Monday, October 27, 2014

Be Bold - Changing your life.

Many, many months ago, I began a "series" (don't know if I can call it that when I have posted precisely once this YEAR so far) about self improvement; A guide to changing your life.  I gleaned a lot of this information from my own life, but much of it has come from tons and tons of self help/motivational books I have read recently.  All the books had one thing in common - they taught me something.  Some of them taught me what I DON'T believe, but even that is important.  So, here is the first of what I learned.  These are not in order of what I believe to be important, just kind of how it all spilled out of me in my writing process :-)  I hope you learn something - even if it is that we disagree!

Fear is prevalent in our society.  And no, I am not talking about fear of people crashing planes into buildings, fear of diseases run rampant, or fear of guns in schools.  Those things are terrifying, no argument there, but I am talking about something that is far more insidious and that affects our lives in a much more daily and negative way.

I am talking about social fears.  These are the fears that come from some secret behavioral code we have all been taught just by growing up in our culture. These are things like being afraid to speak your mind for fear of what others will think, fear of failure, and being afraid that people will not love or accept you. These fears keep us from trying new things and achieving our true potential because we believe the fallout to be unlivable. What if I fail?  What if people make fun of me?  What will he or she say? or do? or think?

This social fear comes from our culture and our interconnectedness with one another.  This in itself is not bad, but in our minds we take things too far and paralyze ourselves.  As a child I was taught that pride was a sin and that the meek would inherit the earth.  I agree with both of these statements, but my perception of their meaning has changed over the years.  As a kid, I thought that believing that you had done a good job was bad, and the only way to respond to compliments was to deflect them to show modesty.  Self deprecating humor became my armor of choice.  I felt that I shouldn't strive to be really, undeniably good at something because there would be no way to remain modest... This sounds a bit silly, but I think a lot of people fall into these traps to some degree.  Avoiding compliments, seeing only the bad in what you do instead of recognizing how much you learned or how far you have come, giving credit to someone else, comparing yourself to someone else who appears to be better... all of these are common pitfalls.  We often undermine our successes because culturally, we are supposed to strive for personal betterment.  I am not saying be complacent (that is a whole other topic actually!) but recognize your accomplishments. My adult brain sees those two statements differently.  It is good to have pride in a job well done, to have pride in yourself, and to have pride in your accomplishments.  Pride that tells you that you are better than others is bad.  Pride that leads you to say you can do something that you cannot is bad. Pride that demeans others is bad.  But pride, when it is justifiable, can lead us to believe in ourselves and our abilities, which allows us to try bigger, harder things.

And then there is meekness.  Well, God has this way of flipping the world on its head: the first shall be last and the last shall be first and all that jazz.  Those that are striving to come out on top, that shove to the front of the line without regard for others, or that are eager to elevate themselves artificially will lose.  But those that are calm, patient, and encourage others will have their accomplishments respected and will be deeply successful (even if the world rewards the first with money and power and not always the last, I think that true success must allow for more than dollar signs).  That is meekness.  Meekness and boldness are not mutually exclusive.  You see, boldness requires us to put off social constructs and listen to the voice inside of us.  The one that says we CAN do something even though it is awkward or hard or difficult or scary.  Meekness simply says that we shouldn't undermine others to gain something, not that we shouldn't try to succeed.

Our perceptions of others' perceptions of us is another hurdle. Read that again... What we think that other people think about us.  Its a convoluted statement because its a convoluted concept.  When we think that others will reject us if we do something "strange" or don't follow a prescribed path in life, we are really projecting our own beliefs onto others.  We don't know what others think.  In fact, we CAN'T know.  Even if someone tells us, we cannot be 100% sure it is true.  So we have to make up the rest.  It is pure fiction.  I won't go into "who cares what others think" because lets be real.  We care.  However, there are a few ways to cope with the negative self talk.  One, people rarely think about you as much as you do.  You are the center of your universe.  Your life is the only life you are living.  You don't obsess over someone else's life, even a best friend or spouse or even child, like you do your own.  They don't obsess over yours, either. They have their own problems and pay more attention to themselves.  Two, when we make up in our heads what others may think, we are using our own worldview to simulate what they may be thinking.  Since everyone has their own experiences that shape their responses to different stimuli, we can't possibly simulate how someone will react to something with any kind of accuracy.  Finally, you more closely scrutinize yourself and you see more flaws than others do.  As I said earlier, we tend to fixate on the negative first.  Others probably see the whole a lot better than we do and don't have the negative bias we do so think of it more favorably.  So others probably think of you better than you do, if they even bother thinking of your situation at all... Certainly not a good excuse for fear.

Finally, back to boldness...Being bold means taking your confidence in yourself and stretching it.  I will talk later about deliberate practice, but for now, lets just say that you can't get better unless you try new things that challenge you.  When you try something hard or unfamiliar you are gambling.  There is a much higher likelihood of failure than with something you have done before with success.  But what does failure do? Nothing bad.  It shakes our confidence a bit, but only as much as we allow.  However, it doesn't do nothing.  It teaches us something about what we have just tried, even if it is only what doesn't work.  Failure is a sign that we are trying hard, much harder than most people do, and that is a serious positive (and something to take justifiable pride in).  Failure has virtually no negative side effects except those we do to ourselves and our confidence.  Some failures may cost time or money, but you can work up to those kinds of risks, and money can be earned again and time is wasted if you are not growing, so even those are not good enough reasons not to try.  I think we see failure as an indication that we are more likely to fail in the future. However, once we have failed at something, we are more familiar with the challenge and more practiced at it.  Therefore, we are more likely to succeed the more we fail!

If we only ever do things within our comfort zone and never try anything that scares us, we will never grow.  Encountering novel situations is scary because of the risk of failure, but when we realize that we are capable (admitting we have skills and building our confidence), that we should strive for excellence (this doesn't undermine our meekness), that others are far less critical of our failings than we are (because they are busy worrying about their own lives to care), and that failure is not a negative, it helps release us from the crushing doubt that keeps us from living to our full potential.  So while its okay to be nervous, don't let the crushing fears overcome you - they aren't real, they are just social constructs we think are real.  Now that you are free, go out there and fail. You just might succeed.

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