I Can Be My Own Enemy, Or Not
Learning how “me” and I can be nice to each other
There’s an iOS app called Principles that I discovered recently, and it’s interesting. The app allows me to methodically analyze my approach to any aspect of my life. I can identify what I truly want and then start laying out a plan for how to get there. The app provides very insightful advice to help with the whole process. It’s based on Ray Dalio’s — a self-made billionaire — book titled Principles: Life and Work.
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The self-made billionaire starts his book with the following words:
“Before I begin telling you what I think, I want to establish that I’m a “dumb shit” who doesn’t know much relative to what I need to know. Whatever success I’ve had in life has had more to do with my knowing how to deal with my not knowing than anything I know.”
In the same spirit of total openness, I don’t mind telling you that with the help of the app I pinpointed a problem with myself — bad behavior.
Now, before going any further, let me address the word ”bad.”
It’s best to criticize constructively. ”Bad” isn’t really very constructive critical thinking— it’s judgemental. ”Bad” was, however, the first word that popped into my head. ”Not useful” would be a better way to describe my behavior. That way, my mind almost instantly begins figuring out what is useful. Nice.
I used the app to help me understand what I can do to get a job.
Without boring you too much, I chose a goal and put together a tiny rudimentary plan. My goal was simple — get a job. The plan was obvious — look for a job and get one (ok, I did put in a tiny bit more detail than that). Next, was the ”plan execution” part. My answer to how good I am at following through on my plans was ”very bad.”
I hate plans. I even hate checking off items on whatever plans I do have sometimes. I feel like I am forced to follow a plan, and checking items off is a form of capitulation. This is so even when I am the one who came up with the plan. I can get headaches from having or thinking about plans. It’s suffocating. Maybe, I am sounding dramatic, but most of what I said is either spot on or in the ballpark.
”People with poor work habits are either disorganized by nature, or they can’t bring themselves to do things that they don’t like…”
I often can’t bring myself to do things that I don’t like. Case in point, following through on a plan.
Ironically, I am obsessively detail-oriented at work. I have a goal and a plan to deliver the best possible results. Looking for a job, though, is another matter altogether. I don’t like doing it. My “not useful behavior” takes over. A plan is no help because I can’t bring myself to follow through on it.
In the app, I wrote that I will deal with my poor follow-through by waiting for circumstances to become dire. That has been my modus operandi my whole life, which is why I believe my answer was honest.
In other words, the app helped me realize that my ”not useful behavior” makes creating a plan pointless because I know a priori that I won’t put it into action. Unless the ax is about to fall, I am not likely to do what I don’t like. And who knows what set of steps I might follow when the ax begins to swing — probably, whatever my wife, mom, or sister tell me.
So, how can I live with my behavior and still be successful?
One idea I had is to ”bite off what I can chew.” For example, ”get a job” is a big and ”scary” goal for me, but I can break it down into smaller actions that aren’t so ”scary” that I can ”chew” without getting overwhelmed. The other day, I looked at some job postings just to see what’s out there. It felt good.
Another option is to listen to “me.” “Me” may be saying something important. Am I after the wrong kind of job? Do I really need a job in the first place? Am I guilt-tripping myself?
In my case, it would definitely help if I brought in some steady extra income. We are doing ok financially, but it needs to be better because times change, and what’s ok now won’t be ok later. So, not doing anything about it because I don’t like doing it is not acceptable. Thankfully, I have done something about it. I just feel I haven’t done enough, and I don’t want to do more because… fill in the blank.
Now, just because I feel a certain way doesn’t automatically mean there’s a problem. It could be that I am being unfair to myself. This requires some introspection, honesty, and thinking.
There aren’t many good psychological self-help tools out there. Working with a professional therapist might be a better option. And it’s important to know that behavioral issues can derail any plans. Therefore, being aware of such issues and working on them is key to success.
There are lots of resources to learn about how other people succeeded in life. But almost none of them teach us how to deal with anxiety, depression, obsession, or any other potential handicap. These particular subjects usually get bypassed or reserved for psychotherapy. The famous Nike slogan “just do it” doesn’t really do it.
I want ego boosts, not evaluations or rejections that come with job search and job retention. In fact, anything that I don’t like doing becomes a roadblock to my success because my ego feels the pinch of having to prove itself to the world. I guess my ego is so strong that it derails me. And so life is an endless battle between “me” and I. Unless I figure out how to tame “me,” life won’t be easy.
“Me” would rather exist in a bubble where it is King. “Me” doesn’t like getting an education because it implies “the King” needs to be educated. “Me” doesn’t like searching for a job because it implies “the King” needs a job and has to convince someone to give it to him as opposed to someone better qualified. “Me” doesn’t like anything that implies in any way whatsoever that “the King” is not the King it thinks it is.
Real life isn’t like that. “Me” is not a King, and “me” knows and hates that fact. Yet, “me” perpetuates the fantasy. Getting “me” out of the bubble is a lifelong endeavor, but it’s worth it. Taking it one step at a time is helpful. Also, taking care of daily chores is very therapeutic — it helps me focus on getting things done.
What is really quite useful is to study “me” as calmly as possible.
I can become friends with “me,” but not without help.
Another app I am trying out is called RealifeChange. It has an artificial intelligence helper called ME. I get messages and prompts from ME in response to my notes, and these AI communications are pretty good.
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I’ve wondered a few times whether real people are actually reading my RealifeChange notes and responding. I don’t think that’s the case — one or two responses were off the mark and the rest followed a somewhat predictable pattern so far. Nevertheless, it’s still impressive — a bit like talking to a therapist. If nothing else, the app nags me to address my thoughts.
Meditation apps also teach the technique of addressing thoughts, but from a different angle. When meditating, you try to stick with a certain body sensation and simply identify your thoughts. A thought might be about “worrying,” or “fantasizing,” or something else. You try to avoid getting swept away by the thoughts. Instead, you recognize that a certain thought occurred and return back to your body sensation. The point is to train your brain to focus and remain calm. So deep thought analysis wouldn't work during meditation, I don’t think. I may be wrong. I am still learning this. The app I am using is called 10% Happier.
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If you are so inclined, I would definitely recommend you give these or similar apps a try. And, by all means, work with a therapist you like — it’s akin to having a weight lifting spotter at the gym, only this is a “mental gym.”
I think it’s a nice way to treat yourself, and I am pretty sure your self will thank you for it. I am far from steadfastly following plans and becoming a meteoric success story, but “me” and I are definitely nicer to each other than we have ever been.