“Why are you always so hard on yourself?” a colleague asked me after I psychologically flagellated myself for having a coffee with him, in spite of my “no latte” challenge.
“I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I grew up new Pennsylvania, and some of that Puritan mindset crept in?” I responded.
That’s when it hit me that I was going about this whole self-improvement thing all wrong. Instead of coolly, confidently and enthusiastically pursuing new heights of ability and awareness, I was resigning myself to a fate of self-denial and pseudo-asceticism.
If you don’t know, asceticism refers to a lifestyle whereby the path to enlightenment (spiritual or otherwise) lies in the denial of pleasure.
In fact, years before he became the Buddha, the man named Siddhartha Gautama explored an ascetic path to enlightenment. It wasn’t long before he realized that by denying himself all pleasurable experiences, he was essentially throwing the baby out with the bath water.
After all, without the nourishment of healthy food, comfortable clothing and a clean body, how would he have the energy and vitality he needed to help millions of people avoid suffering?
He gave up asceticism and embarked on a “middle way” that promoted enlightenment through a sort of balance between extravagant luxury on one end of the spectrum and utter self-denial on the other.
Rather than make any claims about Buddhist spirituality, I am using this well-known parable of the Buddha to simply suggest that we can all start to be a little easier on ourselves.
So, inspired by this parable, and determined to make self-improvement a more exciting and pleasurable experience, I decided to turn things on its head by developing a few personal self-improvement guidelines…
- I hereby shed the cold calculation of the praise “instilling new habits” with the much more buoyant sounding phrase “groovin’ to a new routine.”
- I will hereby add an element of pleasure back into every new routine. Instead of “giving up lattes,” I will “replace my latte with a nice frothy bowl of matcha.”
- I will hereby create some pleasurable routines out of scratch. Go out in nature more, visit more museums, talk to more strangers. It’s not always what I can cut out of my life, but what I can add to it that will make it more fulfilling.
- I will hereby view setbacks as opportunities, not as failures. Life is too short to beat myself up over a take-away latte. Take this post as an example. It never would have been conceived had I not ordered that latte with my colleague.
- I hereby refuse to become a slave to my routines. It’s not about giving up lattes for life, it’s about training myself to have just a little more control over my impulses. Thirty days without a latte taught me that a bowl of matcha could easily take the place of a latte from the café. And now it does most days. But does that mean I can never enjoy a latte the rest of my life? Of course not.
I’ve decided it’s time I start enjoying this journey of self-discovery and having a little fun in the process. Imagine how debonair the next exchange will be:
“Hey dude. Want to get a latte with me?”
“Nah, man. These days, I’m groovin’ to a new routine…”