“I think; therefore I am.”
The phrase, dubbed by Rene Descartes, purported the foundation of existence in perceived radical doubt. That “perception is neither an act of vision, nor of touch, nor of imagination...but only an intuition of the mind, which may be imperfect and confused." And to a degree….I agree...
But, is the cogito truly true, in its purest sense?
Can the fundamental principles of worldview or norms of rational thinking be nullified to this methodological skepticism?
I have no clue.
But I think doubting your own beliefs is, in essence, believing in something ….simply that your beliefs can’t be trusted.
Though I’ve been fascinated by the brain since I first read “How To Create a Mind” by Ray Kurzweil more than 5 years ago, I get more and more confused the more I learn. Surely, the sheer fact of one thinking suggests one exists, but how do we define our existence? And even further, how do we define our thinking? Merely the concept of existence can’t simply mean a state of consciousness. Though the definition of consciousness is loaded with a lot of subjectivity, as are the most interesting phenomenons in our lives, there is a general consensus of a broad definition in that “anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness”.
So yes, we can be aware of our environment. We can be aware of events that take place. We may, at times, even be aware of the motive behind our actions. But the real inhibitor of existence, as I’ve brutally come to discover and most would probably attest to, is a lack of self-awareness. And I’d be keen on asking Descartes in today's age his view of self awareness - the backbone of philosophy. An awareness that is not easy to obtain. An awareness that’s devoid of all limiting factors. An awareness, nobody can really pinpoint on how to obtain.
Because self-awareness isn’t static. Or is it?
The past couple of years, with the last 12 months being the most profound, I’ve been on an insatiable journey of growth. Growth in the professional sense, but most importantly, growth in the personal sense as well. And, although I’m still far from having mastered this art, I’ve recognized in the most subtle ways, most people don’t focus on self development. Perhaps they’re detached. Perhaps they’re unaware. In any case, a majority of people don’t invest in themselves.
It was astounding at first but who am I to judge? It took me delving into an emotionally and fiscally unstable stage of my life to realize this. I used to hate myself. I was a royal fuck up making massive mistakes left and right. I felt enslaved in a job I hated, a failure in the eyes of many for reasons too exhaustive to mention, a complete disaster in creating, maintaining, and growing relationships, financially inept and a rampant partier quickly spiraling down a dangerous slope.
It was Entropy’s finest work of art.
In the midst of life’s chaos, I was constantly on the hunt for stability. A way to control the things around me. And although I can’t distinguish the exact moment or the specific trigger that prompted it, at some point, I found, the more I tried to control anything, the more I failed and subsequently spiraled even further and further to the point where I got so sick and tired of being so damn sick and fucking tired of it.
“You can’t control the circumstances you’re in but you can control how you react to it”
Have you ever been told that? I have and I find it really irresponsible for anyone to give such advice without providing a manual because it’s not as simple as that.
In reality, it’s not the reactions you control per se. It’s your thoughts and the perspective you associate with it that needs the controlling.
Still, no easy feat.
I started asking, why am I in a job I once loved, but now loathe? Why do others view me as a failure? (which they don't, it was simply my convoluted perception that they did). Why do I sabotage every relationship I get involved in? And why do I compensate with substances that, in the long term, only makes it worse?
Feeling lost, or in other words, lacking self-awareness plagues everyone at times - some more often than others. But until you get to know yourself. Until you get to know what your values and beliefs are can you actually begin to gain some form of stability.
How well do you know yourself? How deeply do you know your aspirations and motives behind your actions? Many people assume they have a healthy dosage of self-awareness but I assure you, you don’t. I was certain I did. I had my life perfectly designed. Until I slowly, discretely, slipped to the bottom, left with no other choice but to embark on a transcendent journey of understanding who I really am.
I would soon discover the need for emotional intelligence.
Naturally, it all begins in the mind. I may be presumptuous in saying that everyone has a scant idea of psychology. Whether it’s biases, the power of halo-effect or even the steps to our decision making. But reading up on psychology won’t result in an understanding of self-awareness. Self-awareness requires a deep understanding of your past self, your current self, and your ideal future self.
How do we obtain a deep understanding of ourselves?
Just so happens to be one of my favorite activities….reflection.
Reflection can take various forms. Some write in a journal, some pray, some go on long walks or jogs. I do a combination of praying and sitting at the Hudson waterfront looking at the NYC skyline because how could you not…
Experiences shape our perception. So we have to reflect on how our perception shapes us.
Screw your IQ, if you have a nill EQ, you're set up for failure. Though smarts are nice, you won't get far without having the ability to understand your emotional state. The first step in gaining a high EQ, is understanding your values. Surprisingly, this isn't easy. My values went through a few iterations but as soon as I got really clear on what I stand for, what my non-negotiables are, what I viscerally believe in, my surrounding environment was irrelevant. If you don't know where to begin, ask yourself the right questions.
What is most important to you? It's a vague question and vague for a reason. Learn your life’s narrative:
As Aldous Huxley warned in A Brave New World, the object of life is not happiness. Those moments of happiness we so tightly cling to are rare and fleeting. People hold to those happy experiences as if their designed to last forever. They’re not. They are moments with a finite existence. But if those moments had a bigger meaning — a purpose, a vocation, an ideal, a fight or a love, then perhaps we’d be truly living. Perhaps then, we would rejoice in our struggles, setbacks, and failures, not wallow in self-pity. Perhaps our struggles hold a greater purpose too big to fathom for the unaware. Because chasing ephemeral satisfaction only leaves you hollow.
Life without suffering is worthless. No one makes it out alive anyway, so what’s the point of dodging inevitable tribulations? Aldous Huxley advocated a need to shift our perspective as such. Because “suffering and success go together” — Edward Judson.
“I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am” - Thomas Cooley
In layman's words, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what others think of you, because it all just boils down to what you think they think of you.
Which, in theory, and practice, can flip at the drop of a hat. A quiet comment here, a subtle remark there, a tumultuous blow out over there and BOOM our perception is altered. Our perception can even be altered with no external factors involved, just a simple training of the mind.
And when you’re able to master your mind, well, that my friends, is a game changer.
Everybody wants to be a billionaire. I don’t know a single person who would say no to a billion dollars. But not everyone wants to undergo the process it takes in becoming a billionaire.
Do you want the result or the process?
Most of society just wants the result, the fleeting moment of “happiness”, because the journey is brutal. Those that chase the process know that suffering and tribulations are inevitable. Their purpose, in it itself, is the journey, not the end result.
When you live a life based on your true self — authentically and value-driven — you obtain a sense of self-awareness that makes even the most complex and unfathomable challenges navigable.
Taiichi Ohno was really on to something with the “5 Why’s”. The idea behind it is, whenever you run into a problem (typically, a technical problem), you want to get to the root of what caused it to fail. By asking a series of “why’s”, you’ll discover that behind every seemingly technical problem, is actually a human problem.
In other words, humans fuck shit up.
But, I don’t think it’s limited to the realms of business. In fact, I apply the 5 Whys in nearly every facet of my life.
Revisiting a question above — why do I sabotage every relationship I’m in? A question I’ve contemplated for many years. And not just relationships in my dating life. I have flat out sabotaged relationships with my father, my sister and some of my best friends. Recovering from which was brutal for everyone.
Why, that when I’m subconsciously aware of what I’m doing is not who I want to be and goes against what I value, do I continue doing it? Why, like an addict, do I acknowledge what I’m doing is unhealthy and inevitably know that I will destroy whatever good I might have? Why do I self-medicate the fear with anxiety driven acts that lead to soul-crushing shame? Why do I find myself in situations I know I’m wrong in and why do I realize it only when it’s too late?
It’s almost as if it’s a completely different self who is doing this despite me. It hurts me and invokes extreme feelings of guilt. As a result, the cycle gets RESTARTED. The cycle of self-torture knowing that anything good I have could immediately be taken away from me at any moment.
The thing is, everything we do is influenced by our life experiences. Life is hierarchical. Our actions are manifestations of some feelings inside and this loop of self-destructive actions is enacted in part of making sense of the feelings. And you try to give a logical reason to the actions: I was drunk, I was stressed, I’m just “crazy” as they say. You can’t make sense of the feeling so you mask it with a “logical” reason but the inner chaos of your contradictory emotions about your actions still don’t make sense and worse, feels out of your control.
Instead of confronting with the feeling of fear in a healthy way, you hide it from your awareness. You lack the ability to deal with your feelings. The reason is rooted from a long time ago. It can be because of your parents, your childhood, an old trauma or a series of traumas.
Though I’ve now learned to confront this fear, something was still missing.
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God — I was kind of a churchgoer growing up and surely had moments throughout my life where my faith was stronger than before. But it wasn’t real.
It wasn’t real because I wanted to call the shots in my life.
But that was the problem — I can’t control my life. The more I tried to control it, the more I drifted to the point of being completely empty.
I was miserable.
My journey to God was no smooth sail. In fact, I’d say God had to completely destroy me to save me. Once I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ, my life was fundamentally different. And truth be told, life has never been better.
If God is for us, who can possibly be against us?
Being self-aware is absolutely, 100% critical in living the life you seek. My journey to discovering it was excruciatingly painful for myself and the loved ones around me (sorry!!!). But boy has life never been so great because of it.
If you are self-aware, it is easier for you to understand other people and detect how they perceive you in return….or how you think they perceive you.