Saturday, July 7, 2007

Law of Evolution #6: Find and Embrace Your Best Self

Evolutionary Law #6: Find and Embrace Your Best Self. I will collect, understand, and embrace the best qualities of myself with the understanding that at my best self, I maximize my power, presence, and effectiveness in the world.

So what is your best self? Does that mean being generous? Giving? Loving? Compassionate? Selfish? While each of these qualities may be noble, your best self involves all of them but is borne from none. To evolve, you need to nurture your ability to grow. And the best growth you will experience in life is borne from confidence. That’s right. Confidence. The confidence to not care; to believe in your passion; to recognize value and trust the instincts that measure it. To often, we think of our best selves in terms of things we do (ex. giving, generous, loving, selfless). Instead, we should think in terms of who we are; and we are at our best when we are confident.

Confidence can mean different things to people and can show itself in different ways and under different circumstances. A Navy Seal, for example, can be extremely confident about jumping out of an airplane with a parachute and pack. The same individual, though, may demonstrate a complete lack of confidence in a social situation. “I can jump out of an airplane, but can’t talk to a pretty girl without breaking out in a sweat.” It may sound funny, but it happens more than you think. Often, confidence is localized to what makes us comfortable: certain clothes, places, people, and surroundings. From that confidence, we demonstrate glimmers of our best self to the people around us. The key to embracing our best self is to understand how to leverage this at will, instead of having it predicated on our surroundings.

So how does one create this confidence, and how does that create an environment where we can nurture our best qualities? This can be done by understanding and practicing the following:
  • Subjugate your need for approval. Understand that nothing good in life will come from needing or wanting the approval of others. Approval always carries a negative costs, and ultimately limits what you can accomplish.

  • Control and manage your need for immediate gratification. Immediate gratification is a derailment mechanism that we use internally to seek comfort or short-term payoffs. Examples include putting off events, cheating on diets, smoking, etc. Immediate gratification is a metaphor for seeking approval from ourselves, and carries the same negative cost.

  • Be rigorous with your communication. Learn to ask for what you want, be clear with what you say so that others understand you, and make no assumptions of people. When in doubt, ask. When clarity is necessary, tell. And remember that communication is not just limited to what we say; it includes how we act and look.

  • Live congruently. Living congruently means ensuring that your actions are aligned with your goals. If you want to lose weight, for example, you should exercise and diet. If you are not, though, and still believe you want to lose weight you are not being congruent. Congruence is a powerful way to validate that our commitment and passion for a goal exists.
First and foremost, we must subjugate our need for approval. Nothing good in life will ever come from feeding approval (think back to your marriage; did anything good come from seeking the approval of your spouse?). To put it another way, feeding approval always has a negative cost associated to it. It may be hidden, buried, or even outweighed by the gains made, but it exists and takes physical, mental, and emotional toll on each of us. Approval as a basis for living is dangerous because it places the responsibility for defining ourselves and experience on outside forces. Instead of owning, for example, that we are good people we sometimes place the responsibility on someone to tell us that we are good people. In these circumstances, our perception and value is molded not by who we are, but by what others tell us they think we are. In other words, when we pursue approval we give our power away and limit our possibilities to what the "approver" believes or understands. Ridding yourself of the need for approval will open up new opportunities for you that did not exist before.

Another concept that mirrors approval is the need for immediate gratification. Immediate gratification scenarios occur when we want something right away without considering the consequences or cost. If we are on a diet, for example, and feel the need to break away from the diet for a moment by eating a Twinkie. In this scenario, our need to eat what clearly is not good for us outweighed our desire to respect the diet and, ultimately, follow through on our goal of losing weight. Immediate gratification is an inward form of seeking approval entrenched in physical response of feeling good. That is the payoff; that is why we indulge in this - because it feels good to have a Twinkie when we crave it or smoke a cigarette when we are stressed out. They payoffs, however, are short lived and their cost is ultimately more expensive than we realize. What happens with immediate gratification is that the long term cost is hidden from us because we only focus on the short-term cost and gain. For a smoker trying to quit, one cigarette here or there (as opposed to a pack a day) seems rational, even reasonable. The short term cost is low, and the payoff is high. The smoker, however, may never quit following this pattern of behavior. When feeling good at all costs is as or more important than our desired goals, then we are seeking approval from ourselves, almost asking "it's ok to not follow through on our goals, right? I can do that, right? It doesn't make me a bad person, does it?" Remember, nothing good ever comes out of seeking approval; especially when its faced inward.

One of the key acts that we can participate in to deal with immediate gratification is communicating rigorously. Just as we have a need to be rigorous with our communication externally (to the people around us), we have a responsibility to be rigorous with our internal communication (the conversations we have in our heads). To illustrate this, think about the smoker wanting to have just one cigarette, and caving into their need for immediate gratification:

You: "Man, I could really use a smoke right now."
Ego: "Well, you know, you said you were trying to quit."
You: "I know, but I'm just very stressed out. I just got off the phone with my wife, and she's completely pushing my buttons. I just don't understand why she needs to act that way."
Ego: "You know, it's only one cigarette. What can it hurt, right? I mean, you can always start quitting tomorrow."
You: "You're right. That's what I'll do."

Now something to point out here is that you control both sides of this conversation. Your "ego" does not have a mind or will of its own; instead it has your mind and will. Now, if your ego were to be rigorous with how it communicates, the conversation may have a different result:

You: "Man, I could really use a smoke right now."
Ego: "I want to remind you that you are trying to quit."
You: "I know, but I'm just very stressed out. I just got off the phone with my wife, and she's completely pushing my buttons. I just don't understand why she needs to act that way."
Ego: "You know, I complete understand how you feel. But you are trying to quit, and it is my responsibility to let you know that this will not lead to your quitting. You will keep smoking, and inherit the physical risks that smokers experience."
You: "Well, I really just want something to help me get past how I feel right now."

Ego: "I agree; try and find something to satisfy this need other than smoking. Chew gum. Listen to music for 3 minutes. Drink water. If you are going to do something, just make sure it is congruent with your goal of quitting smoking."
You: "You're right. I'll drink water. That's what I'll do."

In the above conversation, the ego was consistent and rigorous about maintaining clarity regarding the smoker's goals. Granted, this takes discipline to be effective. But communicating rigorously will help you accomplish your goals and maintain focus for those things that are truly important to you. It will also reinforce the importance of these goals on a moment-to-moment basis. Remember, it takes
21-30 days to form a new habit. If you can think like this for that amount of time, what else could you accomplish with your life?

Now, if we can be rigorous internally, we can do the same externally with the people around us. We can learn to truly ask for what we want of others, and tell others when they do not meet our expectations (without fear, judgment, or prejudice). Remember that rigorousness is best expressed as a commitment to one's goals, passion, and through a definition of one's self. This means that we not only get to be rigorous about what we say and how we say it, but we get to be rigorous about our physical appearance, standing, and place in the world. We get to question ourselves as to our goals regarding every aspect of our life, and then we get to follow through with them. This is an exciting way to live. When we do this, we have begun to establish congruence which in turn creates confidence. From this confidence, our true and best self is born.

Think to your past. Everyone has certain times in their life when almost magically, everything that needed to happen in order for you to achieve a goal happened. For that moment or series of moments, your focus, attention, and presence separated you from the people around you. You seemed almost better, committed, or more prepared than those around you. For some, it was almost as if everyone around you moved a tad bit slower. For others, when you spoke the people around you never questioned your word. In each of these moments, we surrendered our nature to our best selves by living congruently. In these moments, nothing mattered other than to accomplish our goals. We did not seek approval. Immediate gratification had no place in our life. So live congruently, and be rigorous with your communication. Set your goals and live up to them. Soon enough, you will find your best self. How will you know? You will be defining your reality, instead of having it defined for you.


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