How bucking your cognitive status quo can lead you to a life you love.
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“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” — Henry Ford
“That’s just how I am.”
You’ve probably heard those words from a friend or a colleague before — hell, you may have uttered them yourself a time or two. On the one hand, a fair rationale as to why a particular outcome unfolded. On the other, an insidious cop-out instilled through fear, desperately avoiding pursuit of the unknown.
For as smart as human beings are, our self-imposed limitations are omnipresent. The desperate need for certainty, encircling our minds in most predatory fashion, leads us to do whatever it takes to understand why we do what we do — even if we have to make it up. Ambiguity is the enemy, and justification is our temporary antidote for relief.
Unforunately for us, moment we declare precisely who we are is the moment we begin our decline as human beings. It’s the moment you wipe out all possibilities of the future to make way for the narrow road being paved behind you. Though a strategic blunder in itself, underestimating the fluidity of the personality doesn’t indicate your destined to live a life of monotony and self-deprecation.
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Viktor Frankl said, “In between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space, lies the power to choose our response.”
The space is when you’re confronted by your previous reactions to similar situations. It’s when the highlight reel plays in your head to the tune of how you think you’ll respond. It’s the moment when you can opt for a new beginning by interrupting who you know yourself to be and choosing the road less-traveled.
Nike encourages people to “Just Do It.” While it’s exceptional advice from an execution standpoint, what you do on the automatic isn’t always in your best interest — it’s often just to support the familiar.
Apple simply states, “Think Differently.” If you’re looking to improve your life and who you are as a person, however you’d normally think, think differently from that. Think in ways you don’t think of. Do what you wouldn’t otherwise do. And however you’d normally react to a particular situation, step in front of the default and pick a better route.
This is where it gets tricky. “Not everything I do is bad! I just want to improve this one area of my life!” I get it, I get it. No one’s putting anyone on trial here, Tevin. I’m sure you do plenty of things well. However, the reality is how you do anything is how you do everything. If you highlight the negative more than the positive in your work, you bet your ass that shows up in your friendship circles. If you hold back your feelings with your family, it’s going to impact your romantic relationships. Everything comes full circle — the only difference is we’re blind to half of it.
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Alright, so how do I really think in ways I don’t think of? How do you even do that? Settle down, grasshopper. Here’s the necessities to succeed at mental gymnastics. Your true self needs you to nail a “10” on this floor routine so make sure you pick some upbeat music.
You're going to want to wear a different leotard.
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1. Let go of your past successes
Perhaps the hardest thing to do when looking to improve oneself isn’t to learn from what didn’t work but to let go of what did work. As long as we cling to something that worked in the past, we’re drawing an unfair comparison. We have results tied to what’s already in place against an unproven commodity. Because of our attachment, it’s very unlikely we arrive at (what we view as) a better solution.
To truly change your life, you must always be willing to part ways with who you know yourself to be — even the parts you like about yourself.
You can always be better.
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2. However you’d normally react to a situation, do the opposite
Self-confidence is built through a combination of integrity and hope. The more we keep our word with ourselves and the wider the door remains open for new possibilities, the better we feel about ourselves.
We all have those autopilot modes that take over in uncomfortable situations: approaching the opposite (or same) sex, sharing secrets, discussing import issues, etc.
Whatever takes on naturally for you, the more often you succumb to this behavior, the less hope you provide yourself that the future will be any different. Moreover, your attempts at changing yourself will be met with pure apathy from your self-confidence, as it remembers when you don’t keep your word.
If you don’t normally approach someone you find attractive and you do, you spread hope like fire. If you do normally approach someone you find attractive (perhaps because you aren’t secure enough to believe they’ll notice you otherwise), pulling back has the same effect. It’s the easiest baseline principle for interrupting a pattern.
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3. Find a mentor or coach who will engage in healthy conflict
No one alone has a complete picture of reality. We can pretty much take that to the bank. However, if you’re going to consult another person to drum up ideas or elicit feedback, make sure that person has a different set of views than what you possess. “Two heads are better than one” is a fallacy. If they think the same way or are afraid of hurting each other’s feelings, they don’t move the needle — they get stuck.
Partner up with a wildy-averse personality to be your self-improvement co-pilot. I promise you’ll make a lot more headway.
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4. Speak it into extinction
Our language continues to hypnotize us every day and we’re still none the wiser. The importance of what we say about ourselves and to ourselves has been well-documented, yet it continues to be ignored in daily conversation. The impact of saying “I’m not good at that” or “I’ve always done this” unfortunately is imperceptible due to cognitive dissonance but rest assured, it’s not opening our minds to thinking any differently.
Transforming these statements to put the past back in the past where it belongs opens up a new space for creativity. Leveraging statements like “I haven’t been good at this up to this point” or “I have consistently done this in the past” frees the shackles from our identity, leaving us no longer obligated to fit inside the cramped confines of how we define ourselves.
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This quick listicle is far from a comprehensive list but at the end of the day, an article isn’t going to change your life — you are. And no matter how great you declare life is right now, you’ve got to be willing to part ways with the whole thing in order to level up. You can’t take anything with you. It sounds extreme, but everything clasped too tightly is liable to hold you back your freedom to create. Have faith that who you were meant to be will embody the qualities you already like about yourself at even higher degrees.
And if you hate yourself? Hey man, there’s hope! I eroded my self-respect down to smithereens but damnit, I’m still here. And not only that, I’m — dare I say it — thriving (at least in comparison to what I can draw from the past). I leveraged these very same principles to spearhead a rebellion against my almost-certain future and despite the emotional discomfort, I’ve continued to make incremental progress.
You’ve got this. You’re in a better position that anyone, as you’re fully and completely detached. That desperation is going to push you way further than any standard, run-of-the-mill motivation ever will.
Regardless, whether you’re content with your life or your miserable, tackle your problems from varying angles. Our brain wants us to be right so badly but the only time we really learn is when we’re stone-cold wrong — don’t be scared to go looking for it.
Let go of the bravado, celebrate Opposite Day, find an adversarial confidant, and flush the shit language down the toilet.
Eventually, your rigid “that’s just how I am” dialogue will be supplanted by “think differently”.
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