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.

Evolution Example: What I Learned the Past 30 Days

Well, I'm been away from the blog for a while (my last post was over a month ago). During this time, I found myself straying from my "Laws of Evolution". It was funny since I have invested quite a bit in researching and articulating these laws. I believe in them implicitly. They work, provided that you can maintain the discipline and commitment necessary to follow through on them.

And there, in a nutshell, was my problem the last month. Too little discipline. Not enough commitment. Too much immediate gratification. Too much reaction. Not enough planning. Too much "need" for approval. Not enough forgiveness. Too much judgment.

So a few days ago, I received a comment to Law #5: Be Impeccable With Your Appearance. In the comment, dreamer asked if I follow my own advice? Well, to be honest. Yes, I really do. But unfortunately, not always. The considerations of life inevitably have a way to interrupt what you want and sometimes when this happens, commitment and discipline is not enough. Sometimes, you have to stick your finger in the dam and wait. Other times, you choose to ignore what has worked for you. You get in ruts, so to speak; like the one I was in this past month.

I was recently served divorce papers from my wife (her attorney sent them to my attorney), and while I was relieved that we had reached another milestone, the act of reading the papers and seeing this brought up emotions in me that I had not felt in a while. Remorse. Regret. Anger. Resentment. Guilt. Each of these emotions added up to a healthy dose of self-pity that had me doubting myself, my worth, and power. This was evident to me more and more in my day-to-day activities as well. I stopped going to the gym regularly; my workouts were inconsistent. My motivation was waning towards work and personal events. I began to respect my diet less, and would not practice discipline when eating (I work to and believe in eating healthy). I would procrastinate; satisfying my need for immediate gratification first. I started smoking again (after not smoking since March / 2007).

Then, one day, a great thing happened. I woke up, and just felt tired of being sub-par. While I was in a rut, I was at least disciplined enough to recognize it for what it was: something I did have control over. I could change this; I just needed to maintain my discipline, focus, and commitment. Rather than beat myself up over this or judge myself harshly, I recognized this time in my life for what it was. A hiccup: nothing more, nothing less. There was nothing to feel guilty about; nothing to beat-myself-up over. We're fallible, after all; this cannot be ignored.

I've started working out regularly again. I'm prioritizing the things in my life. I'm back to blogging (which I love and missed), and I am working to eliminate the need for immediate gratification in my life. I've quit smoking yet again. Every day, I try and build a little more positive momentum and energy than I had the previous one. Does it work all the time? Of course not. But the more I practice it, the more it does work. The laws do have value. Like with anything, it just takes a few key things to make them pay off for you. So when you find yourself in a rut and cannot seem to over come it, remember:

  • Clearly define your expectations. Expectations count; they matter. When you live up to them you feel great; when you don't events can be perceived as a failure. If you want to change your life and break out of a rut, start by doing little things differently. Little things are much more manageable than large events, and the momentum you build with each individual success story will improve your confidence and ability to do more.

  • Plan out your accomplishments. Remember, measurement is empowering and is the best way to identify if you are doing what is important to you. That being said, plan out a list of daily / weekly accomplishments you would like to execute on, and track what gets done. You cannot complete what you do not know or plan.

  • Be congruent. Congruence means that your actions are aligned with your goals (ex. if you want to stop smoking, you'll stop buying cigarettes; if you want to lose weight, you'll eat better and exercise). Every day, you should check for congruence in your life. If you have it, then you are on your way to accomplishing your goals. If not, then you should reconsider their priority.

  • Reserve judgment. While it is important to measure your progress and be critical of it, do not make the mistake of blaming yourself or holding yourself in low esteem because of a lack of personal progress. Nothing good comes of this. Absolutely nothing. Instead of passing judgment on yourself, take a moment to learn from your life events and apply that knowledge to further yourself.
Now I know this is much easier to talk about than it is to practice every day. Sometimes, all we can do is react. It is important to recognize, however, that we do have choices. We all have options; and how we perform in life (both personally and professionally) is tied to directly to the choices we make. Our relationships, our careers, and our growth is tied to this. So, do not take this for granted. Remember: not doing anything is a choice, and one that rarely gets us what we want.