Monday, March 10, 2014

Willpower is a Muscle

I have come to a conclusion about why it irks me when people say they are "lazy" or "depressed." Whenever we speak about ourselves, we are creating and perpetuating an identity. Speech and thought manifest reality. Whenever someone says "I'm lazy," they are subconsciously condemning themselves to be lazy. A less limiting declaration might be "I'm not feeling very engaged by what I'm doing, and I need more motivation." The second statement is more specific, and allows you a way to recover from your current state, rather than being confined to the image of "lazy."

Language forms our identities much like paint on a canvas. To me, this metaphor means that we are much more active in shaping ourselves than we believe. If we can become conscious of what we are creating and how, we can participate in the creation of ourselves.

The skills used to create your own self image can also be used to build happiness. Happiness takes work, and those seeking it should be willing to go against the flow. The ability to make choices that support your overall health and mental health is something that comes easier to some people, but is certainly achievable for all people. It doesn't require anything external to condition your inner thought patterns to create a more positive reality.

We are all free in any moment to alter the content of our minds, and push our thoughts in a more positive direction. Negative or depressive thoughts are just as addictive as sugar or cigarettes. When visited frequently, these thoughts are like paths that are worn from travel. It is easier to continue the negative thought pattern than to create a new trail of positive thinking, which is why it takes effort. In fact, your brain actually creates more neural pathways for whatever thought patterns you use most, which explains the phenomenon of the "vicious cycle." However, everyone is quite capable of giving up an addiction in any moment, though many are held back by doubts and unserving beliefs like "I could never do that" or "this is just the way I am" or the classic "this isn't the right time." Willpower is a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to work.

In fact, with proper training and sheer will, you can reprogram your brain to visit more positive and nurturing thought patterns. You might call this a "good" addiction. If we must be addicted to something (and it seems we must) it is much more prudent to get attached to something that serves your highest self, like choosing to spend 20 minutes meditating, or taking space to think instead of yelling at loved ones.

The mentality of praying for something to happen, or waiting for something to happen to you is ridiculous. We are active participants in our fate, and our lives will easily pass us by if we do not get off our butts and participate. When I pray, I like to pray for strength in my endeavors rather than expecting an external force to perform for me.

One common negative thought pattern is comparing ourselves to others. Seeing life as a contest can be very damaging to our feelings of self-worth. We have ideas about what's "good" and "bad", but these are culturally constructed notions. That means that there is no absolute model of what it means to be perfect, only what has evolved out of the society in which we live. The society I live in is incredibly hierarchical, and thus status is important to most people. It's only important to me if I choose to go along with that cultural belief. Do you think that having high status equates to being a good person? I don't, so I choose to ditch that belief. 

Having a high prestige job is a huge status symbol in the United States. This suggests that if you have a low prestige job, you are worth less than others. These "losers" of the game should be unhappy, according to our cultural beliefs. However, the unhappiness does not stem from lack of prestige or money, but rather pressure from the rest of society, and their role as the victim in the system. The victim role is perpetuated by both sides. You are only a victim if you accept the role. Without the judgements and the pressure to be more, most of us would most likely find joy in living frugally and doing our work. 

One challenge to constructing our own self-image, is our interactions with negative energy. It is next to impossible to control what other people think and do. It's hard to stop a father's wrath. It is your responsibility to do what's in your control to spend time around people that don't bring you down. 

This might involve simply steering the discussion in a more positive direction, avoiding relationships that are based on commiserating together, stating directly what your desires are in a relationship, or making new friends altogether. It also means training yourself to keep your cool when you are feeling triggered. Taking space is a good way to avoid blowing up at someone you love. 

I suggest discovering a way of communicating that makes you feel good. If I find myself upset, I like to examine the roots of why I'm upset. Perhaps it was the tone of voice someone used to me, or an assumption they made incorrectly. I try not to get caught up in blaming the other person for ridiculous and trite things, which is a common reaction.  It's difficult for me to do this in the moment, so I need to be willing to revisit the subject a few minutes later when I'm feeling more calm. The decision not to speak can be challenging, but rewarding. After five or ten minutes, you can approach the issue with reason, rather than veins filled with adrenaline and poor judgement.

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