“I think; therefore I am.”
An exultant declaration by Rene Descartes – “I think; therefore I am” – claimed the foundation of existence through a method of 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 doubting your own beliefs is, in essence, believing in something ….simply that your beliefs, thoughts, and ideas are not to be trusted.
After reading “How To Create a Mind” by Ray Kurzweil, I became determined to master the mind. I found, though, the more I learn, the more and more confused I get. Undoubtedly, the sheer fact of one thinking suggests one exists, but how do we define our existence? And even further, how do we explain our thinking? The concept of existence can’t merely mean a state of consciousness. Can it? Though the definition of consciousness is filled with subjectivity, as are the most interesting phenomenons in our lives, the general consensus defines consciousness as “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 mindful 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. An awareness that is not easy to obtain, an awareness that’s devoid of all limiting factors, and an awareness nobody can really pinpoint on how to get.
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. Maybe 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 financially 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.
Amid 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. To make matters worse, this subsequently spiraled even further and further down 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 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 make 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 your values and beliefs, 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 sure 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.
The Power of Emotional Intelligence
Naturally, emotional intelligence begins in the mind. I may be presumptuous in saying that everyone has a scant idea of psychology, whether it’s personality disorders, cognitive therapy, or even the basic 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, current self, and 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 in nature (as far away from humans as possible).
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 going to fail. 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 crystal 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:
- What people, events, and experiences have had the most significant impact in shaping the person you have become?
- How do you frame your hardships and setbacks in your life?
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 they’re 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. Maybe then, we would rejoice in our struggles, setbacks, and failures, not wallow in self-pity. Perhaps our works 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.
The Shift in Perspective
“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 doesn’t matter what others think of you because it all just boils down to what you think they feel about 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. But external factors aren’t the only things that can change our perception. Re-training of the mind can work as well.
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 to become 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 struggling and tribulations are inevitable. Their purpose is the journey, not the result.
When you live a life based on your true self — driven by authenticity and values — you obtain a sense of self-awareness that makes even the most complex and unfathomable challenges navigable.
Everything in life is hierarchical
Taiichi Ohno was on to something with the “5 Why’s”. The idea behind it is, whenever you run into a problem (usually, 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 f*ck sh*t up.
But, I don’t think it’s limited to the realms of business. 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 damaged relationships with my father, my sister, and some of my best friends. Recovering from which was brutal for everyone.
Why, when I’m consciously 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 an entirely 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-inflicted suffering, believing the lies that anything good I have could immediately be taken away from me at any moment.
The thing is, our life experiences influence everything we do. Life is hierarchical. Our actions are manifestations of some feelings inside, and in part of making sense of the emotions, we can undergo self-destructive actions. And you try to give a logical reason to the actions: I was drunk, I was stressed, I’m just “crazy.” 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 doesn’t make sense and, worse, feels out of your control.
Instead of confronting the feeling of fear in a healthy way, you hide it from your awareness. You lack the ability to deal with your feelings. The root of the reason stems from a long, long time ago. It can be because of your parents, your childhood, old trauma, or a series of traumas.
Though I’ve now learned to confront this fear, something was still missing.
My Re-Discovery of Faith
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God — I was kind of a churchgoer growing up and indeed had moments throughout my life where my faith was more substantial 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 destroy me completely 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. But boy, has life never been so great because of it.
If you’re self-aware, it’s easier for you to understand other people and detect how they perceive you in return….or how you think they perceive you.