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Want a Rewarding Job? Then Work on Yourself
Saint Augustine identified the problem with change in the fourth century in Confessions. His observation: “The mind gives an order to the body and is at once obeyed, but when it gives an order to itself, it is resisted.”
Think about that, you want to move your shoulder, you do. Leg not comfortable, you cross them. Fingers tired from clicking keys, flex them. The list is endless.
And I would guarantee that not once did your shoulder, leg or fingers resist the change.
Self-help, betterment and improvement books and other media sell well, so we know there is a desire in people to change. Or they see a therapist or counselor to help them changes themselves. They might seek help to:
- Lose weight
- Stop procrastinating
- Improve your relationships
- Become more positive
Again, the list is endless and personal. What any of them will have in common is that you have the ability to change those aspects, behaviors, or thoughts that hold you back from being successful in life. So why do we then have to spend millions of dollars on self-help books designed to motivate us to make fundamental changes in our self that would improve or make our lives more comfortable?
Who is This Self that Needs Improving?
Self has roots in religion, philosophy and psychology. In each of these fields, self is the observer and the participant.
- We do something, we judge it.
- We don't do something and we criticize the actions.
- We strive for a better self based on laws, rules and moral codes.
- When we fall short, we condemn our self.
- When we attain the objective, we feel proud of our self.
The definitions of self are interesting, as well:
1. The total, essential, or particular being of a person; the individual
2. The essential qualities distinguishing one person from another; individuality
3. One's consciousness of one's own being or identity; the ego:
4. One's own interests, welfare, or advantage: thinking of self alone.
So, can self change self? Perhaps with guidance it can. Perhaps with motivation it will. Perhaps with favorable outcome for change, it will continue improving.
It is perhaps because we don't always respond to the idea of changing certain aspects of our self, unlike the shoulder, leg and fingers, which are after all, yet more aspects of self.
Beyond the Speechfiying
When I got into recovery, twenty-seven years ago, I was told that everything about myself would have to change. Well, that was daunting, discouraging and not going to happen.
So, I risked asking in a recovery support meeting what were the fundamental character defects that I needed to change to be a better person. Where was the information in our recovery literature that gave me a comprehensive list of aspects to alter?
I got laughed at and told, “You know what they are.”
I politely stated that if I knew what they were, I wouldn’t be asking, and then a kindly woman told me we would have coffee after the meeting. She informed me that beneath my actions and reactions were character defects that fueled and ruled me. Then she asked me to think about the qualities within me that caused me problems. Now we were getting somewhere.
I could see where these defects of character or self-defeating behaviors created a selfish, self-centered, self-important, self-righteous, self-aggrandizing individual.
And within that mix of emotions, thoughts and attitudes, I discovered that I didn't like myself.
Did you find some Character Defects, Self-defeating Behaviors or Negative Aspects on the chart that you would like to change?
Self Meets the Mentor
I met the man who would change the course of my life when I had about ten month in recovery. He was a 75-year old Native American by the name of Grey Hawk.
He had 34 years in recovery, knew the recovery literature and its history, and practiced his beliefs in conjunction with the spiritual principles of recovery steps.
He had asked me to read a paragraph in a recovery book and we made plans to discuss the paragraph over coffee the following day.
I of course, read the entire chapter and when he asked me what I had learned in the first section, I wanted to impress him with my comprehension so started discussing the merits of the whole chapter.
He let me “enlighten” him for about 15 minutes before he interrupted me. Then he informed me of the approximately 10 crucial concepts, words and/or phrases that I had not discussed in the first paragraph.
He told me: “Whatever you know has value; whatever you don’t know might have more value and worth, please follow the directions.”
Illusions of Self Fueled the Self-defeating Behaviors
What fueled and prompted this seeming display of intellect and comprehension on my part was the fear that my drug and alcohol use had so drastically impaired me that I would not be able to comprehend even simple recovery writings.
I was also afraid that if I wasn’t the “best student” he had, that he would find someone to take my place. Although he was incredibly popular and a sought after speaker at meetings, he didn’t coach a lot of people, and I felt privileged to work with him.
I also felt guilty that I was in the situation that I was in and believed that I had to recover quickly. I had squandered enough personal resources in and on my addiction. I harmed my family and children, and I falsely believed that the sooner I got all of the materials read, digested, and put them into action, the sooner I would recover.
When he asked me about my character defects and self-defeating behaviors in the experience and I told him, he laughed and said, “At my age, it might be okay to rush; after all, how much more time do I have on the planet.”
You on the other hand need to take the time to read, understand, comprehend, and then, and only then, put it into action.” The words rang true then, just as they do now.
Self-serving is Under the Self-defeating
Grey Hawk told me that if people don't address the underlying self-serving motives for their behaviors, actions and thought, there may only be surface change.
For example, we all know that lying and stealing probably gets us less than favorable results and outcomes in our lives. Although there are laws against stealing, religions have rules governing it, and most people acknowledge that it is bad, these actions take place daily.
Even if the individual stops lying and stealing, the underlying character flaws are still present within the individual. These character defects or self-defeating behaviors, thoughts and actions will consciously or unconsciously motivate the person, and they will continue to get unwanted results. There are many underlying reasons that people steal.
- One may steal because they are jealous of what someone else has, or because they are greedy.
- One steals money so they don't face consequences for non-payment of a debt.
- Another steals because they feel entitled to have what they want, when they want it and think that they are deserving of having someone's possessions.
- Someone else may take something that does not belong to them to inconvenience someone else – revenge is a motivation for that type of action.
You can see that the why or motive for theft is different for each person, yet each is motivated to get or avoid something for the self.
Look at your Predictable Self-serving Reactions
Say your typical response to the messy house after a tired and stressful day at work is to complain, become a martyr, and lament about all you do for the family.
You glare and remind them in that reproachful voice that all you ask is that the kids clean up their stuff.
Talking at them the whole time you are going to the kitchen, where you intentionally or unintentionally yank open the cabinet doors to get plates on the table.
If you take a deep breath, enlist their help with dinner in exchange for your help in picking up the homework papers on the floor, backpacks in the hall, and water bottles on the side table, it can diffuse the tension, shame and get both things done.
It is a compromise; it is a new way of negotiating cooperation, and it may just demonstrate that your behaviors, actions, and thoughts are different.
I have had children tell me that they “know” that parents are supposed to:
- Feed their children
- Wash their clothes
- Take them to games and practices
- Sign papers from school
- Buy them what they need
- Tuck them in at night after a story
- Get a band-aid if I skin my knee
This explanation from a 5 year old; not a brat, not a spoiled child, not a disturbed child, not a child with any negative label, just a regular 5 year old explaining what she knew parents were supposed to do. Some of our concepts of self originate in childhood. Each item that parents are supposed to do make the child's life easier.
While it is legitimate for a child to cry when they hurt, they may discover that crying in a store gets them the toy. If a child learns that manipulation gets them what they want, they will probably continue with this habit until it no longer works.
They may not comprehend that their parents are giving in out of embarrassment, only that they got what they wanted; or self pleasure.
Carrying Childhood Behaviors into Adulthood
When some people carry that self-serving manipulation over into adulthood by looking sad, or crying to manipulate a situation, it may mean that people feel sorry for them and do not hold them accountable.
There will be others that feel sorry for you and have pity about your circumstances and give you things that you are capable of getting for yourself.
Yes, it's nice when people help us or do nice things for us, but if our self-defeating behaviors motivated our actions to get when we wanted, it is still just self-serving, dishonest and can create a false sense of self-importance that all of these people do your bidding.
Why, When, How to Change the Self
If you've like me, I need a blueprint for why, how and when. In early recovery, I knew why I needed to change and when. What I didn't know was how and what. My next assignment from Grey Hawk was to use a dictionary and know what behaviors might be considered character defects, self-defeating behaviors, or negative aspects.
Since this was 1988, there were not all of the Internet resources for finding information on Character Defects or Character Building. For this reason, it was not an easy search. However, if we are motivated to find answers, we do. I started with the 7 Deadly Sins. Although not a religious person, I knew that they couldn’t possibly be productive.
I had gone back to school in my late 30’s as a psychology major, so I had a few textbooks lying around as well. That gave me more qualities that were self-destructive and self-defeating.
When Grey Hawk and I met the following week, he thought the negative list very inclusive and assigned me the next part. I was to decide what would be:
- A balancing action, thought or attitude
- What was the opposite quality from the character defects, self-defeating behaviors, and negative aspects.
I got out the trusty dictionary and used references from other books, like a Thesaurus, and found the qualities.
Better Qualities are Already within Us; We Just Have to Use Them
I was genuinely surprised to find admirable qualities within myself, even if I had not used them in my use. I could reference a time on the playground when I had been caring and compassionate towards a little girl that was picked on. I made a decision to play with her instead of jumping on the bandwagon and bullying her.
I realized that I did have some humility when I listened to the woman after the meeting or was patient with someone just leaving detox and still foggy as they struggled to read before the meeting.
I saw that I wasn’t going to have to learn near as many “good” qualities as I had originally thought.
However, I was going to have to use the ones I had and add a few more.
Examples of Better Qualities
Did you find Admirable Qualities, Spiritual Principles, or Positive Aspects that You Have and Can Use
Kitaro: Stopping my Inner Noise to Reflect
Choices: Apples or Oranges? Self-defeating Behavior Admirable Qualities?
If apples and oranges are both fruits, then Character Defects or Admirable Qualities are similar; both are behaviors that you can choose. You can operate from character defects and self-defeating behaviors, or you can operate from admirable qualities, spiritual principles, or positive aspects.
Just like the fruits, all are readily available; it’s your choice which you choose to eat and which you elect to operate from in your life.
Learn to Mentally Flex and Change
Human nature is quite flexible, capable of evolving one way or another. The naturalist and biologist Stephen J. Gould has argued “flexibility is the hallmark of human evolution,” that in a sense we are “permanent children.”
He explains that “in other mammals, exploration, play, and flexibility of behavior are qualities of juveniles, only rarely of adults,” but suggests that the process of natural selection has made such qualities — especially mental flexibility — “a fundamental process in our evolution.”
At the End of the Day
Reflection on your actions should become a working part of your day; it will help you see where you have been successful and what qualities you used to accomplish that day's goal of personal change.
- Starting a journal helps the narrative person track their progress.
- Creating a spreadsheet can help a task oriented person record theirs.
Likewise, if your day has not been entirely productive or you have a lot of adverse reactions to your life situations, see if you are operating more from Character Defects and Self-defeating behaviors.
I also favor some music that puts me in a reflective mood. It forces me to focus on the sounds and removes the white noise in my head. After listening, I can concentrate on my actions for the day and make choices.
The following day, I can choose to stay the same or change depending on my self-evaluation from the night before.
Tag-line: Writing, sharing and growing together.
© 2013 Marilyn L Davis