My whole thinking and writing is based around the idea that one can better oneself and others.
Through adoption of different mindsets and different habits, one can have a better life and help others have a better life.
So, a really interesting question to me is: Why is it so hard for people to change?
Most people stay the same. Most overweight people, will stay overweight for the rest of their lives. The one fat guy who becomes a marathon runner is an exception, clearly not the rule. The same goes for smokers, alcoholics, homeless people, poor people, lazy people, etc. I’m not judging and I’m aware that I’m massively simplifying complex, multi-level issues. It’s just that most of the described people would LIKE to have it different. They would like to be slim, rich and healthy. Or more precisely: slimmer, richer and healthier than they are.
So why is it then that it’s such a tough task to accomplish those goals and actually change? Is it a lack of technique, road maps, guidance, support, encouragement?
I believe it’s this:
Energy prevention is Identity prevention.
We develop a sense of Identity early on in life. A sense of who we are and who we are not. The world is very confusing and thereby threatening. Noone really has an idea of what’s going on. How should I live? What’s considered a good life? Should I marry? Should I follow the rules? Is it morally ok to get a divorce? Or is it immoral, but then ok to cheat, because something in me feels like doing so? Am I allowed to make mistakes? What should I eat? Meat is delicious, but is it ethical? Is vegetarianism more ethical? What about dairy and gluten? Should I be concernced about ethics or exclusively about my health regardless? What profession should I learn? Is a degree necessary? How much wealth is acceptable, how much is greedy? What are the safe bets in life? Can I trust in the social contracts given to me by my parents? Why are there so many invisible scripts? What happens after death? Are the Hindus right? How come, Jesus is the good shepherd and I’m a sheep? Why aren’t we equal? Is there heaven, rebirth, oblivion? Just darkness? What should I believe?
The world is full of confusion, so it’s really essential to minimize those somewhat unanswerable conflicts wherever possible, in order to not stagnate in shock and just die. One effective way of conflict minimization is a strong, rigid sense of Identity. A mental home next to the physical home of the body. This is who I am. If I start thinking, most things are confusing and scary, so let’s at least be clear about me and know me in and out. Arbitrary dislike of cinnamon at age 7 then turns into a part of your Identity and it’s being broadcasted wherever it fits into the social context. “No, I don’t like cinnamon. Thank you! Never liked it.” – Oh, ok. This is WHO he is.
Based on this understanding it’s obvious why most diets and attempts to change fail. They try to change the world while the Identity of the person exposed to it remains the same. Being overweight and lazy is part of one’s Identity, so simply adopting a new diet CAN’T be successful, because Identity is a deeper behavioral layer and it strives to align reality with its beliefs and structure.
I remain to be a fat Identity and just change the world is what most people do. I keep the Identity of a smoker and just change environmental, external factors. It won’t work. In order to get anywhere in life and make sense of things too big for us, we minimize confusion and an essential part of that is alignment of perceived Reality and Identity. If I have the Identity of a smoker and try to stop smoking, I have to BECOME a non-smoker on the Identity level. “I don’t smoke” has to be in alignment with “This is who I am”.
Identity change is a riskful, but possibly very rewarding strategy. The currency demanded is energy and that’s where it stops for most people. The reptile, loss-averse parts of the human brain are very convincing by stating “Look, we’ve survived so far on the current programming. Why would we change a running system and risk the chance of not surviving any further? Let’s just play it safe and stay the same. We don’t like cinnamon.”
It’s a repeating, self-perpetuating cycle. We attract life circumstances that are in alignment with our Identities in the first place, because only those circumstances make sense to us, but in return they are also reinforcing what we believe about ourselves already. It’s a preservation trap. A successful strategy for survival in a dangerous, unexplicable world with scarce ressources. Sure.
But as we have come to understand: survival is not enough anymore.
In order to fully grasp the mechanisms of this trap we have to dig a little deeper and ask ourselves, what exactly is it that we derive a sense of Identity from?
Is it the action itself? E. g. smoking, eating junk food, being lazy and not doing the work? Or is it the emotions attached to those actions? The feeling we get from smoking, eating junk food and being lazy?
There is a repeating, self-imposed narrative structure to all events providing a sense of Identity.
The baseline of that narative we interpret onto our lives’ events is guilt. If you’re not a narcissist, guilt is the main dominant identificator of self (if you are one, you wouldn’t know, but in that case the identificator would be shame). And it’s by design. We grow up in a world of conditional love, performance-related intimacy and signs of liking. If you do your homework, the teacher likes you and means well. If you are a good child according to the expectations of your parents, you are rewarded with love and intimacy. Do the dishes and Mommy likes you. Become a crackhead and Mommy doesn’t approve of you as a person. Play by the rules and obey to authorities and all is good. Step out of line and we don’t like you anymore. In evolutionary terms “We don’t like you anymore” equals death by the way. Love is conditional. And because humans aren’t perfectly functioning robots, they make mistakes and fuck things up. So there is a vast amount of incidents where conditional love is being taken away from you in your upbringing, because you did not meet the expectations of the people usually providing that love. This results in a misattribution of emotions away from the message and onto the messenger. Let’s say you’re in puberty and you didn’t wash the dishes. Because of that your parents don’t allow you to go to a party. The mental conclusion from this is, the people that put you into the world, don’t allow you to have fun, because you are a bad person. So you feel guilty. And because young people make a lot of mistakes and older people tend to have twisted expectations, most of us experience a lot of guilt during our identify forming years from early on. Before we even learn to walk or talk. All of a sudden we are adults by society’s definition and the only thing that allows us to feel who we are is guilt. So we go on to create circumstances and attract things that make us feel that guilt. We go on to EXACTLY not change. Society via authorities, media, advertising and brands tells you that change is desirable and achievable, so we buy into that illusion but with a hidden agenda. Not to change, but to not change, because only that provides the emotion we’re closest to, the prison cell we call home: guilt. New Year’s Resolutions, buying diet books, signing up for a gym membership, quitting one’s job, breaking up with your partner and moving to another city don’t have the end-goal of actually achieving those things in mind. They are just intermediate steps to the end-goal of failing at exactly those things, so that you stay who you are. Because: what else would there be left, if you couldn’t even rely on who you are?
So for most people, it’s not about change, but the illusion of change and the resulting inducing of guilt after a failed change. “I don’t want to change into a slim, new person. I want to believe that I can change and after I failed to do so, I feel guilty, so that I can sense who I am. Then I repeat the cycle, because I actually like to sense who I am.”
That’s the narrative and most techniques, most road maps, most self-help books focus on the Rise, the illusion of change perceived as possible because of misunderstanding the narrative. They think, if the method gets more fine-tuning, the climax will be *change* instead of *failure*. But the narrative is already laid out. The climax HAS to be *failure*, because the Identity providing element is the then following guilt. A fairy tale doesn’t end half way through. A climax equals a crisis, a questioning of the status quo. Fairy tales don’t end in crisis, they end, when things have returned to normal.
A more effective way to change would then be to focus on the Identity providing element, which is the falling action, the realization of failure that makes guilt arise. People wonder why the more strict and disciplined they try, the surer and more expectant their failure will be. Because the falling action is the linear opposite of the rising action.
If the actual thing that helps me to understand myself and not be lost is at the end of the falling action (in most people’s cases: guilt), then the harder I try, the harder I fall. The more the rising action is distanced from my self-image, the more I have to indulge and give in during the falling action to get back to “normal”. The failure-climax is usually achieved through an “Implosion of Superego”. The moral instance of my persona completely snaps, so that the id can run wild and bring back balance/alignment of the outside reality and the internal image in context to it.
So, what’s the solution?
Focus on guilt.
Why is it there? Why does it stay there? Why do you need it? Why do you start a diet, just to icecream binge 7 days later? Why do you sign up for a gym, just to not go the next year?
It’s replacing guilt with its polar opposite and turning the whole thing from black to white. That’s the only way. Noone HAS to run his/her Identity on guilt, but most people simply do because of arbitrary upbringing.
It’s a decision. It’s a “THIS is who I am”-process. It’s tough, mental work, sweat and hustle. It’s energy expending and facing the risk of death. The rising action is not important, meaning the technique, the method, the road map, as long as it’s not initiated as a precursor to inducing guilt.
It’s obviously no magic pill and pretty simple advice in contrast of the foregone explanations, but that’s how it works. You decide with every cell of your body who you are and the rest will be in alignment with that. You hustle through the valley, you embrace uncertainty, incompletion, death, oblivion, nothingness and extinction. Confusion is good, because it’s real. There are no answers to the big questions. Who the fuck knows what’s right? It doesn’t matter. Enjoy the ride you were given, stay present, be grateful, until you detach from inherited guilt into a paradigm of abundance, self-worth and win-win.
Change is binary.
This is who I am and this is who I’m not.
Instead of trying to bend the world, bend yourself.