“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” — Richard Feynman
You know what I love about books and blog posts?
They give me a rare opportunity.
What’s the opportunity, you ask?
The opportunity to be honest with yourself.
See, it’s hard, to be honest with yourself in most other situations. Hell, it’s hard, to be honest with yourself even when you’re alone. But social situations — where we have a face to save — make it difficult to impossible.
You’ve experienced this when a friend or family member calls you out on something you know is true. You get the most defensive in those situations because the truer something is the more it hurts.
When you’re alone you have a fighting chance at real self-reflection. The author doesn’t know you personally, so it feels less like an attack. Because it isn’t.
I’ll never tell you that you must do something. I’m here to provide insights, get you to have an internal dialogue, and let you take the reigns from there.
It’s a new year. You can be a new you.
But you have to stop bullshitting yourself. And, paraphrasing Feynman, you’re the easiest one to bullshit.
The Mental Kryptonite That Keeps You From Changing
You’re not a “rational” person.
You don’t carefully weigh the evidence before making decisions. You don’t have an accurate self-image. You’re not a (fully) conscious agent in your life. Neither am I. No one is.
If you had to go through life making every single decision logically, you’d go crazy and life would actually be dangerous and miserable for you. You use intuition — emotion — first to make decisions. You then fill in the gaps later with explanations.
Over time, your pattern recognizing and irrational belief constructing brain forms of personality. The central theme of your it being confirmation bias — you believe what you want to believe and ignore what doesn’t fit.
This is pop-psych 101 stuff, though. You’ve heard all of this before, right?
So why am I talking about it?
Because self-improvement is the process of doing more than paying lip service to what you know.
Don’t treat your ability to lie to yourself lightly.
Don’t go “Yeah, I know that,” and then continue to suffer the consequences of lying to yourself.
To take self-improvement seriously, you have to know this one important truth.
The Truth About Self-Improvement Other Gurus Won’t Tell You
I don’t care how many motivational videos you watch, TEDx talks you watch, podcasts you listen to, or books you read.
Self-improvement is often futile. It’s hard and you’ll end up failing at it more often than not.
I gave a TEDx talk, but I don’t think you watching it will suddenly make your life better.
The weight of past experience, bias, personality, circumstance, and everything in between is heavy.
You’re going to fight to the death to maintain your identity rather than change. You are the Johnny Cochran of making excuses for yourself. Not only that, but you’re probably justified in doing so.
Trying to improve your life — on top of everything else you’re already doing — is a lot to ask. You will have to find a balance between self-love and kicking yourself in the ass when you need it.
There are no easy answers and before it gets better, you will go backward. But like a bow and arrow, you have to pull back to shoot yourself forward.
I take the view that getting one, two, three percent better at being honest with yourself creates a dramatic effect on the outcomes you experience. You’re not going to self-actualize. Ever. You’ll chase an unattainable outcome but become a much better version of yourself in the process.
Time to rip the band-aid.
How to Be Brutally Honest With Yourself
“An unexamined life is not worth living” — Socrates
So how do you analyze yourself when your subconscious wants do to nothing but lie to you?
You’re not going to like this answer…
Sorry in advance.
You have to repeatedly analyze yourself, constantly, often in vain, every day until you die.
Are you feeling inspired yet?
I use a journal to wade through my thoughts. If I want to get deep, I write morning pages — three pages of unfiltered thought. This process usually helps me discover what’s really going on. I did have a role in that fight with my wife. I was wallowing in self-pity instead of doing something about “x” (there’s always an x). Maybe gratitude and self-love aren’t what I need today. Maybe I do need to suck it up.
You have a lot of different types of lies to unravel. The process of unraveling them will set you free. Do this long enough and consistent enough and you’ll develop real self-awareness. When you have a more accurate sense of self, you’ll play games you can win, make decisions that suit your specific needs, and stop worrying about things outside of your wheelhouse and control.
Let’s look at some of the most common lies you tell yourself.
“I deserve [x]”
X = More money, status, love, acceptance, opportunity, and all the other things humans desire.
Drill down into that belief. Why do you deserve anything? No really, ask yourself that and think deeply about it.
Because you’re a good person? Not good enough.
Have you really exhausted both your resources and resourcefulness before wishing something fell into your lap? No? Oh, ok.
Look, I suffer from this as much as you do. Sometimes people get things they don’t deserve. Luck plays a role in life. But if you don’t get lucky, shouting at the sky about what the universe owes you won’t work.
If you’ve really put your all into something and it doesn’t pan out, I’m sorry. That sucks and I don’t know what to tell you. But I doubt that’s the case and so do you.
“I’m Content With What I Have”
Buddha, I’m calling you out.
Eastern philosophy tells you to suppress your ego, free yourself from desires, live in the present moment, and be content with what you have.
I’ve meditated daily for almost a half-decade. Mindfulness is hard-work. And it’s goal-oriented.
You need the desire to suppress your desire in order to suppress your desire.
Minimalists? They’re the worst. In their aim to stop obsessing over having too much stuff, they obsess about getting rid of stuff. It’s just another form of materialism — the obsession with the lack of materials.
We’re the animals that went from tool-making apes to a pyramid, wheel, and iPhone creating super-species. We’re wired to have goals. We don’t like being idle.
2019 is the year of owning your ambition.
If you thought you could be rich, have six-pack abs, travel the world, etc, you would do it.
I’m not saying these are worthwhile goals. I’m saying it’s fruitless to pretend like you’re not interested in success. Maybe I’m projecting here, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. Only you know the real answer.
“It’s someone else’s fault”
Did your income suddenly go down after the 2016 election?
Is somebody putting a gun to your head telling you that you need to work at your current job?
Who’s at fault for the majority of your problems aside from you?
I’ve been putting a loooooooooooooot of thought into the unfairness of the world, structural inequality, cultural biases, all of the above. My verdict? These forces are very real. I mean, I’m a black male. I would know.
If you are born to a single mother in poverty, your odds of a successful life are much much worse than those of a child born into an affluent family. This is irrefutable. We all have circumstantial forces that mess with our lives in one way or another.
I’m black, but I grew up middle-class and have a college education. I can see why a white person in rural West Virginia might not feel more privileged than me.
There’s nuance here.
I’m not sure what to do about this. There are smarter people than me working on those problems.
In the meantime, I’m trying to do everything within my power to make my life better — adjusted for the advantages and disadvantages I have.
I wish things were different. I wish you didn’t have your own unique set of problems, but you do. How you choose to deal with them is up to you. You can wait for all the scales to tip evenly, but you might (and probably will) die before they do. That would be a waste.
So while you can justifiably lay blame at the feet of society, you still have to live your life. And there doesn’t seem any other better way to live it than taking as much personal responsibility as you can.
At The End of the Day…
You have to be you.
No matter where you go, you will always be you.
You might as well start liking yourself and doing the most you can for yourself. Because you have to be with yourself forever.
Rationalization is the opiate of the masses. But addicts often get sick and die. Don’t let your mind, heart, and soul suffer this fate metaphorically.
Have the conversation you need to have with yourself.
No one else is around.
Be honest. Really, really, really, honest.
Then you can begin the process of really changing.