the sense that something is really wrong with one’s home life and the values and anything else that might be learned there. And so, with the faulty logic of a child, one assumes everybody else is in on something, knows something that he/she doesn’t. One throws out all references they have gained at home and assumes that all others can be a source of information about what normal is.
So one harnesses all their power of detective-ness, empathy, and analysis to try to glean insight into how other “normal” kids from “normal” families do things. It’s the idea that one is on one side of circumstances and everybody else is unified on the other side. And that if one just tries hard enough to crack the case, entry to the Secret Knowledge Club will be granted, and that that acceptance will bring a kind of redemption and make up for the lack of love not received at home. It can be as if one resolved through will to gain the love outside they feel they lacked from their roots.
Another possible aspect of this is that any one identifying characteristic becomes a focal point for everything else idiosyncratic and disliked about one's family and household. So, for example, say abuse and dysfunction get grouped together as a reflection of heritage. Heritage becomes the most shameful aspect. Yet it stands in for several aspects of one’s young life experienced as shameful.
There are infinite ways it could have taken root and expressed in your individual, nuanced situation. The main point is that there was a feeling of outsider-dom. And in some way, it continues to express today.
III. Current Implications and Symptoms
What this experience as a child points in the direction of in our current lives is self-alienation. That sounds like a strong term. Most people don’t want to identify such a term with themselves. But one universal law is that powers of healing and transformation only become available through awareness and acceptance. Denial and resistance keeps things the same.
What are some tell-tale signs/symptoms of self-alienation?
- Insecurity and dependence on others and external circumstances for validation.
- Feelings of helplessness or being trapped in one or more areas of one’s life.
- Frustration when not getting one’s way.
- A sense of dryness and meaninglessness.
- Applying one’s sense of reason and logic to how other people should do things rather than using them for oneself.
Those are just a few. Sometimes these types of indicators are so "normal: as we take a look around us, that we don’t even suspect that paths to richer experiences of life are possible.
But it’s exactly that looking outside to norms for reassurance that indicates self-alienation.
All wisdom traditions universally indicate that the actual secret knowledge you are seeking access to resides inside you. That one's true self is a source of great power, love, and joy.
Sometimes that sort of thing can sound corny. But that’s the kind of era we live in—that which is truthful, timeless, and beautiful brings eye rolls and people continue to go along with lives that don’t feel like their own. I almost wrote merrily go along with lives, but it isn’t merrily at all. That which is normal comes alongside numbness and despair.
IV. Possible Action Steps
Here are 7 possible things you can begin to do today, if self-alienation is a challenge you recognize and identify with. Any of these steps can be combined with others on the list of course. I am including all of these just off the top of my head. I am sure I am forgetting some good ones. But I am confident that these resources and ideas can be supportive of change.
The stronger the yearning for change you experience, the more ready you will be to take action. If things are all good as they are, then by all means keep doing what you are doing!
I want to encourage you past the notion of quick fixes at this point. This is about opening new pathways of ongoing change and increasing well-being. I am talking about opening more deeply to a fundamental shift in lifestyle and mindset. That takes serious effort and patience. If you want superficial changes, there are millions of hucksters out there trying to convince you of the value of those possibilities.
1. Read one or more of the following books and/or look up videos connected to the following authors. Click around inside, read reviews and choose one that really resonates with you. These types of perspectives open people up. Let your current point of view be challenged and notice your own resistance points as they arise. When you become aware of those thoughts, are they reflective and supportive of who you want to be?
Any discipline can be a pathway to open up your research. Some are better than others, but it’s also great to see there are innovative books in so many fields. New sources of knowledge are fundamental to change. Knowledge alone is necessary but not sufficient in of itself.
- Creativity: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
- Science: Science Set Free by Rupert Sheldrake
- Suffering to Joy by Sri Prem Baba
- Bhagavad Gita, translation by Eknath Easwaran
- Power v. Force or something else by David Hawkins
- New Earth or Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- Loving What Is by Byron Katie
- Any of Brene Brown's books
- Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch
- The Undefended Self by Eva Pierrakos and Susan Thesenga
- Anything by Rumi, Thoreau, Emerson...
- Assertiveness: The Assertiveness Workbook by Randy Peterson
- Anger: The Anger Trap by Les Carter
- Politics/Current events: Profits over People by Noam Chomsky
- History: A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- Neurosis and Human Growth by Karen Horney (a bit denser but amazing),
- Reinvent Your Life by Jeffrey Young
- Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller
- Presence/emotions: Presence Process by Michael Brown
- Economics: Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher
- Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge
- Liberating the Corporate Soul by Richard Barrett
- Money: Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker (probably my least favorite on the list, but it's a topic almost all of us are concerned with and it introduces some important principles of mindset)
2. Watch one or more of the following videos.
- What if Money was no Object?
- Two Wolves and Mindfulness
- How to Make a Country Rich? (A Satire)
- Century of the Self (4 part BBC series of one hour each)
- Food, Inc. (trailer)
- Ted Talk on Schools and Creativity, Sir Ken Robinson
- Ted Talk on Vulnerability, Brene Brown
- The Miracle of the Wolves (Systems Thinking and Nature)
And/or do one of the following actions...
3. Try yoga at least 2-3 classes/week for a month and see what happens.
4. Try meditating for a month and see what happens, even if it's just 5 times per day of one minute each time.
5. Try going on a media, phone, and/or meat-free diet for a week and see what happens. (Or a day or two a week for a month, if a week seems impossible.)
6. Begin doing a Daily Review. Take 10 minutes each evening to write down in a journal some of the worst and best moments during the day. The worst includes those moments which you felt triggered, fearful, irritated, angry, numb, gluttonous, envious, greedy, defensive, judgmental. The best includes those moments you feel most grateful for. The reason we pay attention to the more shadowy moments is that we start to gain power over our own patterns slowly but surely by increasing our awareness that they exist. It's simple and mathematical.
7. Start practicing breathing exercises, known in the yogic tradition as Pranayama. Here’s one simple video to get you started.
The emphasis on seeing what happens is about valuing your own experience. Your experience reveals what’s supportive of your own well-being. You just note how you feel before and after. It's as simple as that. This is about cultivating self-trust. We are remembering that self-alienation has a lot to do with an unhealthy reliance on external cues. We are learning to orient by our own inner compass.
The title of Gandhi’s autobiography was the Story of My Experiments with Truth. I love that one of the greatest men who ever lived and was an inspiration to so many, brought an attitude of true science and experimentation. It wasn’t an outer reliance on what scientists and their experiments told him. It was an inner reliance on what scientific experiments indicated to him from within. It was his own willingness to be a scientist, explore, and learn from mistakes. Gandhi shares with us a certain humility, curiosity, and greatness in even gifting us the title of his book.
I believe those qualities are possible for any of us. But we can only move further in that direction when we are willing to take honest stock of where we are. There are many defenses that want us to be beyond where we are. But avoidant behavior will only entrench the same patterns that are uncomfortable today.
I am no stranger to self-alienation. Meaning I have indeed been quite a stranger to my real self! Ha. But seriously, I write about the Secret Knowledge Club and walking the pathways beyond those dynamics from experience.
I am cheering for you and all of us to keep learning, growing, healing, and evolving. Much love.
Any commitment has at least three levels. In order of increasing depth, we might call them the form, the substance, and the purpose. These are strongest when they align with each other.
We are wise to revise our commitments when they fall out of alignment. As we go along I provide simple, concrete examples. We also examine that which interferes with our commitments.
From the most core to most outer, I define commitment as follows.
II. Levels of Commitment
Purpose—that which you see as the reason you exist. It brings meaning to what you do. When consciously articulated, it defines how you show up. Greater clarity and integrity with purpose brings joy, confidence, and effectiveness.
A generic expression of purpose that applies to being human is: (1) continuously learning, healing, and growing to (2) continue becoming a more mature, loving, wise, happy human being so that we may (3) express and offer the utmost of our gifts and talents in service of others. Infinite ways to articulate and express this in our unique, nuanced situations exist. These are some of the fundamental elements to realizing fulfillment.
Realizing fulfillment is different than pursuing happiness. It's cultivation, not chase.
Alignment with purpose grows over time, with right attitude and approach. It entails maturing beyond the zeal for instant perfection. We systematically identify and overcome fear, resistance, and noise from little demons.
Purpose operates in stages. It begins with a yearning for change. It becomes a general kind of reorientation and regular challenge of one's own mindset. Then it starts to become less vague and come into sharper focus. Then it becomes the obvious motivator for everything you do. (I am still learning this.)
One realizes purpose is something much deeper than giving to a good cause to be a good person. That can still be selfish. That can still come back to the game of pretense and defense and the appearances one is trying to maintain.
Moving towards greater purpose is about being a warrior. One works to reclaim one’s life beyond appearances and conformity. It’s about moving beyond dryness and that ache many of us feel in our bones. Moving towards purpose means refusal to accept normal while not devolving into rebellion.
Substance of a Commitment:
What are you driven by? What motivates you?
We can articulate substantive commitments in each area of our lives. We define what that area means to us and how it helps us live into our deeper purpose. (By all the areas of our lives, I mean: professional, financial, relationship, health, spiritual, family, friends, sexuality, etc.)
Let's take the professional realm as an example. I commit to learning/creating/sharing innovative economic and business models. I am interested in models which which are humane and sustainable. I want to help us express wiser ways of being in the world.
Through this path, I challenge my edges. I create situations to serve others. I provoke defense mechanisms to observe how they operate. I gain new opportunities to systematically dismantle them.
Substance is not a specific, concrete expression of what. It’s rather a direction—a kind of north star. It’s a path by which the deeper purpose can be realized. It is a means to deeper contentment as well as tangible growth in healthy self-expression.
If substance doesn’t connect to purpose, we experience anguish or numbness. It’s as simple and mathematical as that. When we feel anxious, depressed, or disturbed with outer circumstances, our lives aren’t aligned with who we are.
That negative emotional experience is actually a kind of mercy from Life. It’s pain steering us back in the direction of where our actual fulfillment lies. The longer it’s ignored, the more things stay the same.
A relevant side note:
Despite difficult times, there are genuine reasons for optimism and excitement. We have collectively settled for nothing beyond survival and status for far too long. We have taken this material view as all there is to life, as THE reality. We can agree the status quo is pretty lame.
Many of us have tired of dull waiting with passing entertainments, but no deepening of fulfillment. The challenge is that when we move in the direction of our deeper purpose and sense of self, we have to face fear. Fear and safety created the life we oriented towards and chose in the first place.
Yet, much of the "purpose" movement which is taking root today exists on the level of substance, not purpose. It isn't about deep growth and service. It remains material rather than spiritual. So fulfillment remains subject to limitation, even if the potential has grown.
Form of a Commitment:
In this simplistic model, this is the most superficial type of commitment. But it’s often what we confuse as being the whole truth of commitment.
For example, let’s say I commit to explore a methodology with a business partner. Let's say their methodology unfolds over the course of the year. And let’s say circumstances change. The exploration loses its value within months. What is the best course of action?
Once we get to the outermost level, we find that any given action in of itself is not indicative of health. Because appearances alone reveal very little and are not the source of fulfillment. We live in a world where it's relatively easy to look good on paper. It's much harder to create a life of true authenticity.
It's neither staying married nor getting divorced that is a sign of true commitment. Each can be appropriate in the right circumstances. The action alone reveals little.
Here's a little rule of thumb. If the substance or the purpose become compromised by maintaining the form, then we let the form go. It’s the least important of our commitments. It's the bicycle you are riding on the path of substance. The bicycle is dispensable. And if it gets a flat, you have a good pair of walking shoes until you find the next one.
There is a price to pay. You may not please the other. But making decisions from the inside out bears long-term dividends.
Only you know your motivation and rationale. And always beware of self-deception. This model isn't an excuse to duck out of true responsibilities. I attempt to add texture to self-reflection. It's not a set of rules to avoid self-reflection.
Only we know why we made a certain decision or why we remain in a certain situation. There are no “final solutions”. One of many keys to a good life is to focus fully on character, and much less on reputation. What decision is in integrity with you?
D. Bonus — The Hidden Competing Commitment Why are gyms packed at the beginning of January and already have tumbleweeds blowing through by February? It’s because the “New Year’s Resolution” approach to change doesn’t work. Change has deeper implications than conscious will alone. For example, even when life is on the line, only 1 in 7 heart patients are able to make recommended lifestyle changes.
Let’s look at this through a professional lens. What is it that stops us from moving in the direction of what we want to realize? Typically it includes fear and pride. We are scared of the threat to our identity.
For example, if I put myself out there and no one gets interested—I am forced to challenge whatever cherished illusions I may be holding. I may fail or make mistakes. People may judge me. There's lots of worse case scenarios boiling underneath the surface. There’s all sorts of risks that I can imagine might come true that seem threatening. So in a way, I am deeply committed to that not happening, to staying safe.
So one foot is on the gas and one foot is on the brakes. There is a part of ourselves deeply committed to the opposite of the direction we want to move. It wants to keep us safe.
The world ends up being smaller. The perceived threats are kind of a barbed wire enclosing us into an artifically limited space. Dipping our toes on the other side of that fence is venturing into unchartered territory. But the comfort zone is actually super uncomfortable.
The number one deathbed regret is living a life according to the expectations of others.
Concious, individual choice powers strong commitments. Appearance-based motivations undermine integrity. Sometimes purpose and commitment means disappointing others. Yet when we say no to others from the core, it's a yes to our fulfillment. It's worth trusting that a life lived from greater levels of depth will be more meaningful and fulfilling in the long-term.
“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune.” ~Carl Jung
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” ~Thomas Merton
“I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of humility, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it…In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.” ~Benjamin Franklin
There is a difference between bragging and appropriately, truthfully owning one’s strengths when context indicates. False humility makes it difficult to discern this difference.
False humility includes low self-esteem and inferiority, but it also includes arrogance, resentment, and judgment behind a mask of respect and equality. It is a learned behavior connected to fitting in. It is defense and pretense. It is impossible to feel and be at our very best when we are not aligned with authenticity and integrity between our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Any time we have thoughts of being better than or less than, we have room to cultivate humility. For most of us that means a lot, myself very much included. It's great to keep growing. In fact, our souls cry out for it.
When I was a kid, my sense of otherness as an Indian-American was quite acute. I didn’t consciously think this way, but looking back now, it was almost as if I believed there was some secret knowledge club that everybody was in on. If I just tried hard enough to observe how everybody else acted, I could learn what I needed to know and gain admission into the club.
So, I took much of the feedback I got to heart. I was pretty sensitive. One time a friend’s parent was upset at me for not saying thank you after a playdate in which she picked me up, made me an incredible strawberry shortcake, and dropped me off. I etched it in stone to be polite, starting with the basics of please and thank you.
Another instance was when we were playing basketball-dodgeball. It was an ingenious hybrid game that I am not sure was played outside Niskayuna, NY. Basically, if you forewent chucking the ball at the enemy team, and instead shot a basket and made it, all your un-dodging teammates who previously were out, came back in the game. This made it a bit like Monopoly in that sometimes games could go on quite long.
When I once got the best player on the other side out, who was kind of mythically good at dodgeball and one year older to boot, I received some praise. I ate that up with relish. I mentioned to several fellow classmates that I had done so, in case they failed to notice. One guy said, man you are such a bragger! That was the bragger dagger. Hit me in the kidneys. I’ll spare the gore, but it hurt.
I overgeneralized, as kids are quite prone to do, that bragging meant any time I spoke positively about myself. I developed an awkward relationship with speaking positively about myself.
III. Cultural Norm
And what I notice is that I am not the only one. It seems to me a cultural norm.
Here are just a very few questions which begin to hint at this phenomenon.
How do you relate to others when they are speaking about their accomplishments?
How do you relate to receiving compliments?
How comfortable are you owning and speaking to your strengths without needing to overstate or understate them?
How much easier is it for you to talk about your own or others’ shortcomings than strengths?
It’s not about judgment, just a check-in.
This seems to me to be part of fear, of staying small, of playing it safe, of fitting in. We perhaps don’t even recognize how not advocating honestly for ourselves keeps us from shining and from fulfilling our own longings.
Words are one of the precious tools we have for constructing our reality. If we never acknowledge and take ownership of what is beautiful about ourselves, it usually means there is a block to truly seeing it in others and to seeing it in life. It also means we are going to be less effective.
Let’s fast forward and use a simple example. These days if I tell a potential apartment owner, for instance, that I am pretty close to an ideal tenant in a simple, honest way, it makes them much more likely that they will want to meet me.
But also the flip side is ok. If I talk about some relevant difficult experience I have relative to my team, what assumptions might be upended about what is safe and unsafe? Maybe they will understand and lend support. Maybe that judgment I fear will prove unforthcoming.
Humility and our own confidence and effectiveness, and daresay greatness, are flip sides of the same coin. The same can be said of assertiveness and vulnerability. They come from being real, being honest. Sometimes that means talking about our strengths. Sometimes it means talking about our difficulties.
Sometimes it means allowing for the discomfort of others without needing to please them. Sometimes it means challenging our mind’s story of what is happening and what is likely to happen in response to our behaviors.
It always means respecting ourselves.