Monday, August 18, 2014

Perpetuum Mutato

Change. A constant in our lives. We are mostly aware of the unavoidability of it, but to which level of awareness are we willing to adopt its notion? Or, to rephrase that: to what extent are we willing to endure temporal unease to achieve long-termed improvement? For years now, I keep seeking out what I dislike about myself and do my best to overcome it. It is not an easy task. Not because change is hard (it's inevitable), but because it just might be one of the bigger challenges to understand how it goes around. There are a few ideas I managed to gather that might shed at least a bit of light on how to bravely let ourselves immerse into the flow of everlasting transition.

There is this psychotherapeutic theory of which I'm particularly fond of. It is called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. It has many aspects which might or might not be beneficial to a therapy, but what I'd like to focus on here are some of the particularly defined ideas within it: irrationality and hedonism.

According to REBT, irrationality can be divided into three "absolute demands" through which we burden our own lives. These are the demands toward ourselves (I must satisfy people), others (people must satisfy me) and circumstances (things must go as I imagined). As You can see, "must" is the central term of irrationality. We cannot demand anything from an unpredictable life. Expecting anyone or anything to function according to an indispensable plan is ludicrous at best. It should be an imperative to understand how a moderate aspiration (which is non-absolute and accordant to wishes instead of demands) can improve our existence.

REBT also presumes that all humans are hedonists by nature, and it distinguishes two types of philosophies in pleasure seeking: short-term and long-term hedonism. The first one emphasizes our keenness to feel fulfilled here and now. This is the over-popularized "YOLO" approach, which is characterized by impulsiveness, a low tolerance for frustration, and leads to self-harming behavioral patterns more often than the vibrant catchphrase would favor us to admit. It is irrational even by nihilistic standards (as even if there is nothing of value and significance, our time here shouldn't be filled with self-imposed suffering).

Long-term hedonism, however, stresses the importance of delayed achievement of desired goals. This can ensure a more lasting satisfaction of individuals in Their future. By acting in this fashion, we don't care about temporal impulses that much, but rather build up a discipline which is the main tool to get where we want to. Essentially, people who consciously engage in aimed activities to fulfill certain wishes are more prone to live a principally happy life.

In this light, the idea of "living for the moment" becomes dangerous. People have the tendency to equalize it with "living for today". Now, living for today isn't necessarily bad. YOLO can give a courageous way to approach life. When it becomes a vicious trap is the instant it begins promoting a constantly reckless lifestyle. We have a certain ability by which we know that there is a tomorrow awaiting us with consequences to our decisions today.

the Dalai Lama is the new drummer of Slipknot

We tend to reshape the meanings of ideas we encounter into such that gratify our self-perceived sense of well-being. Most of the time, people feel uncomfortable with critically examining Their dispositions, let alone trying to change them. Resistance to change is the act of opposing modifications that can alter the ego's illusion of a status quo. This is actually a healthy and natural process, which guards us against threatening influence. But when does this protective mechanism become the threat in itself? In my opinion, this fine line of realization is the hardest step to take towards change.

We learn to follow certain patterns and feel no need to revision or question them once they are in our reactionary arsenal. I always thought that no person could be blamed for Their misfortune until They come to realize its nature. Only then They are able to conceptualize this dysfunctional state in Their life. From that moment on, it's Their choice whether They want to change or accept defeat. From then on, They can be blamed for Their misfortune. And that's why the first step is the hardest. You simply cannot grasp something if You have no basis off which to start.

Nevertheless, with an open mind we can begin to see patterns. We can retrace the roots of our behavior to the past. It's not unusual to see ourselves doing the exact same thing we took an oath never to do. We become our enemies, so to speak. We haven't seen any better. We just imitate and acquire knowledge.

Once the hardest step is taken, we are ready to pursue change and ascend to a desired goal. Both of these can be unclear at first glance. Why so? Well, the case is most usually that we don't actually want to change. We feel comfortable in our short-termed hedonism of what our habits ensure us. We don't want to sacrifice anything from which we have now for some vague idea that seems more and more overwhelming every time we think about it.

Here lies the root of the problem: to accept change, we let go of certain parts of who we are. This happens either we want it or refuse it. We change, no matter what. Why not do it consciously? To make a shift from what we are to what we want to be, some routines are to be transmuted. This is not easy. We like what we do – that's why we do it! Even if, in a long-termed sense, what we do is, in fact, harmful to us and the people around.

When we really want to do something, we find ways to do it. The path doesn't matter that much. The method at hand is just a transitory tool. When we only want something, but don't want to do it, then we produce ingenious excuses. In such cases, we lack a reason behind our wishes. We want to be happy, but don't want to suffer through a change to get to be happy.

thinking cat
So, to learn how to get filthy rich in a week, I actually need to spend twenty years getting good at getting rich?

Alright, so we realized that we have an obstacle in our lives, and we are willing to accept that we might want to put effort into making some beneficial progress done. Do we even know where we want to be by the end? That can be scary. The goal, if we can even see it at this point, can be too large to handle. The desired result might be something we have no competencies for to achieve even in small terms, not to mention that what we expect from ourselves is way bigger... Don't mind that. We can find the way, and it will lead us to our goal. The step to be taken now is to sacrifice something. Giving up a bit of what we perceive with that prescient ability of ours I mentioned before: time. We can sacrifice time from what we do every day to implement willful change. Less time reading blogs, more time reading up on our problem (unless of course the blog is relevant). In the Information Age, we have vast knowledge a few clicks or slides away. So start looking up. Ask. Learn. Practice.

We don't have to meditate every day. We can just to meditate today. We don't have to become a programmer. We can take only a lesson from C# today. We can't transform into Eric Clapton, but we can learn to play a few accords by the next hour. We don't have to become the peacemaker of our family by the end of the week. What we can do is tracing our reactions to the tension around us. There is no need to be perfect, as we can't get anywhere near being truly good without making mistakes first.

The following habituation period is laborious and it might even appear to be in vain. That's because we are used to wanting it all, and to want it now, without deeper or prolonged effort. We shouldn't expect huge and rapid change. The key is in the slight variances. Moreover, we rather remedy the symptoms of a cause than the cause itself. Apparently the latter demands more sacrifice. It requires repeated focus. The thing about conscious change is that it takes a decision to be made over and over again, refining it for a subtle bit each time. In the end, isn't it less of a sacrifice than living away a life, while accepting whatever excuses we fabricate?

When we decide to change a certain behavior, we will see ourselves repeat it countless times before realizing what we are doing. Then, we will see it coming, but only to do it again, so many times over... An opportunity will occur when we'll eventually be able to stop ourselves, and implement the new way we want to react. But we might succumb back and redo the old pattern. We might even justify this regression. Yet over time, we will cease with the old – only for the price of great frustration. For example, I used to eat the whole pizza every time I encountered one. But the last slice usually proved to be too much for pleasant digestion, therefore I suffered. Can You guess how much time I needed to recondition my behavior so I don't eat the last slice if it would simply be more than enough?
Two years.

Finally, the day will come when we won't even think of how we used to be, but have the new demeanor fully integrated. Only in retrospective will it become obvious how easy one of these long journeys was. Because the journey is not for the goal, as You might have already heard. It's in the steps we make along. The goal is unforeseeable and unpredictable, just as we are.

Once we achieve our first noticeable result, we might also realize that we have to do this process all over and over again. If we wish to thrive, that is. Change is feared today as if it should be shameful to throw away obviously disadvantageous beliefs and routines. The one true constant is change, and we are part of it, whether we like it or not. Just think three or five years back, or when You were a kid... I'm sure You changed a lot since. As my dear friend once said: "if I met myself from ten years ago, we would probably end up fighting to the death." Seems to be an odd choice, for sure.

Here's the ultimate catch (in case You think the contents of this post are worthy of Your further attention): to incorporate all of the described into Your lifestyle, You can to go through the very same processes. This might be change for You, which shouldn't be different than any other.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ivan; it's me, Susan. :) I just have to tell You that this post is exceptionally well written and absolutely enthralling. The links within are perfect.

    I'm having a hard time coming up with the words to express the effect this had on me. It kicked me in the butt, lifted me up, gave me hope, took away an awful lot of ... what? ... fear of failure? I'm seriously psyched by Your thoughts! I'm spinning a bit! Haha! I will be rereading this frequently.

    I truly am excited to connect with You. One of the many wondrous benefits of the internet. I did violate my internet usage time already but have decided that reading these words tonight, my first night of the best of my life, has been so beneficial that I am not counting this as part of my self-imposed limits. In fact, I plan to read it a bunch more times!

    Thank You so very much for sharing Your thoughts here in Your Assylum. You can count me as a serious fan and frequent visitor.

    Much Love. <3