How to Self-Sabotage

It’s fascinating to me that the better my life is going, the harder it is to analyze the thoughts and notions within my mind.

Yet when I’m sad or anxious, self-analysis and philosophical inquiry is a breeze!

Maybe it’s simple laziness.

Perhaps I can’t be bothered to dig into difficult questions unless I really have to; unless my very existence seems contingent upon approaching answers to those questions.

When you are getting what you want, there is no survival pressure to question or examine whats going on. Why examine pleasure, and risk tarnishing it?

One does not consider the mechanics of walking until confronted with unstable, hazardous ground.

There is one comforting conclusion I can take from my thoughtless, lazy condition; that self-examination and philosophical analysis are the results, and not the causes of my negative states.

Self-sabotage hides in waiting for those who feel uncomfortable with their own success and resultant satisfaction. If you are identified with the chase of positive emotions and high social status, you will knock yourself down again and again in order to maintain the identity of the chaser.

Unable to stand naked without the lack you think of as the essential driving force behind your personality, you will destroy all gifts you are given, and fill in all the ditches you’ve dug.

You will pursue the zero state as fiercely as you did the dreams you thought you wanted.

The zero state is not difficult to attain. It is life’s default. If you are not careful, you’ll be back there in the blink of an eye.

 

 

 

Failure is Not Fun

Self-help junkies hate to admit that unfiltered self-expression inevitably results in embarrassing mistakes and mishaps. The romanticization of failure, struggle, and authenticity is a good thing, but it is rarely contextualized with concrete examples of failure.

When failure and the integrity it necessitates are kept in the abstract, they sound attractive indeed.

However, once we actually see someone acting with integrity around disapproving peers, or failing at something they are passionate about, the prospect of doing the same ourselves becomes repulsive.

From our privileged perspective as an outsider, we can say: “What a fool! Doesn’t he realize what he’s doing?”

The closer the failure is to us, the more likely it is to affect us and spread like an infectious disease, the more conservative we become with our own ambitions and creative instincts.

We fear the mess, the chaos, the rejection above all else. The fear and disgust for these things are programmed into us at the biological level. An intellectual understanding of the positive power of failure or the wondrous freedom of honest expression is not sufficient for overriding our instinctual aversions.

We must measure failure beside the ultimate goal towards which we aim. It is in regards to this goal that failure is necessary, and authenticity rewarded.

Failure is not good, but it can be useful.

Failure can hurt us, but aren’t there some things for which it is worth it to get hurt?

Authentic self-expression can lead to severed relationships, but what use is a relationship that honesty can break?

We must measure failure by the quality of our long-term outcomes. The approval of others is weak evidence for any given action’s utility in achieving our goals.

Other people don’t know what we are aiming at, or why.

We ourselves may aim at the wrong thing, and find that our vision of success was due to a failure in self-knowledge. Such pitfalls are numerous and necessary, but no amount of affirmations or mind-expanding quotes will change the simple fact that failure is a very painful thing.

The successful person does not love failure and rejection.

They choose a goal so large that pain and frustration are rendered insignificant.

 

Moral Radar

Though it is not knowable, every one of us has a hypothetical ideal self: an entity that acts out the best possible set of behaviors in any given circumstance.

We cannot know for sure what this ideal would do, but we can, by examining our past, determine what is fundamentally opposed to the morals and sensibilities of this higher version of ourselves. In the realms of science and moral development, failures are among our most useful data points.

head-3001166_640“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” 

-Oscar Wilde

But as useful as such reflections can be, they are not sufficient for the attainment of what is greatest within us. We must not only identify what is contemptible and worst within us, but also what is most noble and excellent not through speculation, but experience.

Philosophies and belief systems, like any scientific hypothesis, must be falsifiable. There are none so lost and undeveloped as those great intellects who do not throw their ideas against the walls of the world and watch for the reaction.

An untested idea, belief, or behavior is a blind spot, and the more we cling to such an idea, the blind we become. By focusing on a blind spot, we see nothing at all.

By acting out our beliefs, and facing success or failure, we move towards perfection. However distant and impossible perfection may be, it can be moved toward. 

Until we have attained a life congruent to our highest ideals, until we have embodied those traits that would allow us to move through the world with grace and courage, it is best not to lapse into comfortable patterns of action.

We must continue to test ideas, not just without our minds, but out in the world, where they can be confirmed or destroyed. Only then can we receive course correction data, and direct ourselves towards the highest good, in accordance with our own limitations and the demands of objective reality.

 

 

 

Escaping Failure

Why do people tolerate conditions that to an outside observer appear torturous and unbearable?

Because it usually takes a long time for things to go from good to average to terrible. The loosening of standards, the growing rarity of success, all stack up so slowly that we often find ourselves in a living hell with no idea as to how we got there, and no clear memory of when it all changed.

Perhaps this is why quicksand exists in our minds as an archetypal fear. Quicksand is that which kills you so slowly that you don’t notice until your head is nearly below ground.

No wonder standards, principles, and consistent strategies are the weapons by which failure and stagnation can be fought off.

Motivation, inspiration, and passion are too weak and unreliable a resource to be used in continuous personal growth. They are nowhere to be found when you need them most, and often lead us into self-aggrandizements and prideful displays of self-perceived talent.

Inspiration is what may propel us to create principles sufficient to change the course of our life. But it in itself is not enough. Motivation may be enough to get us up off the couch the first time, but it likely won’t be there the second or the third, or the other inestimable times we might need motivation if we are to take consistent proper action.

Emotion is the water that turns the solid ground to quicksand. Principles and strategies are the rope which we have either spun ourselves, or has been offered by a mentor. But with no rope, we are doomed to sink.

 

 

How to Not Fool Yourself

We often operate under the false impression that we are born with an unearned understanding of our own talent and potential.

But the truth is, self awareness comes from a retrospective view of our past successes and failures. Only when we have meaningful feedback from the outside world can we understand what we’re good at, and what activities grant us lasting satisfaction.

How many people want to be rock stars or celebrities, never having interacted with a large crowd, or gone without sleep for several nights, or dealt with the scrutiny of an unforgiving general public?

People want to be rock stars, because they don’t understand what the experience of being a rock star actually is.

Its dangerous to pursue something that you don’t love, and that you’re not good at. And its incredible how easily the human mind can deceive itself into doing just that.

Every person who pursues a risky career path wonders at some point or another:

Am I kidding myself? 

The answer to that question isn’t difficult to derive. Action will tell you. Failure will tell you. This is why the idea that failure is a necessary to precursor to success is much more than a glib platitude.

Without failure, we don’t learn our own weak points.

Without success, we have no understanding of our own aptitudes.

The two skills you must possess to answer that terrible question:

Am I kidding myself? 

Are these:

  1. The ability to know failure from success, and stare unflinchingly into the face of either one.
  2. The bravery to deduce your own talents and shortcomings, not from daydreams and intuitions, but concrete evidence from past instances of action taking.