Your biggest enemy is yourself

It wasn’t easy to come to terms with the need to learn how to manage my time. My old self took pride in rebelling against structure and being able to think and act quickly on my meet. When people (parents) grilled me about planning and time management, I used to explained to them why adaptability is more important than planning.

This was the case until I realized one thing: The things I hate hearing the most are aimed straight at the areas that I feel the most vulnerable in. They are the things I need to pay most attention to. When I sense myself getting defensive about something, I should slow down and examine why my defenses were activated. Oftentimes, our pride stands in between us and our better selves. It hurts to accept new ideas that we’ve always rejected as “that’s not me,” but the more you practice doing so, the more you strengthen the muscle that allows you to do that. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — the more you value your development over your pride, the more you will develop.

While arriving at this conclusion felt like an instant click, collecting the pieces together spanned a five-year journey. One of the milestones in this journey occurred during reflecting about a project.

For designers, prototyping — showing rough work in progress and testing with users — as early as possible into the design process is one of the most foundational habits. Having been deeply immersed in start-up culture followed by steeping in the design world for a total of three years, you’d think that I’d have mastered the skill of prototyping early. I thought so as well until I realized at some point much later into the design process for one of the projects I worked on that I could have prototyped much earlier. When I searched through my memory banks, I vaguely recalled sensing the quiet tone of my intuition pushing me to prototype early on, followed by the loud voice of my consciousness drowning out my intuition with the words “I’m not ready.” Upon realizing two opposing forces were at play, the cliche that echoed through generations of philosophers and every hit film from the likes of The Lord of the Rings to The Notebook — your biggest enemy is yourself — finally deeply resonated with first hand experience.

Look at the word “yourself,” It’s “your” and “self.” What is this “self” that is “yours?”

I was reminded by previous readings into spiritual texts that the self is the image of yourself that you carry in your mind. When someone asks you to describe your “self,” they are asking you to describe the kind of person that you think you are — your impression of you.

If self is your idea of you, who are you?

You can try to answer this question, and while your answer is likely to be your impression of you, you — the organism that’s trying to answer the question of “Who are you?” — is the you I was pointing to.

The mistake that most of us make is confusing you with yourself. Your self is your identity; You are the full organism that carries not only your identity, but also your intuition and your physical senses. As we know, identities are hard to change. When you hinge your existence upon the existence of your identity. You’d do anything to protect your identity. Your identity’s sole mission is to survive and grow. The further it separates itself from other identities, the stronger it becomes. When you feel like the center of the world, you fuel your identity; When you feel like the whole world is against you, you fuel your identity. Either way, it fuels your identity. Either way, your identity leeches power from you, and uses you as a shield when it feels threatened.

To illustrate, when my self said “don’t do it — you’re not ready,” it anticipated negative judgements from others towards the work in progress that I was going to present. My mistake was in identifying with my self — believing that it was my own voice, while it really was not.

Having fully absorbed the concept of “your biggest enemy is yourself,” I started monitoring my thoughts for my self’s voice masking as my own. Whenever I detected signs of fear, defensiveness and rationalization, I confronted those emotions and endured psychological pain. Slowly but surely, the pains would always subside and allowing new mental structures to flourish. It’s like building muscle — you have to painfully tear down the existing structures to make room for better ones.

When they say “pain is weakness leaving the body,” I believe it is also true that “pain is weakness leaving the mind.”

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