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Finding a Purpose and Passion in Life: How and What?

Published February 16, 2012 by matchsoul

What is one’s passion? What is one’s purpose in life, and how do we find it?

A human being without purpose is like a leaf, tossed and turned about on the winds, going wherever fortune wants to take it. What can it do? Go east, says the wind, and so the leaf goes. Go west, says the wind, and the leaf follows. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I believe, if that is the way you want to live your life. Let the wind take you on a grand romantic adventure, never knowing what the new day will bring you.

Still, for many – a passion, a purpose in life, is something they search for. For many, a purpose brings power and confidence. The leaf is now an arrow – the rain and the storms might knock it off course, but it is still flying.

A recent trend in emails and comments come from readers who wanted to know – how do I find my purpose in life? And the simple answer is: you know the answer better than I do. I can’t tell anyone how to live life; all I can offer is a few random, perhaps contradicting or unconnected, thoughts. Are these thoughts right or wrong? Please decide for yourself, all I can hope for is for them to stimulate your own thoughts and search.

This post is deeply entwined with an old series on Aristotle; updated with new information and perspectives.

First, find strength

A quote, by Alexander Hamilton, springs to mind immediately:

“Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”

I don’t know how it was intended to be read; but I have seen this in my own life: without a purpose, I was a follower. I followed the path of fear, the path of least resistance. Whatever others did, I followed. When I found purpose, I found courage.

Be a follower; there is nothing wrong with that – if it makes you happy. But being a follower made me weak and unhappy. And it was a vicious cycle, for I felt so weak I could not find the courage to break out of it.

Find courage to make your own path. It might not come immediately, but seek it. Your life is your own. Your purpose is defined by you. Society sees success as being rich, young, attractive, and famous – and so we think our purpose has to revolve around achieving all that. But is it?

Whatever you think it is, seek it, but make it your own. This is not to say, do not take the counsel of the wise, or to ignore those who depend on you. But purpose and happiness has to be your own. They are not you; they do not have your past, your skills, your uniqueness – no one can tell you what it is.

Courage can come in many ways. My favourite method comes from emotional work, purging your fears and insecurities; another powerful method comes from mental work, modern cognitive behavioural therapy, a series that will resume after this one.

Overcoming setbacks

And you’ll find that a journey into courage is another cycle, this time in an upwards direction. As you work on yourself, you naturally begin to take steps in the direction you want to go. And the steps you take will raise your courage even further. When you meet an obstruction, do you let it weaken you, or do you take it as an opportunity to rise even higher?

Obstacles are part of the play. Enjoy the hunt; enjoy the process; enjoy the striving. Take both the ups and the downs, for both are inextricably tied together, in the same way that day and night are part of one totality. There will be nothing worthwhile that will not be met with adversity; an inner acceptance of this fact will allow you to meet it calmly and powerfully. Thinking otherwise – believing that your path will always be unobstructed – causes unnecessary suffering.

Further reading: Surrender and Joy in the Pursuit of Excellence.

Purpose and Happiness

For many, their purpose eventually leads back to one thing. What is behind all that we seek? Finding riches, helping others, even the desire to have a purpose itself – what is the driving force behind that? Happiness.

It can be hard to see how happiness is behind much if not all of our urges. Follow this train of thought for your own goals; I’ll use riches as an example: I want lots of money. Why? Because I was denied it in my childhood. So once you get it, what will you do? Buy lots of things. Why? What will you feel? Content. Happiness.

This is why I believe that no discussion of purpose can be complete without touching on the topic of happiness.

Undesirable Archetypes for Purpose and Happiness

It is possible that a man without a purpose, a woman without a passion, can nonetheless live a happy life. But it is equally likely that the same person will fall into unhappiness and purposelessness; buffeted by conflicting advice, role models, demands, wants, and needs.

Your parents want you to be this, your lover wants you to be that, yet you need something else, and you don’t have enough time or money. You look at the billionaires or the Hollywood stars and think that they have success; perhaps if you were more like them you would finally be content. So many directions you are being pulled in – which do you choose? How do you achieve anything when your resources are scattered?

Without a definite purpose, you will be dragged into many false beliefs, models of living life, often given by those who have not found their own.

In Happier, based on positive psychology, author Tal Ben-Shahar noted the four archetypes of purpose, three of which are undesirable: The Rat Racer, the Hedonist, and the Nihilist. It was interesting to read through his descriptions; I saw periods of my life where I conformed strongly to each one of them, and I suspect almost everyone will too.

The Rat Racer

Eternal delayed gratification: work now, and perhaps, just perhaps, enjoy later. The rat racer is eternally looking forward to something in the future to make him happy. He is always gritting his teeth, putting up with unhappiness, in search of something in the future. Always, he thinks – I will be happy once I get something. Just wait.

But the wait never ends. From the first grade, to high school, to college, to the job, to the promotion; it is an endless waiting.

There are times delayed gratification is important – sometimes we just have to sit down and do the taxes instead of spending time with our loved ones – but taken to an extreme, the danger is clear.

The Hedonist

The hedonist is always seeking pleasure now, at the expense of everything else. She would prefer to spend her last dollars on a good night out, leaving the overdue electricity bill unpaid. Let the dishes pile up; leave the house dirty – she would rather watch television. Smoke now, and worry about the cancer when it comes.

There is nothing wrong with the occasional spell of self-indulgence – in fact it is revitalising – but again the problems are clear if taken to an extreme. I spent much of my younger days chasing pleasure above everything else, and in many ways I’m still paying the price for it.

The Nihilist

Having thought about – or tried – the previous two ways of life and finding they don’t hold up for long, a nihilist is one who has given up. She thinks there is no path towards joy and so falls into helplessness and despair. At more extreme levels, this will probably lead to depression and other such conditions.

The final archetype

“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
~ Confucius

The final archetype, then, is what Ben-Shahar calls the happiness archetype. Transcending the either/or mindset of the first three, this archetype focuses on finding something you can do meaningfully and enjoy at the same time.

This model seems so simple, so basic, that many readers will scoff. “Who doesn’t know this?” they might ask. And yet I didn’t, or perhaps I didn’t have the courage to follow this model, until I began all my inner work. Until that time, I had followed what everyone else had said: work and toil – unhappily, if you must – to gain resources for play. A work and a purpose I loved seemed like a distant dream, a remnant from my childhood; no different from the costumed superheroes and fantastic adventures.

Just like the others, this archetype can be itself hurtful if taken too far. Believing in a purpose that will always bring you joy is unrealistic, and makes the tough times harder to get by. There will always be tasks you dislike; there will always be times you need to get away from it all. But for the overall purpose – find the courage to live a purpose that is both happy and fulfilling. It is definitely possible; Ben-Shahar goes as far as to call it the only way to happiness.

Further viewing: A video based on the teaching of Alan Watts, found at the end of A Touch of Greatness and Success.

No more waiting

If you are a rat racer, the basic structure of your thinking will be similar to this:

Once I have this, I will be content. Once I have done that, I will be satisfied. Once this person has done this, I will be happy.

But tomorrow never comes, for when it does, it will be now. I heard a story once: it told of a bar owner who came up with a brilliant marketing trick – he put up a poster on his walls, and it read: “Free beer tomorrow!”

But no one can ever collect on that offer, for tomorrow never comes. If we are waiting for something in the future to make us happy, then that is all we will get – a life of waiting.

Find happiness now and your dreams are likelier to be achieved. Angry, sad, anxious – how can you perform your tasks to your best ability?

Further reading: Surrender and Joy in the Pursuit of Excellence.

A Purpose that is Alive

A similar aspect: a static purpose is another means of setting yourself up for failure. It is the rat race all over again: something that is dead, just another object to be gotten, to fill a bottomless pit – it will never satisfy you. If your purpose is to make a million dollars, and one day you get it, what then? The search, the unease, continues.

Many people have told me the same thing: They’ve gotten their perfect lover, they’ve gotten their fancy car, and they’ve gotten to the top of their company. But where is the promised land? Wasn’t that supposed to make them happy?

I had a reader once who didn’t believe that riches were not the end goal; so perhaps this could be easier explained on a smaller scale.

“What a hard day!” you think. “I need a beer.”

After a beer, you feel like a cigarette, after a cigarette, sex, after sex another cigarette, after the cigarette some food, then time runs out and you have to go to sleep, only to do it all again the next day. A brief period of this will be satisfying; an endless cycle will be meaningless. I have lived this life for a few years; it felt like a golden prison.

Always there is a background unease – What next? What next? What next? The want is endless; it is structural – what you want changes, but the want is always there.

Make your purpose dynamic: seek to write rather than be a famous writer, seek to sing rather than be a famous singer.

Further reading: Dynamic Goals, Aristotle Part 4.

What is your purpose?

The question remains, then. How do we find our purpose? I believe we already know, somewhere in the back of our heads. It has just been obscured by our fears, our wanting of approval, the conflicting advice from society, our teachers, parents, television – all these forces, pulling us in all these directions!

Once we find our purpose, everything else begins to into place. Find your purpose, and create burning desire for it. Not just any desire – one that overwhelms you and consumes you. Everything else will come. Once you find it – you will find that courage will develop. Assertiveness will come. This fire will give a reason to stand up when you are knocked to the ground; when you suffer setbacks, it allows you to persist and hold to your faith.

Without purpose, how easy it is to simply stay fallen!

What is your purpose? Only you know.

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Self-worth and Self-esteem

Published February 16, 2012 by matchsoul

What is self-worth?

Self-worth is as it sounds: how much we feel we’re worth. How good we are at certain sports, how easily we make friends, how much we weigh, how good we are at our jobs etc.

Self-help psychology tends to assume there is an intrinsic link between self-worth and self-esteem, and that the key to bettering a person’s self-esteem is to change that person’s perception of his/her self-worth. If you believe that you’re worthy and valuable in all sorts of regards you’ll feel better about yourself.

While this can be the case it can also be much simpler than that, provided it’s realised that emotional well-being and self-worth don’t have to be linked.

When self-worth is linked to self-esteem (how good we feel about ourselves) the relationship is pretty proportional. If we have a sense of little or no self-worth we feel terrible about ourselves and if we have high self-worth it’s the opposite.

Our sense of self-worth can fluctuate with our changes in circumstances, and I doubt positive mantras and visualisation exercises are always enough to combat the simple knowledge that in some areas you really do suck. There’s an alternative to trying to change your perception of self-worth to weigh up the scales well.

Understanding self-worth

Your self-esteem is likely connected to a sense of worth and value – it’s the same for almost everyone. But that sense is down to the value and worth you can be to others and not necessarily are to others.

Alone on a desert island, what are you worth? A lot? A little? In that situation you are completely worthless – you are of no use to anyone. But would that sense of worthlessness on that island bother you? Could you imagine any lone castaway battling with a sense of self-worth? That would be ridiculous. As Tom Hanks taught us, ice skate dentistry and argumentative footballs will always take priority.

In a more direct example: what might people suffering from low self-worth worry about when they wake up: whether they will contribute value to their work today or whether they can contribute value?

Our concern for self-worth is in our capacity, not in our contribution. Marooned on an island, unable to be of value to anyone, we just get on with surviving. Throw us back into civilisation and the business of self-worth appears again. The key to self-esteem is not necessarily in boosting self-worth, but simply in detaching our self-esteem from our self-worth.

Just as self-worth isn’t an issue when it comes to survival on a desert island so it need not be an issue in civilisation when you’re just trying to achieve happiness.

People doing very well at what they do…

Most people who do really well aren’t in the media at all, if ever. In the following examples I’m going to refer just to celebrities though, as it makes for easier writing and reading.

When you see celebrities on TV, especially in interviews, have you ever noticed how some seem very big-headed and others seem rather humble? They all know they ought to look modest, of course, but you can often tell when some are putting on an act and others genuinely have no interest in tooting their own horns.

Such celebrities can have equal levels of success in their different fields, yet behave very differently.

People with low self-worth which is linked to self-esteem

Some celebrities are very successful at what they do, yet have low self-worth. Maybe they’re worried that their fame comes from hype and not their accomplishments, maybe they feel really worthless in some other area…but somehow or other despite the glow of the media spotlight they still feel not quite worth enough. Such people can strike us as cocky, boastful, big-headed or even just narcissistic – using pride to cover up a deeper-seated feeling of worthlessness.

They’re better off with high self-worth.

People with high self-worth which is linked to self-esteem

Some celebrities have high self-worth…and they can still strike us as cocky, boastful and big-headed, but they’re obviously better off than those with low self-worth.

It’s still not ideal though as it doesn’t offer much security. The world’s best ballerina may have soaring self-worth (as in literally her worth as a dancer) but that would vanish if she became paralysed. If these people lose the thing which makes them valuable to others, they will emotionally crash down into low self-esteem – and it will be a long fall.

They’re better off not thinking in terms of self-worth, thus having no link between that notion and self-esteem.

People who don’t think in terms of self-worth

There are also plenty of celebrities who don’t seem to think in terms of self-worth and these are perhaps the easiest to name.

Tony Hawk, Jackie Chan, Warren Buffet, Stephen King, Will Smith…they’re very down to Earth and quite humble. It’s not so much that they have high self-worth but that they don’t apply any level of worth to themselves – low or high. As mentioned earlier, we can all easily not think in terms of self-worth in various situations, the challenge is to think like this consistently – irrespective of our circumstances.

Transcending the self-worth model

The better cure for self-worth is just to leave that system rather than try to win at it. In the system of self-worth you’re either low on it and you need more to feel good about yourself, or you have plenty and you’re happy with yourself – but that happiness can be taken away in an instant if you suddenly lose the thing which makes you valuable.

If you opt out of that mentality you’ll always have self-worth (literally a level of value to others), but it can simply have no emotional relevance to you and won’t be something you give much thought to.

How to do this…

I’m not a perfect example when it comes to thinking beyond self-worth (though the guy I share my blog with is…damn him) but I find as time goes on I get better and better at disregarding self-worth by doing one particular thing and avoiding another:

Remembering self-worth is a construct

Simply reminding myself of what this article is about is usually enough to kick myself out of thoughts of self-worth. Self-worth isn’t a mental model I’d have to deal with alone on a desert island and I don’t have to deal with it in my present circumstances here in civilisation either.

Not ‘faking it ‘til I make it’

I’m not sure I’ve ever done this. I hope I never do. ‘Fake it until you make it’ is such a business thing and it really promotes the self-worth mental model. Pretending to be more successful than you are until you reach that level of success for real…well it might be good for business but until you get the success for real you’re really stirring up self-worth troubles.

Poem: Courage

Published January 30, 2012 by matchsoul

Poem: Courage.

Need for Attention – 7 Healthy Ways to Gain Attention!

Published January 28, 2012 by matchsoul

Need for Attention – 7 Healthy Ways to Gain Attention!.

Are You Pushing People Away?

Published January 23, 2012 by matchsoul

Are You Pushing People Away?.

Your Self-Defeating Behaviors with Behaviorism, Part 2 Are you ready to make some changes?

Published January 22, 2012 by matchsoul

Welcome to the second post in the Behaviourism inspired series. The first post presented the basics, with a view to uncovering and understanding our associations. This article builds on those concepts, presenting solid processes and thoughts for practical change.

Working with Rewards

We’ve discussed how certain behaviours are very attractive to us because they have been associated with a reward. The problem is, of course, that many of these were pairings are accidental, unintentional, and work against us.

This makes the first application easy to guess. We continue to reward certain behaviours, except this time we do so consciously. Let’s take exercise as an example. The health benefits of a regular exercise routine are well-known to all. But why are so many of us still so lazy?

A few reasons come to mind:

We don’t see the benefits immediately. The perceived benefits of exercise – more energy, better sleep, a slimmer body – seem to be so far away in the future that it lacks power as a motivator. Many people will choose to enjoy the short term benefits or to avoid short term pain instead. For instance, the short term pleasure of lying on the couch will seem more attractive.
The reward is not strong or important enough. This is especially true when we link punishment with exercise – burning lungs, sore muscles, or lots of sweat, for example. The reward has to be much stronger than the punishment to overcome inertia. A man who goes jogging because he will die otherwise will not care about sore muscles; a man who jogs because someone forced him might find the same soreness to be unbearable.
This is a sub-point to the above. The pay-off or punishment is much stronger when it is emotional. We can have all the logical reasons to start jogging, but a lack of emotional reward (or the presence of emotional punishment) can keep us lazy.
Lastly, the reward has not been reinforced enough. To really develop a good pairing requires repetition and time. Many of us either do not reinforce it often enough, or give up before a good association has been built.
To summarise, remember the three keys: immediacy, strength (even better if strong emotions are involved), and reinforcement. Further, remember that variable reinforcement can often be more effective than continuous reinforcement.

Let’s see how we can apply this to other pursuits in life. John is too shy to approach his dream girl for a date. He is already pairing a negative reward – removal of loneliness – to his goal. Sophie wants to quit her job and return to college to pursue a different career. She has already paired greater career satisfaction with her goal. What else would you recommend they do to make the pairing even stronger?

A Caution

At this point I have to insert a caution: This is just a tool in your toolbox. It works well for smaller habits, or as a “jump-start” to get us out of a rut of inactivity. Personally, I find the value of Behaviourism to be in self-understanding, not really in the applications. I’m writing including some parts of this article mostly for those who prefer change on the behaviour level.

Allow me to explain. Some writers recommend building every positive habit in this way, but I feel many things can go wrong. Repression would be one. If John is shy because he has deep insecurities about his value as a person, and he forces himself to socialise, he might get short term results. However, he will still be a shy, insecure boy underneath it all, which will interfere in other ways! If he does woo his dream girl, for instance, he might become a clingy or controlling lover.

My recommendation would be to use this as a jump-start, as mentioned, but the real work would be the processes covered in the original Behavioural Mastery series.

Further, these concepts are presented for personal use. Using them on other people can have long term effects we are not initially aware of, and isn’t recommended. One example: many parents reward their children for achievements such as good grades in school. Nothing wrong with that, but done to excess, the result could be an adult with low self-esteem. As a child, the message she was given was: she has no value as a person, her value only lies in her school results!

Reinforcement For Behaviours We Wish To Break

The real value of this theory lies in finding our pairings. As with the little girl above, pairings can be “implanted” by other people (such as our parents), by accident, and often without us even knowing.

A good example would be my old smoking habit. It would be obvious to see that I had paired a cigarette with stress release. But when I did some digging, I began to see some pairings that had been put in me by others, without my (or even their) knowledge. As a teenager I had unknowingly associated smoking with being in control, with maturity, and many other things.

After we find our associations, we can process them – but not with Behaviourist techniques. Underneath all behaviours are thoughts and emotions, and it is more effective to change those.UrbanMonk.Net has covered three such techniques; let’s explore them.

Before we begin, phrase your association into a statement that feels right for you. For example, my statement was: Smoking is mature and powerful.

Emotions. If you prefer to work with emotions, please read this article on Releasing. Next, read your statement. Welcome any feelings that statement brings up, and release them. If you use the Sedona Method, releasing the underlying wants will speed up the process. We repeat this until there isn’t any emotional charge left. This can take some time depending on how strong the pairing is, and it is helpful to return to the statement after a day or two, to see if anything else has surfaced.
The Work. If you prefer to work with thoughts, there are two options. The first is The Work of Byron Katie, with my three article guide. Inquire into your statement. The most powerful part of the process is the turnaround. I firmly believed that smoking is mature and powerful, until I tried the turnaround – smoking is immature and weak – and saw that it held more truth. I was smoking as a way of filling and hiding from my emotional insecurities, instead of facing it and dealing with them as a mature man would. That helped me drop my original association.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The last option is covered in Knowing and Mastering Your Thoughts with CBT. First, find the cognitive distortions in your statement. A helpful step would be to visit your past and find where you picked up the pairing. Lastly, using the “healthy” voice, as detailed in that article, to support and coach yourself as you feel the urges is a tremendously powerful step.
The Behaviourist View. If you wish to change on the behaviour level, simply stop rewarding yourself. It might be helpful to think of a pet dog. It is used to gaining your attention by sniffing at your feet, so simply stop giving it what it is used to. After an extinction burst (see below), the dog will lose interest. We can apply this to ourselves with a bit of willpower – find the hidden pay-off you receive from your behaviour, and deny it to yourself, no matter what. Keep in mind the variable schedules discussed in the first post – if we deny ourselves only sometimes, we actually become more addicted. I recommend you combine this with releasing. Releasing also has another bonus – you can release by visualising yourself in the situation without actually placing yourself in it. As you can imagine, this is tremendously helpful if you are worried the urge will overwhelm you.
Working With Punishment

To work with the principle of punishment, simply apply the concepts above with some modifications. The most obvious application of punishment is to break a bad habit. Begin to pair your self-defeating behaviour with something that you are averse to, keeping in mind the same key points: strength, immediacy, and repetition.

Let’s go back to my smoking example. Since I started smoking, I have been aware of the health risks. However, cancer felt very far away in the future, almost unreal. The fear began when I started getting chest pains, which caused me to research cancer on the internet. The pictures and descriptions began to intensify my fear – cancer suddenly felt very real. It was no longer something that happened to people in their 70s and 80s, it felt like it could happen to me any time soon. And that fear was the punishment I had strongly linked to each cigarette. It was strong and immediate enough to override any pleasures I had also associated with smoking.

A Caution

Another caution: using punishment can be a bad idea. I know I just gave an example, above, but that association I formed was unintentional. Moreover, I did not use it exclusively. It gave me the motivation to quit, but my real quitting work involved a mixture of releasing and inquiry, as detailed above. (I also had to do some letting go of my cancer fears!)

Some writers recommend using it exclusively. They see punishing “bad” behaviours as the only technique you will ever need. This is potentially harmful, even though there might be short-term results. Just one possibility: what if one becomes desensitised to the punishment? They then have to increase the punishment “dosage”, all the while continuing their self-defeating behaviour.

And again, I would recommend this only as a last resort “jump-start”, a motivator to being the real work of releasing and inquiring, which have far more gentle and long-lasting results. And if you ever find the time, it is a good idea to release and inquire into the punishments you have set for yourself!

Undoing Punishments

The next way we can begin to apply our knowledge of punishment is simple. Have we been linking punishment for things that are good for us, or for things we have to do?

Let’s use a boring, mundane, example at this point, to let you generalise it to your own behaviours. How many of us enjoy doing laundry, or washing the dishes? Most of us don’t, for we have linked those to boredom, repetition, or wasting time.

There are two things we can do, then. The first is to link these activities to pleasure, as discussed above. Put on some music, dance and shake your buttocks, the next time you are washing your clothes! Make sure these rewards are strong enough to overcome the punishments.

The next is to remove the punishment we have associated with it. If we have linked laundry to repetition, for example, we can break up our routine. This doesn’t have to be big. I used to drive a different route everyday to and from my university. Some of these routes were a waste of time and petrol, and sometimes I got lost, but I did it gladly – it broke up the repetition and always gave me some new sight to enjoy.

My friend, a salesman, used to tell me that he hated going to meetings, for they were just excuses for his manager to yell at him. He overcame this pairing in a rather child-like but effective way: he made it a game to count the number of cuss words, or grimaces, or snarls, the manager made that day.

Lastly, and most effectively, we can use the three tools we discussed in the rewards section above: releasing, inquiring, and using CBT to look into the punishments. Is it really painful to be yelled at? Why is it scary to start your own business? What will really happen if your dream boy or girl rejected you?

Extinction

The last thing to cover, then, is the extinction phase. This is a period where the pairing weakens and eventually disappears. However, we have to be prepared for the extinction burst.

The burst refers to a sudden increase in the activity you are trying to stop. This is best seen with an illustration. Imagine a little child who normally gets your attention by throwing his toys at the wall. If you decide to ignore him, he will usually respond by making his racket even worse! This is actually a sign of strength, carried over from evolution, that he is not about to give up without a fight. However, if you do not give in, he will eventually slow down and stop.

This is important to remember because many people give up and think they have failed when they are actually succeeding – they’re going through a normal and expected spike in the urge.

Also be aware of spontaneous recovery. Sometimes an extinct behaviour can come back in full force without any apparent reason. If this happens, remember it is not a sign of failure or weakness, and just go through the process again. If you have done the deeper releasing or inquiry work, this should be rare, and the second time will be easier.

Humor: My drug and therapy of choice….

Published January 22, 2012 by matchsoul

Humor: My drug and therapy of choice…..

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