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To know yourself is to know your obsessions.
One of mine is becoming a better version of myself every day. Some people call it the pursuit of excellence, I prefer the concept of Kaizen. However you label it, the journey is the same—one of self-improvement over time.
Oftentimes, the problem isn’t with our goals, but with ourselves. But most people change goals, drop goals, or switch goals, without truly taking the time to take stock of ourselves. We self-sabotage this way, but we blame it on something else, something external, something superficial. Anything cyclical will continue.
If we want to break through, we have to do something different or give up something we’ve been doing. Instead of imagining what we don’t have, or could have, let’s look at what we do have.
Let’s trace our own habits and behavioral truths that are often a far cry from what our brains imagine ourselves to be. With almost everyone I’ve spoken to, there is a wide gap between who we think we are, and who we really are. Our behaviors don’t often match up with or catch up with our brains, so the stories we tell ourselves are ultimately what trips us up. If we want to grow, we must change our narratives.
So, perhaps, more important than setting a new goal, chasing a new high, searching for validation in the external world, let’s pause and look inward:
1. Take stock of all the things we set out to do, and all the things that didn’t pan out—is there a common thread of why things didn’t work out?
So often, we are told to “just move on,” but moving onto another distraction doesn’t help us take full account of what exactly happened. Moving on saves us from facing difficult moments and analyzing them. Moving on is a cop-out. I say, take inventory of your failures so you can see patterns. Data and information are what inform the big companies that are likely to know more about us than we do ourselves. Robots are only smarter than us when they dig into data we refuse to look at.
2. What patterns can be identified?
This is crucial information about ourselves. It’s the stuff we pay a therapist or a psychologist to tell us. It’s the stuff we take personality tests to find out. But we can do it ourselves, too. We just need to practice being scientific about our tendencies.
Do we quit because there’s always another person who gets on our nerves? Do we give up because things get hard? Do we relocate and start fresh every time? Or, are we too afraid to give up what isn’t working? Where do we stop and why do we stop?
Until we figure out the answers, and until we respond to these “triggers” or stress-factors differently, we will carry on with the same pattern, and our same old energy will only travel comfortably on the same old circuits.
3. What are the recurring elements?
This may sound like the question above, but it’s of a different nature. Think of the patterns like the paths and the roads, and the recurring elements as the things and/or people along this path or road. If the pattern we identify is a trajectory of the distance between A to B to C, then this is asking us, what are the things along this path that are recurring?
Do we gravitate toward a certain prestige? Do we gravitate toward flashy events and charming people? Do we gravitate toward book shops or candy shops? These are all the things that make us comfortable because the nature of a recurring element is that it is comforting and soothing to us. We are not naturally susceptible to strange elements. They recur for a reason, and the more they recur, the easier it is for them to continue. If what is recurring is negative, then this has to stop. This is our parasite.
4. Are the failures always because of someone else?
If we can’t take ownership of our failures, we will perpetually fail and blame it on others. We get nowhere by blaming other people for our falls. When we cast blame, it is to say that other people have power over us, and they don’t unless we choose to give them our power. And why would we?
Everything teaches us something. Take the lessons, and take back our power. We all have blind spots, but we also have the power to make our own choices. Unf*ck Yourself, and the rest of this book list is a great place to start—to reprogram our thinking and blaming tendencies.
5. What part of our behavior is the same?
They say that doing the same things repeatedly but expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Take stock of the qualities and behavior that identify us, and ask—are they helping or hindering me? Behavior can be trained. Even our minds can be re-wired. If something we have or do isn’t working for us, then we have to swap out this behavior and try a new approach.
“Give up your old stories”—my Meisner coach used to drill this into our training. If we want to break free, this is the first shackle we have to let go of. These old stories are the recurring negative patterns in our lives. We would tire of these stories if they belonged to another person, but somehow, we run on a different standard.
Journaling helps us take stock of our stories, but talking into the mirror is another way—we can see our faces, our emotions, and if we did all our complaining in front of a mirror, we might get tired of our stories faster because we probably won’t like the emotions we see.
And only when we’ve had enough of this old look, old story, old loop, can we truly embark on a journey of change. So, the next goal we have, the next path we take will be different, and along this path, we will see different things and, just perhaps, we will find that which we seek.