A Question From Future You: "Are You Being Honest With Yourself?"
We need to ask ourselves this question - and more than once -
or crisis might force us to down the line
It's not unusual to run on auto-pilot, particularly when life is hectic: the diary is packed, the to-do list is brimming, the days are full.
What is unusual (and beats being busy every time) is to take a step back - as frequently as we can - and reassess; to look at what we are doing and ask ourselves: "Am I being true to myself?"
This kind of question is a catch-all for an infinite number of variations:
"Is this who I am?"
"Is this what I want?".
"Am I heading in the right direction?"
"Did I mean what I just said?"
"Do I really think that?"
"Is this person right for me?"
"Is this job/career really what I am about?"
And so on. And, as with all of them, we will, at times dislike the answers we get.
And that's a key reason why we don't ask ourselves these types of questions in the first place.
Or, we simply don't think to.
The thing is, if we keep dodging them, they will eventually present themselves to us in a way that we cannot escape.
This is what a mid-life crisis is all about.
It's about having these very questions thrust starkly in front of us at a time when we feel they must be answered.
It's when we begin to accept a truth about something (or many things) that we have, perhaps, always known deep inside but ignored.
And that dereliction of duty has given us a life that isn't the one we actually want.
It becomes a crisis because by the time life forces us to confront this, it comes with a sense of urgency inevitably due to the age at which we are made to face it.
Changes, then, have to be made - and fast.
Paying The Price
This is when marriages fail, when careers implode and when nervous breakdowns come knocking.
It is anything but pleasant.
And it is anything but the hedonistic red sports-car-driving caricature of mid-life that is so often painted for us.
What's worse is that while it will take just minutes to undo a life that has been built over decades, it might very well take years to get to the New Life - and to get there in one piece.
Inevitably, by the time we do get there, a big part of us will have wished that we had listened to that voice inside our heads so many years earlier when it was whispering, "this person isn't right for you", or "your career is killing you".
While this form of radical self-honesty might seem a bit extreme, it doesn't always have to reach existential levels. And we don't have to wait for a crisis to make changes.
There are subtle ways we can tap into this "knowing" right at this very minute, before it reaches such a dramatic point that it is forced to become a wake-up call.
It is called congruence.
Congruence (and its opposite, incongruence) is a concept that was coined by a psychologist by the name of Carl Rogers, which Jordan Peterson delves into in each of the videos below.
Being congruent basically means aligning body, mind and spirit. It's when our beliefs, values and desires line up with our actions.
By its nature, it requires being in touch with what we really think, what we really stand for, what we really want, who we really want to be etc.
It means recognizing the little voice in our head and actually listening to it.
The Body's Messages
And as Peterson explains, if we can't hear the voice, our body will also tell us when we are out of step. In his words, acting incongruently will make us feel "weak".
This is not weak, as in the machismo sense - it is in the sense that acting "out of alignment" dis-empowers us, destabilises us internally, puts us on the back foot.
We all know, for example, what it feels like when something feels "off", or not quite right.
We have all had a "bad feeling" about something at some point in our lives or done something and wish we hadn't as it didn't feel like us.
We might agree to an arrangement and a big part of us wishes we hadn't. We might make a decision and feel conflicted about it. We might say something and immediately regret it. We might push forward with a plan but it feels empty. There's no life in it. We aren't all in.
And that's what this is really about - being all in.
Because there is only so long that we can coast along, living a half-life: being in relationships that aren't right for us, working jobs we hate, being friends with people who don't have our backs, failing to connect meaningfully with people who do.
It is a form of self-betrayal which eats away at us each time we say or do something that contradicts our true nature - frequently in such subtle ways we fail to notice it at the time, if we are not paying attention.
Until at some point, much later in life, we are made to.
And when that happens, there won't be a red sports car waiting for us.
It will be something very different, indeed.
Hit That "Blurgh" Time Again? Don't Fret, Says Dan Pink, It's Part Of Your Daily Cycle
There is actually a perfect time of day to do utterly meaningless tasks...
or, even better, to do nothing at all.
So, you wake up, feel motivated, feel on point - today is the day. And for a few hours you are on fire, you feel like you're really getting somewhere.
And then you hit that wall.
Suddenly all that optimism you had has gone out the window and a different self emerges: one who could not give a sh*t. About anything, least of all the stuff that got you out of bed this morning.
It's the dreaded Afternoon Slump.
For most of us, who can at least recognise that is what it is, it is one of those unavoidable unpleasantries of life where we do our best to slog on despite it, in the vain hope we can push our way through it.
The rest of us just simply question our existence and wonder why it all went so wrong.
Dan Pink has another name for it: "The Trough", which he describes as "the poison" in his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing:
Or, to put it another way:
“Afternoons are the Bermuda Triangles of our days.”
This low point of the day is part of our daily cycle, whether we like it or not.
Despite our best intentions, our motivation, mood and productivity levels follow pretty regular patterns throughout the day, every day.
But, says Pink (as he explains in the videos below), if we can gain a detailed understanding of our own unique cycles, learn to adapt to each stage appropriately and take the right action at the right time, then happy days.
Peak, Trough & Recovery
Pink says we go through a 3-stage process - the "Peak", the "Trough", and the "Recovery" - daily, at pretty much the same time, with us going up and down like a yo-yo, with each step .
The point that we "dip" very much depends on our "chronotype", which Pink describes as:
“A personal pattern of circadian rhythms that influences our physiology and psychology.”
What defines our "type"?
Basically the time we wake up: if we are early risers (Pink calls them Larks) or late-starters (Owls).
Early risers, or Larks, will hit a "peak" in the morning, then a "trough" around 7 hours after waking up and finally will "rebound" or enter a recovery period later in the day.
Night Owls who struggle to get out of bed before late morning will have a similar cycle, but starting from a later point in the day.
The Best Time To Get S**t Done
In terms of getting stuff done, the Peak time is where we will feel - and be - the most productive.
We are highly focused and analytical at this time, says Pink.
Creative insights and ideas come later in the day, as the Recovery stage is when we are likely to be a bit looser and more expansive in our thinking.
Navigating The Dip
The key, though, is what do we do when we hit that slump?
Pink's advice is simple: not very much.
At most do things which aren't particularly challenging, like administrative work (answering emails etc).
The trick is not to beat ourselves up if we can't deliver at the level we would like to during the "dip".
No-one can, apparently.
As such, he advises we learn to take it as a cue for "vigilant breaks": to switch gears, stop flogging ourselves and do something far less taxing instead.
So, if answering emails sounds too much to bear (particularly if we are not in the office), then we can always make the most of the fact that our brain has just turned to cheese.
We can take that nap.
It's OK, we're allowed, says Pink:
“Vigilance breaks prevent deadly mistakes. Restorative breaks enhance performance. Lunches and naps help us elude the trough and get more and better work done in the afternoon. A growing body of science makes it clear: Breaks are not a sign of sloth but a sign of strength.”
Perhaps the Spanish are on to something, Siesta, anyone?
That Nagging Voice Hasn't Always Lived In Your Head
Next time you feel beaten down, like you can't do anything right, listen to that berating voice inside your head - and ask yourself who it actually is.
No-one likes bullies. But the worst kind, the most insidious of them all, live inside our heads. And the reason they are so powerful is because we don't even realise they are there.
They are so deeply embedded in our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and knee-jerk reactions to situations, that we think they are us - and we think they're right.
These voices have lives of their own - and they began in the 'real world', before they leapt into our minds and started whispering in our ears.
The Critical Inner Voice
The Critical Inner Voice, as it is known, typically gets created as a defense mechanism to a painful situation.
It doesn't always require a direct criticism or scolding to develop (the growing pains of childhood inevitably spawn situations that leave us feeling inadequate) - but the negative feedback loop we get stuck in can inevitably be traced back to an individual or group of people whose words and/or actions impacted us deeply.
If we have ever been picked on, regularly criticized, felt the spotlight was on us for all the wrong reasons, the emotional charge of that event can get stuck.
And the way we were treated at the time, the kinds of judgments/expectations that were made of us and the lack of care that was given to us all get internalised.
We start talking to ourselves in the way we were spoken to that we hated so much.
And it becomes so natural to us, so automated, that we fail to realise we are even doing it.
And before long, we end up doing the original critics' jobs for them.
Recognising The Root
But breakthroughs can be as astoundingly simple as they are effective, as an interview Epiphany Channel did with architect, Greg Schriefer, shows.
Having been plagued by negative self-talk for years, what freed Schriefer was recognising where it actually came from.
When he realised that he was in fact repeating the exact words his father had said to him, he was immediately able to distance himself from the voice.
It no longer belonged to him, so he could begin a conversation with it, rather than just soak up whatever it was saying.
As Schriefer told Elise Ballard, who runs the Epiphany Channel:
"I had realized that I had been battling my father’s voice my entire life. It was him, not me, saying, “You are no good for nothing, and you’ll never amount to anything... My mind was just repeating it."
Once he realised where the voice came from, he was able to identify it every time it came up again after that - and stop it in its tracks.
When There Are Upsides To That Voice
Writer Isabel Allende outlined a similar experience she had in an interview with Global Leadership TV.
But in her case, she was also able to see how it actually benefited her.
The upside to being harsh on yourself is it can drive you to be better.
Allende was able to create a successful career for herself in a time where it was unusual for a woman to do so.
And it was the high expectations and intolerance of a grandfather cracking the whip (in real life and in her head) that she says she had to thank for it.
She told Global Leadership TV:
"It helped me for years and years to become someone freer, more successful and more independent than most women of my generation did in that place,"
Finding The Right Balance
The downside was, she could never switch off, feeling guilty if she ever stopped working.
Being able to give the voice - and herself - a break has been the key to achieving a bit more balance.
And now she uses this critical voice to her advantage as and when she needs it:
"Sometimes it's useful. Sometimes when I am in a situation of great stress or when I have to really perform, the voice comes and helps. But it doesn't tie me up, it doesn't imprison me like it did before."
The next time we get swept up by the voice inside our heads, the act of being able trace it back to its originator is well worth trying out.
Not only can it free us from the negative aspects of what it is saying - but it in some cases (depending on what it is saying) it might actually help us as well.
We Don't Have To Be Wildly Successful. We Just Need To Do What We Like
We don't all have to be chasing rainbows, the big bucks, the dreams of fame and recognition. The real joy lies in simply doing something we really like
What gets your juices flowing? What do you do regardless of reward or recognition? No-one's asked you to do it, no-one's paying you to do it, but you do it anyway, because it makes you happy.
If there is anything at all, you have hit the gold standard, you have nailed intrinsic motivation, a doorway to life satisfaction, meaning, purpose and flow.
The ability to be make ourselves happy, independent of anyone else, or any external factors (like wealth, geography, a network of contacts etc) is a bonafide superpower.
It is perhaps the single most important skill we will stumble across in our lives.
It can give our lives meaning, when perhaps things aren't going our way - and give us the necessary fortitude and willingness to persevere, even if we are not receiving validation for our efforts.
It's the polar opposite of obligation.
This is something we do purely because we want to, because there is something about this activity that means something to us, that has value.
It allows us to experience that feeling of autonomy in a singular area of our lives, even when we lack it in others.
And it means we can actually have thrilling inner lives even if we appear to be living distinctly average outer ones.
The Work Of Edward Deci
Intrinsic motivation theorist Edward Deci first realised this as a kid, as most of us do (and as he discusses in the first video, below).
He recognised that there were certain classes at school that gripped him, while others left him cold and no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't muster up the same levels of enthusiasm for them.
He had stumbled across the idea that we have natural inclinations towards certain topics or activities which become a key factor in successfully meeting key psychological needs.
He ascertains that it is the honouring of these principles that can lay the pathways to the areas of our lives that are essential to our psychological well-being: feeling happy, experiencing life satisfaction, feeling that we are valued, that we are good at something, feeling a sense of control of our lives and having a sense of purpose:
"You have needs of the psyche, of the mind. There are certain things that we need to be experiencing in ongoing ways that are really evolved, that allow us to grow, to develop, to be healthy."
The 3 Requirements
There are three key requirements that need to be met in order to achieve this, he explains and it's the third that raises eyebrows:
We need to feel competent or effective, we need relatedness and we need autonomy:
"Autonomy means that you do some activity, whatever it is we're talking about, with a full sense of willingness and volition. If you got reflective in that moment you would think, 'yes, this is what I choose to be doing right now.' ... And it's coming from that inner activity and engagement and excitement that we all have that's part of who we are."
The Problem With Control
On the other side, "controlled motivation" is about doing something because we feel we have to, whether that pressure comes from other people, society-at-large, material gain - or even ourselves. And needless to say, it's not a great place to be in.
Feeling controlled, micro-managed, coerced with rewards (even if it is with attractive sums of money), in a job we don't like can make us lose interest, sap our motivation and make us money-oriented.
And that can hammer us psychologically, says Deci in the second video (also below):
"When you're being controlled, you're experiencing a lot of internal anxiety and internal pressure and that comes out in a whole range of different negative psychological consequences... So really controlled motivation, we found, is a precursor of psychopathology, it's a precursor of addiction and so on."
So the next time we feel that drag, that sense, at best, that we are swimming against the tide, we need to ask ourselves:
We all have areas of our lives where the answer is "yes" to some of these questions. And it's not a question of radically changing everything if it's not practical.
But if there are any areas of our lives where we can feel that sense of freedom (even if it's a hobby), it's an important question to ask.
It could be vital in safeguarding not only our happiness - but our mental and physical health.
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