Are you ready to become something better? Something more than you are now? As we come to the end of 2018 are you feeling a little somewhat stuck? And not quite sure if you are coming or going?
What we’re discussing here is embarking on a journey of self-discovery and self-transformation that will leave you smarter, more confident, calmer, more capable and better able to conquer and succeed in every aspect of your life.
But we’re not going to take the path that most self-improvement guides take. We’re not interested in ‘five easy hacks’ or anything to that extent. Instead, we’re going to be diving into neuroscience, into philosophy and into ancient tradition in order to look at truly powerful and useful tools that can turn you into something more than you are now.
Read on if you are truly interested in beginning your personal evolution. Otherwise, feel free to turn away now.
Be Prepared to Leave the Old You Behind
The first thing that you need to do is to prepare to leave the old you behind. That might sound daunting or perhaps it sounds like meaningless hype.
But no: this is the first and most important step to becoming a better you and it’s one that you will find puts up a lot of resistance.
The problem is that many of us feel a certain attachment to who we think we are and to who other people think we are. We all have a sense of self that is based on our own opinions, beliefs and experiences and on the feedback we get from others.
And we jealously guard this sense of self. We cling onto the continuity of being ‘the same person’.
And other people will view it that way too. They’ll want us to behave in a certain way that is consistent with who they know us to be: whether they think of us as someone who is very serious or who is very jovial. Whether they think of us as a ‘Mummy’s boy/Daddy’s girl’ a homebody, an adventurer, or a ‘fitness freak’.
But what happens when the adventurer wants to settle down?
What happens when the jovial person wants to be serious for a change?
What happens when we want to change our mind on something that we used to feel passionately about?
This is when we meet resistance. There is immense pressure from other people for us to continue to act the way the believe we should. And we ourselves will often feel as though we are ‘betraying’ who we really are when we change.
This sense of self and our unwillingness to compromise that is actually a prison.
But change is not a bad thing. It is a very important thing in fact: adaptability is the key to our survival and our growth.
You won’t be truly free until you believe that you can change your ‘look’ on a whim, change your mind or just act ‘out of character’.
And the irony is: this is being truer to yourself than adhering to your own expectations of who you are.
So, this is the first thing I’m going to ask of you: be willing to let go of your old notion of ‘you’ and to embrace whatever you discover in the personal journey that follows. And remember this too: there is no biological continuity. Your brain is constantly changing shape and your cells are constantly being replaced. The entire notion of ‘you’ is an illusion.
Forgetting What Others Think
Just as you need to abandon that prison of wanting to act like ‘you’, it is also equally important that you abandon the concern for what others might think of you. This is something that dictates how many of us think and act and it can be a big issue when it comes to embracing our truest selves and our truest impulse.
The other day I was doing some filming for a client and the video I had to create involved jumping in a river in bare feet. As I did this, people couldn’t help but stare and I felt an intense sense of pressure: people did not like that I was acting strangely or that I was defying convention. It wasn’t amusing to them.
But this led me to think: why should they feel that way? For what reason do they have to know and understand what I’m doing? Why shouldn’t I be able to do something that they don’t understand, free from judgemental stares?
This is a big problem with the way that our society works and it’s something we should aim to fix: people should be able to act as they feel in the moment and as they want, not feel dictated to by others.
If you can let go of what other people think, then you will be freer to act the way that you truly want to and believe it or not, this is a huge advantage in most social situations. Not in the example I just described of course, but if you are trying to impress a date or if you’re trying to get a job, then not worrying about what others think will make you far more attractive.
Why? Because this lack of concern for your own reputation suggests that you aren’t trying to impress other people. And as soon as you stop trying to impress other people, this sends the message that you don’t need to impress them. This in turn makes them ask what it is that makes you so confident. Why are you so sure of yourself that you feel no natural pressure to impress? The assumed answer is that there must be something special or impressive about you that makes you the person that other people should be trying to impress.
When you act truly naturally and let go of your ‘inner Woody Allen’, this is when you become socially smooth, charismatic and charming.
Flow Like Water
What we’re describing here really, is a person who is completely in-tune with their emotions and their own impulses, rather than someone who is constantly trying to overcome a haze of self-doubt and of concern over what they should be doing.
Once you remove the anxieties that come from behaving the way you think you should and the way that others think you should, you can start to become in-tune with who you really are. You are clearing away the mental fog and beginning to more purely express yourself.
Someone who believed very strongly in this was Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee often discussed the importance of being true to yourself and being completely in-tune with your impulses and emotions: rather than acting in any way that was false or forced.
This, Bruce Lee believed, is the secret to tapping into your inner power and your greatest artistic beauty. One of his most famous quotes describes this concept eloquently:
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
Another, lesser known quote that expresses the same sentiment says:
“Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.”
In martial arts and in performance, acting in this way makes you far faster and more formidable because you are avoiding overthinking situations and instead acting purely on instinct and reaction. This state is described in martial arts as ‘mushin’ or ‘no mind’: where your honed instincts and reflexes allow you to fight without any conscious thought.
In sports and athletics this state is called ‘flow’ and is described by neuroscientists as ‘temporal hypofrontality’ meaning that the frontal regions of the brain are suppressed and only the more instinctive areas are lit up.
Something similar happens when we’re in an amazing conversation and we forget about the passage of time, or when we are playing an instrument in a band and we seem to almost become one with the music.
This is us at our very best and at our purest.
Knowing Your Purpose
One of the best ways to become more in-tune with who you are and to act more on your truest emotions and impulses, is to know your purpose and your life goal. Know your mission statement and what you wish to accomplish in life.
Most of us are living lives based almost entirely on the expectations of others and of our societies. We are striving toward traditional notions of ‘success’ even if we have no real interest in being ‘area manager’ and we spend our evenings collapsed from tiredness.
But what if you knew exactly what you wanted from life, exactly what you wanted to achieve and who you wanted to be. And what if you chased that vision with single-mindedness? Suddenly, you would start to care less about what others thought unless they could somehow help you on your way to your goal.
You’d be less self-conscious about your clothing, or your looks, because that would have nothing to do with your ambition or your drive.
And that motivation would pull you out of bed in the mornings, keep you focused and help you to act in a way that was much more in-keeping with who you really were, rather than who you needed to be for work or for your relationships.
Again, this will also make you a much more attractive, charismatic and inspiring individual. When we believe passionately in what we’re doing, it changes our entire body language as we gesticulate more, pace more and take up more space. Our body language and the words we are saying are completely congruent and this pulls other people in and inspires them in the same way.
Knowing your purpose makes you more interesting, a better leader and a more attractive individual.
How to Get Back Control
So how do you get to this point? It is all very well telling you to forget what others are thinking and to find your purpose… but what if this doesn’t come naturally after decades of living life based on the expectations of others?
The answer is meditation. Meditation can help you to gain greater insight as to who you are but more importantly, it can help you to learn to focus, to tune out from distracting thoughts or negative emotions and to be much more at peace and in tune with your truest self.
The simplest form of meditation is mindfulness. This means sitting somewhere comfortably with your eyes closed and watching your thoughts float past without engaging with them or pursuing them. Simply make a note of what is in your mind at that time but don’t let it change your emotional state.
Finding time for this practice might seem hard at first, but a good technique is to try meditating for just five minutes a day to begin with. Even this incredibly short amount of time can start to make a difference and you should find that you can always fit this somewhere into your routine.
And do make time for meditation because with that comes far greater focus, discipline and self-knowledge. These are the skills that you can then embrace in order to avoid those racing thoughts, those negative feelings and those distracting emotions.
Eventually, you can begin to be more mindful in everything that you are doing: as you learn to tune out distractions when you’re working and to recognize when you are acting in a forced or untrue manner.
Eventually, you will completely forget the need to remind yourself not to worry and not to stress as you end up entirely focused on what’s happening in the moment and how you should best react.
And with that, your transformation will be complete. You’ll be a much truer version of yourself, one who isn’t afraid to speak their mind or to take matters into their own hands. One who knows what they want and who walks with a confident indifference to petty concerns.