There is only one person you have to spend your entire life with.
From the moment of your birth to the day when you breathe your last, there is only one person watching, judging and enduring every single action and thought you partake in.
So why do we struggle so much to do the right thing for ourselves? Why do we flop down in front of the TV or put off that important piece of work or reach for that second blueberry muffin? I’ve already talked about the short-term benefits versus long-term benefits of doing a particular thing that’s good or bad for your health, so I’m not going to go on about that again. What I would like you to think about today is who you are. Who is “you” (or “me” if we’re thinking in the first person)? Is it your body? After all, your body carries all of you around, without your body it’s very difficult to do anything. Is it your mind? Well, your mind gives orders to your body, without it you wouldn’t get much done at all either. But your mind often seems to do just the opposite of what you want. Is it your personality? For me that’s a construct of the mind, in large part, so we’re back to square one… or is it all of those things? Or even more? Do your family and friends come into defining who you are? I’m sure they do. What about the job you do? Your hobbies? Your hopes? Your dreams?
How do you quantify “you”?
A lot of us believe that “we are what we think”. We bemoan the fact that other people don’t fully understand us. We convince ourselves that our deepest thoughts are the true mirrors of our personality, but we feel frustrated when we can’t translate these thoughts into real life. Let me give you a personal example (yes, I’m deliberately picking one that’ll feel like I’m kicking my own bum):
I’ve always loved writing. People around me know this. I’ve talked about it enough and to some extent, even practiced it enough in the past, for this trait to be strongly associated with me. When I’m catching up with an old friend, chances are they’re going to ask about my writing. After all, I did go and get two University degrees in the subject. I’ve entered competitions, sometimes won prizes. I run a small (but functioning!) writing group here in Luxembourg. I write. Or at least, that’s what people think I do.
What do I think I do? Well, I like to think that I’m a writer, or at least someone who writes. Feel free to insert many arguments and counter-arguments about what makes a person a writer just about now. The internet is teeming with them. Nobody seems able to agree exactly. Some say it’s enough to want to write, others say you actually have to write (I agree), while others still like to define it in terms of how many short stories or novels you’ve published and whether you’re making any money out of them. Well I’ve published a short story and a couple of poems. Some of my earlier stories even won me cash prizes. But that’s all in the past (the more and more distant past in fact). So what about now? Can I truly still call myself a writer?
This blog is the one single thing that allows me to think I can.
Yes I’ll admit the horrible truth: I’m not writing anything else at the moment. There, you heard it from the horse’s mouth. Neigh.
Over the last few months, I’ve been painstakingly scratching my way through a few chapters of a novel, but my writing muscles are the same as my leg muscles for running. When I don’t use them for a while, they become lazy and weak. I start to forget what I liked so much about the activity and focus instead on the downsides and difficulties. Most of these live only in my head of course. Which leads me to think that my mind is most certainly not the be-all and end-all of me. After all, if I like to write, why is it always convincing me not to do it? Why does it try to offer more short-term satisfactions (and long-term losses, usually) instead?
If writing is “me”, then why don’t I do it?
Over the last few months, I’ve really come to believe that “we are what we do” rather than what we think. Take the nearest object to you. In my case, it’s a mug. If the person who thought of inventing the mug had only ever left it at that, I wouldn’t have just enjoyed a nice cup of tea in one. Maybe I would have used something else of equal use, but you’ve got to admit, mugs are pretty awesome. Everyone has their favourite mug. The person who invented the mug in its modern form might be long dead (I honestly have no idea) but the mug is his or her legacy. Millions of people use mugs worldwide. A mug is a symbol for comfort and warmth. And that is how a piece of that person lives on. Who would have thought?
I digress. Take anything you like around you. All those objects are thoughts translated into action by someone who got off their lazy ass and decided to get on with it. This morning, my alarm went off and I lay in bed for twenty minutes thinking: “do I really want to go running? But it’s nice and warm in here… ” And then I realised I was doing it again. So I just got up and got dressed, starting down another thought-path: “I enjoyed climbing a huge hill yesterday without losing a lung in the process. It made me feel really fit and accomplished. But if I don’t maintain my body, I won’t be able to do that anymore soon. Besides, once I’m running, I’ll enjoy it like I always do.” And I did, in fact I ran faster than I’d ever done before. So there you go.
It’s the same with this blog. I hadn’t written anything for about 10 days and was starting to panic because I couldn’t think of a suitable topic. I watch my blog stats droop, fizzle and die and kept thinking “why does no one visit anymore?” Well duh. No secret: because I haven’t written anything new. So I searched and searched and instead of worrying any longer, I sat down and opened up the “New Post” tab and started writing. Some people might say that I should be doing that with one of my novels instead, but I’m pretty happy with this kind of writing now. It’s new for me and it’s exciting, and I’m actually doing it. And that’s got to be better than not doing anything at all.
Because I’d forgotten a very simple truth for a moment there… If I want to achieve my goals, I have to actually go out and reach for them. I have to behave like an advertiser to my own mind and body: constantly trying to sell them this dream I want to follow. If you make something and you want people to buy it, you’re not going to tell them (unless you’ve got a really twisted sense of reverse psychology going on): “Don’t buy this, go and get that biscuit instead. It’ll make you feel better. You’ll feel like you indulged yourself, you can always think about buying this later.”
No, you want them to buy your product now! So why should you be any different?
It’s easy to treat others differently than you would treat yourself. In Western culture at least, we’re taught from a young age that it’s the norm to be hard on yourself. That you shouldn’t make too much of your achievements or think you’re better than other people. What others mean to teach us with this is: don’t go around making other people feel inferior to you. Why? Because they don’t like feeling inferior. But why would they even feel that way? After all, you’re not responsible for their own accomplishments and their sense of self-worth… I’ll tell you why: because they’re not doing anything. They’re still at that “thinking about doing something” stage and they don’t like being reminded of it.
Now I’m not saying bragging and boasting are good things, they’re not. Nobody likes to listen to that. But I think it’s okay to recognise that you’re good at certain things, and when you succeed, to share that success with the people who are willing and ready to hear about it. If they truly love you, they will be proud of you and encourage you to persevere.
So do things for yourself like you would do them for other people. You’re so willing to give your child a good education and to make sure they eat the right things. Why not do the same for you? After all, when your child has flown the nest, if you haven’t done anything for yourself from time to time too, what will be left? No, I’m not a parent yet, so some of you will probably tell me I can’t understand. Well maybe I can’t. But look at it like this: if you do something for yourself, if you get out of that chair and exercise, or change your eating habits, or pursue your dreams… isn’t that a wonderful example to set for your children? They might in turn push themselves to achieve so much more one day, just because they’ve seen that it can be done.
We spend our lives imitating other people, after all. If a young girl hears her friend say “I hate my body, it’s so weird and gross, I’m so fat”, there is a chance the girl might wonder “why is she thinking like that? Maybe I’m not doing it right, maybe I should be thinking like that?” It’s sad, but it happens all the time, even (or especially) in the adult world. We don’t want to be seen as thinking too highly of our own person, so we insult ourselves in front of other people. We say: “oh I’m no good at that, I can’t do it” or “I’m so stupid” or “don’t mind me” or “it doesn’t matter what I think”, etc.
Would you say that about another person? I think not. Some delightful individuals might (and do) but I don’t think they’re the kind of people who like to read blogs about self-improvement. 🙂 So let’s just assume they’re not with us today.
Just take a moment to imagine yourself saying to someone about your (hypothetical) daughter: “Don’t bother, she can’t do it. She’s never tried it, but she’s a lazy person. She’s not worth the effort.” Nice, huh?
Even if you’ve never said such things aloud about yourself, chances are you’ve thought them. So now I’m going to kindly ask you (and myself) to stop. What’s it going to achieve anyway? As we’ve seen, nothing much. It will only serve to keep you in the “thinking” stage and throw you into a spiral of despair and self-hate. You will never invent the next generation of hand-held drinking devices. You will never get off your chair, and you will hate yourself even more for it.
None of us want that. So let’s get a move on, shall we?
Who are you?
What do you want?
And what are you doing to get it for yourself, today, right now?