I have a problem. I inherited a tendency toward social chameleon-ism from my parents. Some of my friends share this quality, but those that don’t give me mixed “reviews”.
“Josh, you are passive aggressive.”
“Josh, you are just plain aggressive.”
“Josh, you don’t talk much do you?”
“Josh, how did you get to be so nice?”
“Josh, SHUT THE HELL UP!”
I don’t act consistently with everyone, partly under the belief that different people need different things, but also under the realization that I care what my friends think of me. (My acquaintances anyway, my close friends usually see the guy I like to call “the real me” but I also happen to think that there usually isn’t a real you… only the you in the moment.)
So I regret and whine about the problem because of it’s “self-centered nature” but how can a mere mortal like me go about changing something so deeply integrated into my psyche as this?
The answer probably won’t surprise you very much if you have been reading my posts, but I know how important it is and sometimes it is difficult to see just HOW important in certain areas of life.
Like waking up.
I recently got rid of my bed, and now sleep on a mat on the floor (minimalism can make you do crazy things). I don’t notice any painful difference actually, in fact I can tell you scientifically that being on the mat allows me to wake up more consistently, a problem I have had my whole life, and keeps me from turning around at night.
Also I have placed my alarm clock ABOVE me, which means that I MUST STAND UP TO GET TO IT. Also I have placed my coffee maker in my room and I have set it to brew automatically 5 minutes before my alarm goes off.
All this to try to get to school on time (I still don’t go, and we will talk about why.) I have woken up, on time, consistently, for about a week now. As per the recommendations of Leo (zenhabits.net) I am going to wake up five minutes earlier next week, and keep doing so until I reach my desired time (I don’t know what time that is… I don’t make goals.)
But what have I really done here? Why didn’t I just “try harder” to wake up earlier, set my alarm for five and “just deal”?
Because rapid change never lasts. I am tired of the up and down swing of sleep schedule, and I would like that variable out of my life. So I am going for:
This is huge. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If Zeus had just handed Romulus the plans for the finished thing and said “Get it done by Thursday” Romulus would have killed himself.
We overwhelm ourselves to points outside our natural capacity just to meet expectation. This is not sustainable, and leads to a fair deal of crashing. Stop crashing, it is a waste of energy (which you only have a limited amount of).
In order to do this, you must become aware of what is stopping you from making a desirable habit change, and deal with it SYSTEMATICALLY and with automation where-ever possible.
These barriers can be huge. When I had a bed, there were a lot of passive environmental conditions that would keep me in it. It was comfy, easy to get back into even if I got up, and it was right by my alarm clock so I could just ask future Josh for “five more minutes” (which is an intuitive understand YOUR OWN MIND HAS OF INCREMENTAL BEHAVIORAL CHANGE!)
Future Josh would usually shrug, sigh, and say “alright, but this is the last time”. He was wrong. I am waaaaaaaay more powerful than that guy, and more handsome and convincing. So I removed those passive barriers by getting rid of the bed. This type of change requires NO SUSTAINED EFFORT and these are the things you should do before you make a habitual change (which is much harder because of the aforementioned sustained effort.)
Place your alarm clock away from you. Make breakfast at night and put it into the fridge. Set up your instrument and place in on a stand in your room. Set your homepage to Google docs instead of just Google.
There are so many LITTLE areas that you can remove passive barriers from, and it is interesting to see which ones are really holding you back once you get rid of them. In fact, it is down right funny to see what stupid stuff Past You couldn’t get over to get out of bed.
Aside though, from removing things (which is the first step to making anything better, in my opinion). You can take your new knowledge of the human condition and apply it to ADDING PASSIVE BARRIERS TO BEHAVIORS YOU DON’T WANT.
People who successfully quit smoking routinely throw away full packs of cigarettes. Why? Because they know if they smoke the whole pack, it will be easy to just go get another one. But if they throw the pack away, now they have two choices. Bum one, or buy a new pack.
Both of these actions have passive barriers, requiring effort to sustain. It takes a little willpower to throw a pack away, or soak it, or get over how ‘wasteful’ it is (I still crack open a Mt. Dew every once in a while, and then pour it down the drain because IT IS A 25 CENT CAN OF SUGAR WATER YOU IDIOTS!!!!! IT HAS PRACTICALLY NO VALUE AND THE CAN NEEDS TO BE RECYCLED!!!!!) but the results are huge.
Once they get down to a few cigarettes every once in a while, kicking the habit altogether gets a great deal easier. Instead of actively working not to smoke (unsustainable) they actively work to set up an environment where smoking is now the active process, with multiple steps, that goes against the social current, and costs money every time you do it.
Totally passive, incremental, and sustainable.
It is important to realize that these behaviors are habitually accomplished for me in and of themselves. I do not recommend going gung-ho today and getting rid of your bed. I DO recommend creating a habit of removing material objects from your life and creating space, having an exit plan for every object in your collection, and having a system for the necessities
But definitely START SMALL.
Habits are just like Rome, and you can’t be a retarded Zeus. Tell Romulus to lay one brick today. If he does that for 7 days in a row, tell him to lay two on the 8th. Too slow for you? Look at how many bricks you laid last year, and realize that usually, you didn’t even lay seven before you got pissed off, overwhelmed, angry at yourself, and quit.
Be nice to Romulus, and keep track of what works for him.
I use google docs, but you could use excel, or a white board, or anything really, the tools do not matter so much as the principle behind them. Track Romulus like a wolf. You will find I think that he, like most people, doesn’t respond well to being yelled at and forced to do things he doesn’t want to.
Now, how do these ideas apply to psychological change? Can you really just set up a different environment that makes being a social chameleon more difficult? Yes, but that environment is an internal one.
The mind is like a garden, as a great saxophonist once said “You can grow whatever you want in your garden”. This is so true that it makes me cry just typing it. Every religious text on earth mentions that faith is like a seed, and that good thoughts are like trees. The Buddha realized the paths to enlightenment sitting under a tree! Christ bled for all sins in a garden! There are more examples with which I am not intimately familiar!
Using this analogy, we can create the internal circumstances necessary to ‘cultivate’ the feelings and patterns we want in our life, and remove the nutrients in our mental soil that weeds seem to like. When you meditate, and have achieved a fair but ‘imperfect’ amount of presence, you will see it I think.
When you are relaxed and focused like that, your thoughts can become painfully clear. That which is usually in the background now screams at you, and you may find yourself saying “This is what I think all day? No wonder I feel like shit!”.
It is important not to judge Past You for your current mental circumstances. After all, he/she was only doing what they thought would make them happy. They were just wrong, not stupid or incompetent or hateful. Just wrong, which is no sin. Judging them now would do no good in fixing the problem, so why bother?
There is truly only one thing you can do to weed your mental garden. Be aware of it. Sit, and just notice your thoughts going by. Every once in a while, you will think something that you like, and that brings you peace, and your whole body will tell you that THIS is what you need to carry with you.
And you may try to, without presence for a while. And you then realize that you have taken a plant out of the garden before it was strong enough to re-root.
Let your good plants grow for a while, and then take them with you when you leave the garden. You needn’t garden all day, but ignoring the garden will most certainly lead to trouble.
All good things come to pass through sustainable effort, and whatever it takes to start setting up the small circumstances necessary to go back to your garden, well I would do that first… before all else in your financial, emotional, and practical life. It is the greatest gift I have ever been given, even though I have ignored it for a large part of my life.
You can sit, and garden, and that is just about all you need to feel real peace. Even if it is only for a moment a day, you can give this great gift to yourself. You are beautiful, and I am truly glad that you read this.