“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)
Writing about this idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts. The original prompt was to write about a time when I learned the hard way, but I changed it to what I learned the hard way. While the story surrounding these lessons is wildly interesting and incredible, it’s long, and writing it in a blog post will not do it justice. Plus, I don’t have the writing skills necessary to properly tell that story.
However, the lessons I learned then are potentially some of the most influential I will ever learn in my entire life and I’m going to share some of them here.
This is the post I needed seven years ago. If I knew these lessons, or if I was able to learn them the easy way, then I probably would have saved myself a bunch of suffering.
I’m hoping someone can learn at least one of these lessons the easy way (reading this post) rather than the hard way (through immense suffering). Trust me, its much better to learn things the easy way but I also know that the human-animal can only learn some things the hard way.
Finding words sets us free.
A few years ago I got tangled up with some bad people. During that time I saw myself and others do hideous things. I was manipulated by a sociopath because I wasn’t paying enough attention to see what was right in front of me. I didn’t have a way of conceptualizing what I was doing or what I witnessed because I didn’t have a language for it. On top of that, I was tortured which made everything much harder to articulate.
While that experience was one of the toughest in my life, I never felt more relief than when I was able to find the words, or phrases, to explain what happened to me. I felt like a shattered version of myself and over the following years, everything I explored had the undertones of finding the bits and pieces that could help me process the trauma. Every time I heard, read, or learned something that could help me understand what happened, I felt a little more whole.
Finding the language to capture the experience sets us free from reliving the trauma and starts the healing process. I didn’t know this for years, but I felt it in my body. I never felt more relief than when I was able to find the words, or phrases, to explain what happened to me. I supposed this was one of the ides that I had to learn the hard way.
Turning our experiences to language orders the chaos of our minds, which helps us understand where we are. Our minds occupy territory in space and time, so when we transform the experience to speech we turn a little bit of the unknown into the familiar.
When we experience trauma, the parts of our brain that process speech shut off and we are no longer able to turn our experiences into speech. I’ve written a blog post on The Significance of Speech, which talks about how speech is so powerful from a mythological perspective. But the loss of speech, in this case, comes with the inability to process experience into speech also prevents us from putting the experience in the past.
Practicing my ability to articulate my thoughts through writing via blogging and journaling has given me a greater body knowledge and language to draw from, which aids in the healing process. Honestly, in my experience, it’s been absolutely essential in my healing process.
Understanding, internalizing, and having a vocabulary for ideas like malevolence, betrayal, archetypes, willful blindness, responsibility, sacrifice, suffering, striving, struggle, logos, animus, anima, envy, narcissism, neuroticism, the shadow, circumambulation, atonement, and so many others has been life-changing.
My speculations that this idea was true were verified when I read about many PTSD patients recovering after finding the words to describe their trauma in the fantastic book The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessell van der Kolk, which I highly recommend. I’m also adding that book to my Must-Read Book List when I get the chance.
All relationships are limited and conditional.
The only way to learn this lesson is to believe that relationships are unlimited and unconditional and then push them to their unperceived limits.
A harsh, but enlightening lesson.
After internalizing this, I’ve taken more responsibility for the relationships in my life. I’ve noticed that some people can sense this and are grateful for it (which is nice), and others are oblivious. Either way, it sets me free from the burden of feeling controlled by other people’s thoughts and feelings and empowers me to focus on what I can control. Which is usually a hell of a lot more than I could imagine.
Malevolence is real.
“Man is the cruelest animal.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)
Malevolence is real. There’s darkness in people. Real darkness. It sounds cheesy, but some people really do want to hurt others just for the hell of it, and it’s not a joke. Humans are the only creatures on the planet that can hurt something else just for the sake of harming it. This is because we’re aware of our own mortality and vulnerability, which gives us the ability to exploit it in others.
If we can understand what hurts us, then we know what hurts someone else.
Now I knew this intellectually, but it’s a completely different thing to know this viscerally. When we see the evil of the human heart in an undeniable fashion, it fundamentally changes how we understand the human-animal, how we understand ourselves. It was witnessing despicable actions that presenced me to the darkness.
Understanding the evil in others helps me conceptualize my capacity for destruction and gives me proper fear of and respect for myself. Before I believed that malevolence was real, I never saw the weight of my own actions or the potential damage it could cause. Hell, it frightens me to think of the destruction that I have caused because of my ignorance of this fact.
Our choices seriously matter.
Our choices matter and we never get away with anything. We can act as if there is no such thing as good and evil, but that will destroy our lives. The choices we make ripple out in ways that we can hardly imagine.
This means our bad actions infinitely propagate throughout the world, but it also means that our good actions do too.
Everything we do starts to take on a different vibe when we think about how it will ripple off into society. What we choose to do in the present affects us in ten minutes, in ten months, in ten years, and the actions of all of those versions of us will affect other people in ways that we can’t even imagine.
When I see my actions as trivial and inconsequential, it’s easy to do the things that benefit me at the moment, but rarely do those actions benefit me in the medium to long term. When I see how much my choices matter, there’s a real pressure to get my act together.
Ignorance does not protect us from the consequences.
Ignorance does not protect us from unfavorable situations. Again, this is something that I knew intellectually, but haven’t internalized. I would have tried harder to learn more from my experiences that I did. We aren’t spared from consequences just because we didn’t know that our actions weren’t sufficient.
Children often use this excuse of ignorance to get out of anything. In my experience, teenagers often use this as their go-to excuse for not getting something done or acting appropriately. It’s always something like “I didn’t know, therefore I should be spared,” but this type of thinking isn’t cooperative with how the world works.
Just because I didn’t understand the importance of integrating the shadow, doesn’t mean I’m not responsible for the destruction it was causing.
Not knowing doesn’t protect us from the consequences, it only blinds us to them.
This is why I place such a heavy emphasis on learning efficiently. Learning as much as we can is a matter of survival. We need it to understand the consequences and act in our favor.
People will unintentionally drag you down.
“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)
When drifting gets seriously out of control, people can drag others into their entropic vortex. The problem with this is that the original drifter, the person who started the vortex, may not know that they’re leading others atray.
People may not know if they’re leading you down a terrible path.
I discovered this to be true under the assumption that one should always trust family. I didn’t realize that sometimes, they don’t know when they’re wrong. Sometimes malevolence isn’t part of the picture and the destruction is simply a result of foolishness and aversion of responsibility.
People may believe what they are doing is right, but it is up to us to know what is best for ourselves.
I spent years trying to piece these ideas together and even more time letting my ignorance run rampant. To some people, these ideas may seem obvious and if they are, then I challenge you to know them viscerally. To others, these lessons aren’t true and to those people, I say enjoy the life you have and prepare yourself because the flood is coming. Nonetheless, I learned them all the hard way. I suggest that you don’t.
I hope this post helps someone learn something without having to endure extreme circumstances, but perhaps the people who need to learn these lessons the most will only do so through our mother tongue, suffering.
“How can a man come to know himself? Never by thinking, but by doing. Try to do your duty and you will know at once what you are worth.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Maxims on Life and Character)
I have spent many weeks putting off writing about this topic simply because it is so big and I didn’t know where to start. I kept scrapping intro after intro because I felt like none of them could accurately express the magnitude of importance that this idea holds. I was getting frustrated because I had this huge message inside me, but I had no way of getting it out! So rather than try to build up to the idea I’m just going to start from the point I want to make and work my way around it.
The main idea is that people are relational creatures and we do not pay enough attention to our most important relationship, the relationship with ourselves.
We see it everyday, so much energy, attention, and money are dedicated to our relationships. In fact, we have entire industries built on this phenomena – therapy, self-help, sports, the arts, the list can go on forever.
We put so much care and attention into how we relate to our work or our loved ones, but rarely think about how we relate to ourselves. This is peculiar because how we relate to ourselves impacts us far greater than how we relate to anything external of ourselves. I’ve read so many different books written by people from all different time periods, and it seems like the biggest influence on our experience of reality, life satisfaction, and peace of mind is ourselves.
People are constantly looking outward to change their lives or find happiness. The inconvenient truth, is that everything we desire is within.
They tell themselves “Once I get _____” or “Once ____ is over” or “When I’m finally ____” then I can be happy.
Most of us intellectually know that this isn’t true, but to internalize it is a different story.
Our life satisfaction, our abilities to take on new things, and potential opportunities are all dictated by how we know ourselves.
We all have feelings and thoughts about ourselves that we do not share with other people and these patterns control our orienting reflexes. People are purpose driven creatures and I talk a little bit about how we need to track things in order to succeed, but the relationship with ourselves decides what we believe we can even keep track of at all.
The relationship with ourselves is the sum total of all our achievements and failures that we observe in ourselves. We subconsciously keep score of everything. Every time we said we were going to do something but didn’t creates a relationship with ourselves that suggests we aren’t reliable. Every time we’ve done the impossible and surprised ourselves with our abilities creates a relationship with ourselves that proves we can do amazing things in the face of adversity.
Everything we do is kept record.
Christians believe that God is watching them always. I believe that we were made in God’s image and it is not only God always watching but it is the god within ourselves that is always watching. Regardless of religious affiliation, we are the only ones who have been with us since the beginning.
No one understands the experiences and situations we have been in better than ourselves and it is through this understanding which we develop the relationship with ourselves.
Who we know ourselves to be is not based in what we say to other people, but how we feel about ourselves. Our perspectives of ourselves is the only thing that has truly been with us through all of our situations. This part of ourselves keeps score, it pays attention to what we have and haven’t done and casts projects of what we can and cannot do. How we relate to ourselves dictates our orienting reflexing and ultimately our lives.
Imagine that you’re planning to meet a friend for dinner. You plan to meet them at the restaurant, but they don’t show up. You try getting in touch with them, but they’re dodging your calls. Eventually, you get a hold of them and they give some weak excuse that barely explains why they couldn’t show up. You just got let down. Your friend did not fulfil what they committed to you. Naturally, we’d feel disappointed and upset, but the real truth is we will forever see that friend as less reliable and accountable. Their word has taken a slight dip in believability and the person can no longer be counted on as much as they were before. It can seem harsh, but it’s the truth. Now, the real kicker is that we can replace that unreliable friend with ourselves.
We rarely pay attention to the expectations and commitments we put onto ourselves. Partly because we like to think as long as only I know, then it didn’t really happen. However, the feelings associated with that unreliable friend can easily be put onto ourselves if we pull the same stunt. Our self-esteem, self-efficacy, confidence, ambition, life satisfaction is a direct result of this. It’s easy to put things onto others and it’s even easier to put things on ourselves, but sometimes we tend not to notice the relationship with ourselves.
In a world of legally mandated education, I’ve noticed a lot of students wondering why they’re forced to learn and work on countless “pointless” concepts and it’s a fair argument. Most of the concepts and “education” people recieve is only useful in an academic setting and rarely applicable in The World Beyond. Admittedly the education system, at least in the United States, needs a ton of rework. However, there is something invaluable we can get from our education.
Our current education system provides students with an opportunity for them to prove to themselves what kind of person they are.
Are you the kind of person who gets things done when the going gets tough or do you quit the first chance you get?
The relationship with ourselves is always transforming and refining with every situation we encounter. Since most kids spend most of their time at school or working on their education, a large portion of the relationship with themselves is rooted in how they handled their academic responsibilities.
We can choose who we are, but first we need to discover what our relationship with ourselves is like. We can ask ourselves the follow questions to get a quick snapshot of what our relationship might look like:
What degree is it damaged?
What can we do to make it better?
Do we trust ourselves?
Do we believe we are capable of helping ourselves?
What kind of person do we think we are?
What kind of person are we actually?
The good news is we can build the relationship with ourselves no matter where we are. First we have to know what our relationship is like for ourselves, then work on ways to prove to ourselves that we are the kind of person that we want to be.
This starts with our integrity and identity.
A common definition of integrity is what you do when no one is looking. People who having integrity are typically considered moral and trustworthy because we know that even behind closed doors they will still make the right choices. This definition of integrity is fantastic and if we see it through the lense of the relationship with ourselves, we will see that integrity is important because we, us, ourselves, are always looking. We constantly are watching us and we know how we would act behind closed doors. People with integrity have a healthy and strong relationship with themselves because they know exactly what kind of choices they will make.
There’s another definition that I believe is much more useful and powerful. Integrity is also known as a state of being whole or undivided. Every commitment we break, to others or ourselves, puts a little crack in our integrity. Every aspect of our lives that is not aligned with our chosen commitments also puts a little crack in our integrity.
When our integrity is not perfectly whole, we are prone to negative emotion and lose the ability to live in the present. This creates intense dissatisfaction with our lives.
Living with perfect integrity is better than anything we can ever experiences. It’s comparable to true peace of mind and contentment. It is our goal to seek out what does not make us whole and undivided and reorient that part of our lives so it serves us, or at least does not hold back. When we have perfect integrity, the relationship with ourselves is pristine. We get out of our own way and become our biggest ally.
When we have a commitment, or vision for our lives, we create a value structure which deams certain actions as “good” (they bring us closer to our goals) or “bad” (they bring us away from our goals). When we stay on the path, so to speak, we are operating with perfect integrity and are creating a positive and powerful relationship with ourselves. If we were to stray off the path, make a “bad” decision, we won’t be able to have perfect integrity until we make up for the damage done. In a Judeo-Christian context, this can be seen as atonement – at one, at return to a state of wholeness.
I believe this is why the world religions have this mechanism built into their structure. Human beings must stay on a path towards something they find valuble. This is clear when we have a goal or a commitment. However, sometimes we may choose to act in a way that does not align with that path.
In archery, they call missing the mark a sin. In a religious context, they say not staying on the path is a sin. I’m saying that from the perspective of developing a relationship with ourselves, not saying on the path is a sin, in the technical sense of the word.
When we sin, we must correct our trajectory in order to return to the path. The world religions have their own ways for doing this, but I believe they all contain the same basic mental exercises.
In order to restore integrity we must:
Admit that we have missed the mark
Understand the impact of our sin to the highest degree that we are capable
Discover methods to make up for the sin
Implement those methods in the real world
This can look an infinite amount of ways. In the future, I’ll write more about integrity because I feel like it is one of those HUUUGE ideas that could make a significant positive impact in many people’s lives.
Living with perfect integrity requires us to clearly understand what our values, goals, and commitments are. This is not an easy task, and many people love to not clearly articulate themselves so they can escape the responsibility of paying attention to their actions. I talk about this idea in a few of my posts, but it first came up in The Reality-Possibility Exchange.
If we could be honest with ourselves and understand our commitments, we know when we’re doing something right and when we’re doing something wrong. If we pay enough attention, there is a specific moment when we decide to do the wrong thing. There is an actual second that we can point to on a clock when we decide to not follow through on our commitment. Pay attention and you will notice it when it comes. What we decide to do in that moment determines the relationship with ourselves.
Our identity, in terms of the relationship to ourselves, is how we understand ourselves to be. We know what we like or don’t like. We understand what we are skilled in and what we are ignorant of. We know ourselves as a certain kind of person.
Our identity is one of the strongest motivational forces and determines what our goals and aims are. Our identity shapes our ideals and the paths we walk towards them.
No matter what we declare our identity to be, we can act out of line and define ourselves whenever we want. This is a turbulent process which comes with its own set of stages, but it can be done. Our identities aren’t permanent, not until we’re dead.
Don’t sacrifice who you could be for who you are now.
Our identity is closely related to our integrity. We see all of our own actions and know all of our own thoughts. Our identity is built from our integrity. If we aren’t following through on our commitments and projects, then we are supplying proof to ourselves that we aren’t trustworthy and reliable. Creating an identity of being unreliable prevents us from creating an identity of someone admirable or virtuous.
The game is pretty rough, but it’s what we all have to play. It’s play the game (whatever game you choose) and play it well, or know yourself as a loser.
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones Season 1 Episode 7)
We try hard to stick to the identity we give ourselves simply because we hate being wrong and what’s worse than being wrong about who we are? Additionally, our identities are usually justified by the people around us. Our friends and family members will consistently remind us of how we are this kind of person or that kind of person. Their perceptions of your identity are just as malleable as our own. Our identities are never permanent in our minds or in the minds of others.
Consistency & Toughness
Life is hard, but we’re tougher than we think, the only issue is that we have to prove it to ourselves. How do we prove it to ourselves? Through consistent action.
Consistency is key to building a relationship with ourselves and it’s also key to building a lasting and formidable identity. Developing a relationship with ourselves is much like developing a relationship with another person, it takes a lot of time. So we need to create consistent action to create ample proof that we are who we think we are. However, unlike relationships with other people, the relationship with ourselves is 20% discovery and 80% creation. Relationships with other people tend to be 80% discovery, and 20% creation.
We need toughness because relationships are hard work and working over the long term will require us to be tough. A lot of early life relationships end because people don’t have the toughness to deal with the challenges of intertwining the life of another. The unique part about this relationship is we can never leave it! We are always going to be in a relationship with ourselves and it’s damn hard to craft it into something steadfast and powerful.
A couple tips for developing toughness – do not say things that make you weak. You are listening to yourself when you speak, and if you say you’re weak then you’ll listen and internalize it. Be mindful of the comments we make about ourselves. Also, try operating in your Zone of Proximal Development. It’s an excellent way to grow yourself in any domain of life you choose.
This is the difference between success and failure in terms of someone reaching their full potential. The “talentless” can surpass the naturally gifted individuals and reach unimaginable heights as long as they cultivate the grit within them.
According to wikipedia – grit is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state (a powerful motivation to achieve an objective). It is the key to stellar performance in any field and the best part is anyone can create it within themselves. The simplest way I think about grit is as passionate persistence.
Renowned scholar and author, Angela Duckworth wrote a book appropriately titled “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” and has a TedTalk which has over 6 million views on YouTube in which she gives a fantastic overview of grit and how we can use it be reach out full potential.
The reason why I bring up grit now is because the key to understanding grit and using it to our advantage is to know ourselves as someone with high levels of grit.
Developing a relationship with ourselves where we are full of grit and cultivating an identity that matches can give us full proof armor when we encounter difficulties such as The Attack, or what Steven Pressfield describes as Resistance in his book, The War of Art.
Grit can be thought of as having 5 characteristics. Focusing on developing each of these characteristics in ourselves will help us cultivate grit as a whole.
The 5 Characteristics of Grit
Courage – developing courage does not mean ridding ourselves of fear, it means to accept the fear within us and act anyway. In order to create a relationship with myself in which I know myself to be courageous, then I have to pay attention during the times when I’m more afraid, decide what they best course of action is, and take it. No withdrawing or freezing in hopes that things will go away on their own.
Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable – being conscientious a useful trait to develop within ourselves because conscientious people work like mad. Knowing ourselves as someone who is focused on achievement and dependable makes us invaluable in any industry at any level. Conscientious people tend to rise to the level of expectation, but only because they prove to themselves that they can over and over. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they laid bricks every hour.
Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through – nothing is worthwhile without follow through in the long term. Things that take longer are usually better and designing our lives is a long game. We need to be able to know ourselves as people who can follow through even if they goal is years down the line. We need to know that we can maintain vision over the long term. Sometimes I think that the true test of success is just maintaining the vision over the trials and tribulations.
Resilience: Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity– we will encounter hardship and challenges that rival our wildest dreams. The only way through it is knowing ourselves as resilient. If we know we have what it takes to get through it, then we will. The only thing is that we’ll need to know how to get through most challenges. Knowing ourselves as optimistic will help us keep faith and push forward. Knowing ourselves as confident will give us the willingness to push the boundaries into unexplored territory. Dragons lay in the unknown, but so does treasure! Knowing ourselves as creative will give us the means to solve some of life’s toughest puzzles – the challenges which impede us from obtaining the life of our own design.
Excellence vs. Perfection – excellence is a difficult idea to wrap our head around without tangling it up with perfection. If we know ourselves as perfectionists, or someone who produces perfect work, then we are frozen forever. Our super egos would be too strict and that would leave no room for any kind of action. However, if we know ourselves as excellent, or someone who produces excellent work, then we will inevitably put our best effort into everything we do. Going the extra mile is only tough if you don’t normally do it.
The relationship we have with ourselves can be reflected in our self-efficacy. Self–efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997). It reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s own motivation, behavior, and social environment.
If we have a powerful relationship with ourselves and know ourselves to follow through on our commitments, then we will have high self-efficacy.
If we have an unstable relationship with ourselves and we know ourselves as wishy-washy, then we’ll have a low self efficacy.
Remember, part of us is always keeping score and self-efficacy is the part that controls our confidence and willingness to try new and difficult things.
Now, this is not the same as self-esteem. Self-esteem is more like the amount of self-respect we have rather than confidence in our ability to perform. Self-esteem is important too, but self-efficacy is what I believe really controls the trajectory of our lives.
There is more I’d like to go over when it comes to the relationship with ourselves, but I’m going to cut it off here for now. How we treat ourselves and how we act affects us. All. The. Time. The relationship with ourselves is a part of our lives that doesn’t get as much attention as it should, especially considering that it determines the majority of our life outcome.
Love yourself. Trust yourself. Push yourself. Earn yourself.
“Most habits take on one of four common forms: things you want to start doing, things you want to stop doing, things you want to do more, and things you want to do less.”
Josh Kaufman (The Personal MBA)
Before I dive into this post, I have to make a few honorable necessary mentions. Most of this information is from James Clear’s amazing book Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He explains the importance of developing systems and focusing our attention at the level of the habit in a seemingly effortless and powerful way. I also have to mention Josh Kaufman’s The Personal MBA, a must read book for entrepreneurs looking for well packaged high quality information. I think my must read book list needs some updating. Kaufman goes over more than just business, he also lays out a wealth of knowledge regarding habit formation and lifestyle design.
Intentionally creating our own lives starts with understanding our every day actions and how they develop into habits. I like to think of habits as belonging to the four categories mentioned above – Things We Should Start Doing, Things We Should Stop Doing, Things We Should Do Less, and Things We Should Do More. Meditating on these categories and articulating which habits fall into each category is a fantastic exercise in identifying key habits. Identifying which habits we want to start, stop, or change is the first step in creating our lives by design. Another way I like to identify habits is to categorize them as Old Habits – things I want to do less or stop all together – or as New Habits – things I want to do more or start doing.
The Habit Cycle
Understanding the Habit Cycle is like learning the anatomy and physiology of habits. The Habit Cycle explains how habits come to be and what we can do to make that process easier or harder.
According to Clear, habits have 4 stages that they follow. Cue. Craving. Response. Reward. Understanding each stage will help us intentionally create habits that we want in our lives and destroy the habits we don’t.
The Cue is the external stimuli that triggers the brain to start the behavior. When we see a cue, we get a Craving, which is the motivational force behind the habit. The Response is action or set of actions we take to potentially satisfy the craving. The Reward is what makes it all worth it and the last stage, the satisfaction of the craving.
Let me give an example to ground this in real life.
Let’s say I’m working on a blog post and I reach an issue in articulating what I want to say. Cue – I encounter a difficult situation. I start feeling stuck and my motivations change. I just want to be relieved of my frustration. Craving – yearning for relief. Despite my best intentions, I reason with myself that I am going to die sooner than I’d like and my experience of life is all that truly matters so I should stop blogging and play video games. I save my blog post, turn on my PS4 and have a good ol’ time. Reponse – leaving the challenging situation to play games. I feel delighted that I get to play my video games and my relief has come. Reward – obtained relief from tension caused from blogging. In this case, I layed out my provility to play video games when I’m confronted with difficult situations. Identifying the steps in this habit cycle helps me take the steps I need to ramp this up or turn it down depending on what I want for my life. For me, I love developing myself to overcome challenges in anyway possible so I’m going to try to break that habit and replace it with a new and more positive one.
If we pay enough attention to what causes our cravings, then we can take premeditated steps to intentionally create our ideal lives. We do not have to let the habit cycle run over and over, we can stop it at any point. We just need to know how.
Breaking Old Habits
Breaking old habits is a skill worth practicing. On our journey, we pick up ways of being or thinking that may have been useful in the past, but no longer serve a purpose to us in the present. I know I have more than a few habits holding me back from bringing about my Jungian Self.
The first thing we need to do when we’re breaking habits, is identifying the things we do that are not bringing us closer to where we want to go. Once those habits are identified, we can practice a few things to make those habits more difficult for us to live out.
One of my favorite ways to break bad habits is to add friction to the mix. Friction can be thought of as obstacles preventing us from completing an action.
I’ll give an example to bring this down to Earth.
Let’s say we have a habit of spending too much time on our phone in the morning. The first thing we do when we wake up is check out phone and we end up losing track of time and it throws off our whole day.
Analyzing this situation in terms of friction, we can see that we are only partaking in the “bad” habit because there’s nothing stopping us from doing it! If we were to set our phone on the other side of the room before we go to bed, then there will be a lot of friction between us and checking our phone in the morning.
Those small, yet big, steps of getting out of bed and walking over to your phone gives you enough time to develop the willpower necessary to not act out the habit. Friction is what makes or breaks my habit formation 90% of the time. I’m so sensitive to friction, but I choose to use my susceptibility to measure the effectiveness of my environment.
I love using friction to my advantage. I can increase the friction to prevent actions that I don’t want, or I can decrease it and it’ll be easier for me to build the habits I desire.
Invert the Habit Cycle
Another effective way to break old habits is to invert each step of the habit cycle.
The first step is Cue. If we can cut out the cue completely, or at least make it invisible, then we have a fighting chance to break that specific habit loop. Let me give an example, if I see my PlayStation controller in my room I’ll get an urge to play and I’ll have to use willpower to fight off the craving. Instead of using willpower to break the habit cycle, I put my PlayStation controller in a place that makes it difficult for me to see it and the craving never exists in the first place.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Now, I still may get cravings to play video games, but this way I can control for at least 1 variable. To break the habit cycle at the cue stage, we can make our cues invisible.
The second step is Craving. To stop a craving we can use willpower to resist it (but that takes too much energy), we can make the cue invisible, or we can make the craving seem unattractive.
Let me put it this way, let’s say I have a craving to eat a snack at midnight. I can think about how good it will feel to satisfy my midnight craving and how happy I will be enjoying my little snack – thinking like this will just make me want to eat more.
Or I can think about how I’m developing a habit that could lead to an unhealthy lifestyle which consequently leads to a shorter and lesser quality functional lifespan. I can imagine my body failing me in ways that I take for granted now and the frustration I will feel confronting my true powerlessness.
Once the snack is framed like that, it’s much easier to say “How about a hell no.” Making things unattractive can stop a craving dead in its tracks.
The third step is Response. To stop the habit in the response stage, Clear recommends to make the response difficult. This goes hand-in-hand with my “add-friction” tip from earlier. If we add friction between us and our response, then we are much less likely to act out the response. This makes sense when we think about what the purpose of habits are.
We have habits to save cognitive load, and overcoming friction would add cognitive load, which works counter to habits. We have habits to make things easier, so making a response more difficult will cut off the habit before we get our highly sought after reward.
The fourth and final step is Reward. We love the reward because of one simple reason. It is satisfying. If we make the reward unsatisfying, there goes all the power!
Imagine, sacrificing what mean most to you only to receive a lackluster reward. The visceral and lingering feelings of disappointment will power through any urge to perform those sets of actions again. If we feel like what we doing isn’t worth it, then we aren’t going to do it again. Simple as that. Find what makes the reward sweet and ruin it.
Be weary that there aren’t just clever mind tricks that play into our breaking and forming of habits, but our emotional states as well. We tend to break the “good” habits and start the “bad” habits when we’re feeling H.A.L.T. – hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. When we identify with one of these 4 emotional states, we are way more susceptible to aiming down and following through with it. We are pretty tough people, but we only have so much willpower. Save your willpower for when we’re feeling one of the four detrimental emotional states. We should invert the habit cycle whenever we can so we can have the energy to fight when we need to.
Creating New Habits
Once we set ourselves free from our old bad habits, we can finally create new habits! But that poses the question:
How do we create new habits that last?
We can approach this a few different ways. If you’ve read my other blog posts, specifically about studying, then you know I’m all about finding a bunch of ways to do things and modifying them to create my own personalized system.
Optimize to Win
In his fantastic success manual, Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss talks about the importance of meditating every day. While I do recommended practicing meditation, that isn’t what I want to focus on. People tend to have a difficult time creating a habit from meditation, after all most of the benefits only occur when meditation is being practiced as a habit.
Tim says when you start a new habit, you want to rig the game to win. It takes 5 sessions to make something a habit, and it doesn’t matter how long the sessions are. Keep it simple and make the first 5 sessions short. The first few times stepping up to the figurative plate will take significant willpower, but once we developed a little habit it gets easier over time. Optimize to win. Eventually our actions will eventually become what we are, I talk a little bit about this in my post Hypnotic Rhythm.
We don’t have to stop at making it short, we can make it easy too! When I first started working out consistently, I made my first 5 sessions short and easy and now it feels a little weird if I don’t get at least a little exercise.
Another thing we want to keep in mind when we are trying to create new habits is knowing that we only want to do things when we believe it will pay off for us. If we believe it won’t pay off or it’ll actually harm us, then we won’t do it. To take advantage of this bit of knowledge, we should presence ourselves to why starting this new habit is worthwhile. Be advised, this is different for everyone and requires rigorous self reflection.
Encourage the Habit Cycle
Another effective way to create new habits is to encourage each step of the habit cycle.
The first step is Cue. The cue usually kicks off the habit, but if we’re making new habits we might need a little extra help with this step. Make the cue obvious. I lay out my yoga mat and have my kettlebell out in the open so I don’t have to spend any time setting up. Working out consistently has always been difficult for me, but when I set out my equipment in a place that’s easy to see it’s much easier to just start working out. Making cues obvious can also be thought of as a method of removing friction.
The second step is Craving. This comes after the cue and gives us that feeling that we should be doing something. Craving a good habit is an interesting feeling, but one that we should try to encourage. Encourage the craving by making it attractive. Imagine, actually craving to workout or study. It’s not that hard when you think about how good you will feel once you finish or how much longer you’ll live if you’re healthy. Find reasons to pick the good choice.
The third step is Response. Once we have the craving to do something, our next move is to act. If we want the habit, to stick then we need to make it easy. I’ll use the example of my yoga mat and kettlebell again. Since the mat and kettlebell are already set up in the center of my room, it’s easy to just start working out. It’s actually easier to workout than it is to ignore the equipment! That’s why I put it in the middle of my room. I’m making it harder to ignore working out (stopping the old habit) and easier to start working out (creating the new habit).
The fourth and final step is Reward. This is what makes it all worthwhile. If we want to keep a habit going, we have to make the reward satisfying. Since I absolutely adore my video games, that’s usually the go-to treat for me after doing something difficult. Creating new habits is not easy and responding to those changes takes a lot out of us. I also love watching carefully written television like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones(Seasons 1-4), and Westworld. When I have the time I also love to cook. Sometimes I’ll make a really nice meal to reward myself for creating new habits. Find what makes you happy and indulge once everything is said and done.
Developing New Traits
The best part about knowing all is this is discovering that traits and skills can be developed through simple habit formation. This means we can create habits of traits that we admire in our role models within ourselves!
There was a study at Harvard which suggested that the most productive people don’t wait to be told what to do. Successful people take initiative and we can use the knowledge of breaking and creating habits to create the habit of taking initiative within ourselves!
The best best part – this doesn’t have to stop at initiative!
We can create a habit of being honest, courageous, hard working, dedicated, reliable, or any other trait that we would like. It’s not an easy task by any means, but it is possible with serious attention, dedication, and time.
The Issue of Willpower
Creating habits takes willpower. Sometimes it requires a lot and sometimes it requires a little. If we are trying to create new habits, we. need to find ways to minimize how much willpower we’ll need or designing our lives will be too difficult. We can minimize will power through optimizing our environment. I talk a little bit about that in Strategies for Better Studying Part 4.
If we set up our space to encourage the new habits and add friction to discourage the old habits, then willpower won’t be necessary!
James Clear talks about different ways to minimize required willpower by adjusting our actions to the habit cycle. At first, the changes will requires a huge amount of willpower, but every time we run through the loop we strengthen the neural pathways and the required willpower becomes less and less.
Josh Kaufman also talks about habit cues in his fantastic book, The Personal MBA.
“Habits are easier to install if you look for triggers that signal when it’s time to act. For example, if you want to take vitamins, it’s easier to remember to take them if you use another habitual action as a trigger for the action. Instead of relying on your mind to remember to take your vitamins in the middle of the day, you can use brushing your teeth in the morning or evening as a reminder.”
Josh Kaufman (The Personal MBA)
In addition to building a guiding environment, we can reduce willpower by focusing our attention on one habit at a time. Kaufman also mentions this in The Personal MBA.
“For best results, focus on installing one Habit at a time. Remember, you only have so much Willpower to use each day, and overriding your default mode of action depletes it quickly. If you try to install too many Habits at the same time, you probably won’t succeed at adopting any of them for long. Focus on installing one Habit until taking action feels automatic, then move on to the next.”
Josh Kaufman (The Personal MBA)
Creating and destroying habits takes a bit of practice, patience, and discipline. If these methods don’t work, try longer. We are surprisingly malleable creatures despite our proclivity towards habits and routine. Getting better: at first it’s uncomfortable, but later will be worth it. Perhaps the real lesson is to learn how to internalize discomfort and push forward, for once we do this we can do anything. Feel free to pick and choose which parts of this post you like and go forth to design your dream life!
Start by winning the moment right in front of you.
“If you judge a man, do you judge him when he is wrapped in a disguise?”
Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD)
The mind has a few habits that we should pay attention to when we are trying to maximize our learning. Everyone is susceptible to these thought patterns and it would be advantageous to find where these patterns occur within our own lives. Without understanding these habits we could subconsciously close ourselves off to information that could be important to our education. I like to refer to these habits of the mind as Cognitive Biases. Officially, they can be thought of as systematic errors in thinking as a result of subjective perception. Cognitive Biases act as filters between us and the outside world. We view the world through whichever lense our minds naturally applies to a situation. If we don’t see the world objectively, then we see the world through our biases and that can prevent us from learning information that we don’t know we need. Understanding our cognitive biases, or unconscious filters, is our best shot at keeping them at bay so we can be best prepared for the worst that Fortuna has to throw at us. (I’ve been reading a lot of stoic philosophers recently)
Understanding these biases helps with critical thinking development. We all have biases and it’s difficult, maybe impossible, to remove them completely, but we can develop more reliable ways of learning through our bias. This could be achieved through seeking out people who will challenge and critique our ideas. Not learning about our own biases will keep us in a bubble. Our minds will filter out important information because we believe it to be useless. Through understanding our biases of the world and ourselves, our education falls into our control rather than having our minds unconsciously run the show.
Types of Cognitive Bias
Below are a few examples of cognitive biases that, if understood well, could help us maximize our learning and make our minds an ally rather than an enemy:
This principle describe the phenomena where people tend to accept new information that support their already held beliefs, and are more likely to refuse new information that challenge their beliefs.
I try to pay attention to any current beliefs that I have now and what new information I quickly reject because it doesn’t align with my beliefs. Just because something supports what we already believe doesn’t mean it’s true or that it will help us. It’s important for us to do a detached analysis of all the information we are presented with. Its healthy to keep a small degree of skepticism, but it’s useful to consider that we may just be dismissing something simply because we don’t agree.
This describes the tendency to interpret new information as evidence to support your already existing beliefs.
This is different than disconfirmation principle. Confirmation bias is saying that we will look at information and try to make it support our already held beliefs. This is dangerous because it can lead to overconfidence and overconfidence can tank our test scores and lead us to make terrible decisions. The overconfidence comes from seeing constant validations everywhere we go. Thinking that everything supports our ideas can delude us into thinking that we always come to correct conclusions. It is important to be aware of this “mind habit” and remain objective, as we can be, when obtaining new knowledge.
The tendency to keep believing an initial belief even after receiving new information that contradicts or disproves the initial belief.
This reminds me of a mentally ill patient I once had who honestly thought the sky was green. When we took her outside, she saw that the sky was grey (it was raining that day) and refused to believe that the sky wasn’t green. Now it’s easy to think that since she’s not completely alert and oriented, she’s not going to follow the same conventions as everyone else but even if we are open minded, we have a natural tendency to keep holding on to our beliefs even if everything around us tells us we‘re wrong. The best way to prevent belief preservation from hindering our growth is to recognize it’s there when it comes up and try to look at new information regardless of your personal feelings.
This bias is best summed up with the statement “I believe it strongly, so it must be true.”
We are so strongly captured by some of our beliefs that we mistake them to be truth. In order to remain open, we must constantly question the beliefs we tend to hold as truths. (I do think a little too often sometimes and wonder if I’m crazy but there is an optimal balance to be achieved) We cannot become too attached to our beliefs. Who we are and what we believe do not have to be the same thing. Learning something to be false that we believe so strongly has a punishing feel and has consequences deeper than we can see. It’s totally possible to be so rooted in our ways that we sacrifice who we could be for who we are.
This has less to do with incoming information and more to do with people that we encounter. This bias describes the assumption that we know and understand the people that we deal with and that we see them for who we are.
It is important to understand that we do not see people for who there are, but we see them as they appear to us. It’s a great piece of knowledge to bring with you throughout life but can also bring us success in the academic world. Do not think that you know a teacher, or a professor, or a student based on what you can see. Everyone is just as, or even more, complicated as you. Keep an open mind and notice when you start to think that you have someone figured out. They may know something you don’t and that knowledge may bring you incredible insights into the world. In order to maintain a grip on my appearance bias, I try to listen to people as if they always have something they can teach me.
This is regarding the lie we tell ourselves when we are in groups; we have our own ideas and don’t listen to the opinions of a group. Within a group, our thoughts are rarely our own, but are of the group and its very likely that the group will come to a conclusion that is incorrect. We are social creature and NEED to conform. This is the basis for groupthink and group polarization and can lead to dangerous outcomes. This is not to say that group work isn’t great. We can get far more done as a group than as an individual, but that trade isn’t for free. We sacrifice a bit of autonomy and individualized thinking.
Group bias is something we should look out for when we are group studying or working on group projects. Make sure that the group does not lead you astray by learning incorrect information. Its very easy to think that you understand a concept because you understand how the group looks at it, but it’s very possible that everyone in the group is incorrect. Group bias and confirmation bias can be a deadly combination, I learned this lesson the hard way when I took Physical Chemistry at Cal State Long Beach. I studied with a group and we all thought we understood what was going on, but we all ended up failing the test.
The idea that we pretend that we learn from our mistakes but actually hate to look at our imperfections closely, which limits our ability for introspection and reflection.
Learning from our mistakes is usually the best way to learn anything but keep in mind that we cannot learn from our mistakes all on our own. It’s best to look to someone who knows more about your endeavor so they can help you explore why you made those mistakes in the first place. We all have blind spots and we need others to help us see them. We are a social creature after all! Additionally, being aware of this bias allows you to have a slightly deeper insight into your errors than you naturally would have.
The idea that we believe that we are different, more rational, and more ethical than other people.
Most people probably wouldn’t say this out loud but deep down we believe it. This is why we get so upset when we see other people make dumb mistakes or think “everyone else” is so terrible. It is important to keep in mind that we are more similar to other people than different and pitfalls that most people can fall into are probably a danger to us as well. Everyone believes that they are smart, capable, independent, and good. Keep in mind that you are not as superior as you might think and you will go very far in life and in learning. Humility removes a lot of unnecessary friction and coming to terms with our own delusions of grandiosity helps with our progress.
Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE)
When we attribute other people’s errors to internal factors, and our own errors to external factors.
An example of this would be when someone cuts you off while driving. It’s easy to think that they cut you off because they are a terrible person. But if you were the one who would have cut them off, it would have been because “you had to” or “you were in a rush” and it’s not because you are bad person. FAE is a type of Self-Serving Bias, which are a set of biases that protect our self esteem or where we see ourselves in an overly favorable manner. Knowing this can help you be more patient with others and you can catch yourself when you start to think that one of your mistakes may be due to outside circumstances.
Neglect of Probability
The tendency to disregard probability when making a decision under uncertainty.
During my time in school I’ve always wondered why I had to learn something and didn’t bother learning a lot of it because I figured that most of that information would never come up. Turns out, I used more of it than I expected, like all the advanced math I use daily because I’m a math tutor. When we’re presented with new information we make a choice to learn it based on if we think it will be useful to us in the future, but this bias demonstrates that we naturally disregard actual the probability that it can come up again. It’s difficult to predict if it will come up at all and if we knew the probability, chances are we’d ignore the raw data and believe what makes feel good. This is true not just with learning but with many of the decisions of our lives. We should try to think about how often we may need the information we may learn and not be satisfied with a surface level analysis or even with what other people will tell us. Academic topics taught earlier on are taught for a reason and topics later will very likely build upon the assumption that you proficiently learned all of the topics prior, and the answers to the problems of life require a sophisticated synthesis of all the information you’ve been exposed to and internalized.
We determine how likely something is by how easily we can recall events of it happening in our brain.
An example of this would be a medical assistant who is working in a stroke center believes that strokes occur more often than they actually do because they can remember many instances when someone had a stroke. Another could be a psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD can easily view a patient’s pathologies and conclude ADHD because they believe it is highly probable that the patient has ADHD, but the psychiatrist only believes that ADHD is highly probable because he can recall many events of people having ADHD. Just because we can recall an event easily, doesn’t mean it has a high probability of occuring often.
This is a theory that suggests people tend to believe their cognitive ability is higher than it actually is.
My explanation above suggests the relationship between knowledge and perceived ability is linear but it’s more nuanced. As we learn more about a subject, our perceptions adjust from the initial ignorant and confident position following the graph below. I love graphs because they explain concepts better than I can with words.
Our tendency to be included by what someone else as said or made to create a preconceived idea.
This happens to me all the time with meal ideas. Someone will mention an In-N-Out double double in a conversation and a few hours later if someone else asks me what I want to eat, I’ll say I want a double double from In-N-Out and I will have completely believed this was my own idea. This is a big reason why I try to limit my social media use, I don’t like the idea that my thoughts could be decided by someone else’s poorly thought-through comment or that the standards for my life and myself could be created by other people’s standards. Our ideas aren’t always our own, and it’s useful to recognize that.
Also known as the “I-knew-it-all-along” effect which is our tendency to see events in the past as highly predictable.
Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy to wonder why we didn’t act differently when we were younger. “Last year, I couldn’t have even fathom the depths of my ignorance” is the phrase I’m telling myself every year and I tend to be a harsh judge of younger Chris’ choices. The truth is, in the present moment it’s difficult to know which is the path most aligned with our Jungian Self. When we reflect back on our decisions, it’s important to keep that in mind that our past selves were trying to make the best choices they could at the time, unless you know they weren’t. Hindsight bias makes the past make sense and with the knowledge comes a harsh judgment on our past selves. Hindsight bias gets in the way of compassion for yourself and can distort your narrative. Watch it closely, we never really knew it all along.
A big part of managing cognitive biases is taking a little extra time to recognize the patterns and reevaluating what we really think about something. Cognitive biases are strong forces in the mind, but we can overcome them by taking a little time and slowing down.
There are a huge number of cognitive biases that can help you with your learning and life in general and I recommend taking time to learn more of them. These were just a few of the biases that I have found relevant to student success and my own life. Understanding these biases, or “mind habits,” will give us power over our natural tendencies to filter information. Be aware of them when they come up and approach all new knowledge with an open mindset and healthy skepticism.
“There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.”
Robert Greene (1959 – )
Failing is one of my favorite things to do. My students always think I’m crazy for believing this. I haven’t always had a great relationship with failure and still to this day there are times when I wish she was never around, but failure is our most honest teacher and a natural part of learning.
Somewhere along the way, humans decided that failing is bad and wrong. We teach our youth to avoid failure at all costs, that failure is the antithesis of success, or failure makes you feel terrible and that is why we should avoid it!
All of that is hot garbage.
Failure is honest. Failure is accurate. Failure teaches us lessons that we are less likely to forget. Failure is power.
When my students attempt active recall questions, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomena – when they miss things they are less likely to miss a similar type of question later. I’ve even found this true for myself too. When I was studying for the MCAT, I would do practice questions with multiple parts. I had an easier time remembering the parts I got wrong and the parts I initially got right, I ended up getting wrong later! It’s almost like I needed to fail to remember.
I’ve read somewhere (I’ve spent days trying to find the source but alas, I failed) that people are 7 times more sensitive to negative stimuli than positive stimuli. Which makes sense because we tend to remember our critiques more than our praises. But that had me thinking-
Why are we more sensitive to negativity than positivity?
I believe it’s an evolutionary process. We are walking through unknown territory and we experience something negative, we learn quickly to adapt and survive. Whereas, if we experience something positive, the stakes aren’t as high so we don’t learn as fast.
Failure feelings like a threat. Like a real threat. To our brains, failing our self administered tasks is like having our hand touch a hot stove. We learn quickly not to do that thing anymore.
“Failure had better be an option, because whether or not you consider it an option, it’s going to happen! If you go through life with the philosophy that “failure is not an option,” then you’ll never have any good opportunities to learn.”
Jeff Olson (1958 – )
When we fail at something, the probability that we will fail in the same way is pretty small. So in a sense, everytime we fail we get better. We learn what not to do, which is a lot more useful than we like to acknowledge.
What excellent feat has occurred without failure? When we watch professionals play sports or politicians give speeches, we don’t see the hours of failure that have happened in the background. Just because we see the shiny finished product, doesn’t mean that they were always that way. In fact, if you ask them, I’m sure every single successful person will tell you that they have failed more times than they succeeded.
“Mistakes and failures are precisely your means of education. They tell you about your own inadequacies. It is hard to find out such things from people, as they are often political with their praise and criticisms. Your failures also permit you to see the flaws of your ideas, which are only revealed in the execution of them.”
Robert Greene (1959 – )
I believe desirable progress is based off two things:
Identifying what needs to improve.
Acquiring the skills or knowledge required to improve.
Failing reveals to us exactly what needs to get better. The rest is education and deliberate practice. Failing is half the battle. Whenever we’re learning something new, we fail in all sorts of ways, but how we fail is an insight into how we succeed. It’s like trying to complete a maze; it’s not very likely that we are going to get to the exit without hitting a dead end. Once we hit the dead end, we try a different route, and if we hit another dead end we try another route until we reach the exit. We cannot discover what to do without discovering what not to do.
“Would you like me to give you the formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.… You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure—or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you’ll find success. On the other side of failure.”
Thomas Watson (1874 – 1956)
In order to accept failure gracefully and learn as much as we can, we must detach our identities from our successes or failures. When we fail, we are not failures, we simply did not take the actions necessary for the desired outcome to manifest. By the same token, when we succeed, we are not successes, we simply took the actions necessary for the desired outcomes to come into being. Failure and success is simply the difference between executing necessary actions and not executing necessary actions.
Our failures are stepping stones to mastery and temporary defeats.
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
Napoleon Hill (1883 – 1970)
Defeat is not realized until we stop getting up. We decide when we are defeated, no one else does. Whenever I’ve failed in the past, I can always find an exact moment when I admitted defeat. There is always a singular moment in time when I decide that I had enough of whatever challenge is in front of me. When I admit defeat, I stop learning because I stop finding my inadequacies. Failure is what shines the light on what needs to be improved.
“I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the self. There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self. Uniform development exists, at most, at the beginning; later, everything points toward the centre. This insight gave me stability, and gradually my inner peace returned.”
Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)
Circumambulation – the act of moving around an idol – in this case the idol is our maximally developed selves, also known as the Jungian conception of the self. The Self is different for each person, which makes sense to me because no one has the same genetic make up. It’s almost like The Self is a metaphysical representation of our biological dispositions.
I find the idea of circumambulation to be pivotal in understanding the power of failure. Circumambulation of the self is the idea that all of the smaller skills we develop ourselves in is actually apart of a bigger, centrifugal development. Each of these skills is obtained by traveling, so to speak, to all of the far corners of our minds. The Self is our maximally developed selves potentialized in the future and circumambulation is our journey of manifesting this self into actuality.
It’s kind of like this – we develop a bunch of smaller skills, and at first this feels like a linear progression, but as we go through life we start to see the skills pointing towards an ideal.
Learning about circumambulation freed me up in so many different ways because I was worried that I had too many different interests and developing myself in too many different things will prevent me from manifesting my Jungian Self. The best example of this was when I was repressing my love for music because I felt like it didn’t fit with the skills I needed for medicine. Now that I see it is the culmination of all of these skills that will bring about my best self, I feel free to pursue all of my interests wholeheartedly.
Jordan Peterson beautifully outlines the circumambulation of the self and how it relates to failure in the video below.
Jordan Peterson always says the fool is the precursor to the hero and I believe that makes a lot of sense because the one who is willing to make mistakes ends up learning the most, and learning is what’s necessary to save everyone from the malevolent forces of chaos. We see it all the time in movies. The main character is usually seriously flawed but grows over time and that’s where the richness of the story lies. Ash is the worst Pokemon training of all time, but that’s what gives the story room to breathe. The same case is true with us – we are flawed beings, but our admission of our flaws and the strive to improve these imperfections is what embodies our life with meaning.
Robert Greene also references circumambulation in his book, Mastery, but not explicitly. Robert talks about all children having inclinations. These inclinations are strong unexplainable interests that a child develops early on in life. As they get older, they tend to ignore these inclinations and pretend like they aren’t important. Greene suggests adults to do deep reflection to revivify that lost child within them and lean into their inclinations for that is where people will find the skills necessary to be their best. I believe the skills we need to manifest the Jungian Self are found in developing our inclinations.
When we try something new, we are usually very bad at it, but over time we get better. At first it may seem like these things are disconnected by as long as we are developing our inclinations (as defined by Greene) then we will see that all of our development aims towards a central ideal.
“Knock me down nine times but I get up ten, bitch.”
Cardi B (1992 – )
As mentioned earlier, we are only defeated once we stay down but sometimes our failures may throw us off course. Sometimes when we’re knocked down, it takes some time to reorient ourselves again. When we fail, we have to take stock of where we are in relation to our goals. We can’t simply get back up and start moving again. We want to get back up, get back on the right path, then start moving again. We have to consider course correction when we fail. We did not succeed for a reason and it’s important to figure out why and how we move forward without experiencing that specific failure again.
The power of course correction is really laid out in the Apollo mission to the moon-
“On its way to landing astronauts safely on the surface of the moon, the miracle of modern engineering that was an Apollo rocket was actually on course only 2 to 3 percent of the time. Which means that for at least 97 percent of the time it took to get from the Earth to the moon, it was off course. In a journey of nearly a quarter of a million miles, the vehicle was actually on track for only 7,500 miles. Or to put it another way, for every half-hour the ship was in flight, it was on course for less than one minute. And it reached the moon—safely—and returned to tell the tale.”
Jeff Olson (1958 – )
Most of the time the rocket was off course, but that didn’t matter because they still made it to their destination with continuous course correction. It doesn’t matter how often we fail, as long as we are constantly trying to get back on track. The astronauts on the Apollo rocket didn’t think “Oh no we’re off course now! It’s too late! It’s all screwed up! I can’t believe we let this get off course! Let’s just quit!” They simply acknowledged the failure and readjusted their actions accordingly and by doing that enough, they ended up on the moon!
We can see the same thing happen with sports too! Kobe Bryant had a terrible first season of basketball. When he first started, Kobe was horrendous but after he failed he took a step back and figured out exactly what he needed to work on to get his game better. He course corrected and developed The Mamba Mentality, which I think is one of the most powerful perspectives to take on.
Failure doesn’t have to be something that we desperately try to avoid. It teaches us what we need to improve and offers us opportunity to grow. Coupled with ideas like the Circumambulation of the Self and Course Correction, failure can be seen as an exciting phenomena of life. Many of my students think I’m insane for loving failure, but am I really?