The psychiatrist David Viscott once said, “You must think of yourself as becoming the person you want to be.” For me, this quotation brings up an interesting question: should we be focusing more on the person we are now or on the person we want to be? And are we already this person? That is, do we already have the qualities within ourselves that will enable us to become the person we want to be?
Earlier this week, I found myself telling a friend that we should focus on the present moment and the person we are now as opposed to thinking of ourselves as being a better, wiser, and smarter person at a future date. But then, upon reflecting, I disagreed with my advice. To be a free being, a person at one with himself or herself and his/her individuality, are we not always becoming and evolving? Do we not change on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis? And if we do, how can we be content with the person we are now? How can we live “in the now” and yet desire to improve certain aspects of ourselves and our lives at the same time?
The ancient philosopher Plato famously immortalized Socrates in both The Republic and many of his other writings. The term “socratizing” was created to define the idea of constantly examining one’s life and questioning everything, even those things that one would commonly regard as “facts”. Socrates believed that death was preferable to a life in which one ceased to question commonly held beliefs and opinions.
Thus, to live a life inspired by Socrates is to exist in a world in which questioning is as natural as breathing. However, this type of life is not altogether welcome in a universe that is overridden with mindless television and other distractions. It has become much easier to adopt views that are handed to us by other people than to think for ourselves. Even those who regard themselves as “critical thinkers” and non-conformists oftentimes have sets of views that are as unoriginal as store-bought cake mixes.
So, what is it like to truly think “outside of the box”? Well, one of the keys to out-of-the-box thinking is the determination to question and examine everything. There are very few things that we should consider to be facts, and even information that we regard as factual needs to be examined and reanalyzed. If our thoughts help create our ultimate destiny, to consistently be thinking new thoughts and challenging our old ideas would seem to be the only way in which we can always be learning and growing. This means that we should continue the process of becoming as opposed to simply being.
The very concept of “being” is one that philosophers have focused on for centuries. As Martin Heidegger so aptly points out, “Being is the most universal concept.” Heidegger also thinks that the concept of ‘Being’ is “indefinable”. If the concept of ‘Being’ is incapable of being defined, the concept of “Becoming” is still more difficult to fathom. Yet, from the moment we are born, we are becoming something more than we are. For everything that we experience in some way becomes a part of our identity, whether consciously or not. The person who we become at different points of our life is indelibly a product of our environment and our experiences And even though we can choose our thoughts, we are oftentimes helpless to choose that which we experience. As for our environment, only at the point when we reach adulthood and are capable of being independent do we have direct control over our environment.
For the most part, I assume that those of you who are reading my articles are not children. Thus, to say that you do not have control over your environment would be incorrect. However, I suspect that even as adults we oftentimes choose to stay in environments that are contributing in a negative way to our lives and goals. Moreover, we bring experiences into our lives that greatly restrict our choices and that also bring us pain and unhappiness. Does this mean that if we are homeless or without a job that we have brought this experience into our lives? No. However, it could mean that from choices we have made over the course of our lives that we have ended up without a home and/or a job.
I realize that accepting responsibility for your life isn’t easy if you have made a lot of mistakes. But not doing so will only make you less powerful than ever. In sharing my thoughts on this matter, I realize I am creating a breeding ground for detractors to attack me and say that I am suggesting that people choose that which happens to them. Why? Because those who feel threatened by me and the concepts I share in my articles will always find some way to criticize or denigrate me. It is part of human nature that we reject truths that in some way threaten our “world view”. And, if we can find a way to disapprove of the truth that threatens us, we will do so, even if we end up looking foolish in the process.
On a very simple level, it would be like pretending that you were not interested in a man or woman whom you were actually very much attracted to because you knew that he/she would not reciprocate your feelings. In acting as if he/she isn’t “your type”, you manage to save your pride. But, at what cost? At the cost of lying to yourself, of course. Yet, isn’t that what many of us do each day?
Does it surprise you that I would admit that I lie to myself, too? I’m not ashamed of it for I understand that it’s part of what we oftentimes call “human nature”. Believe me, if we were completely honest with ourselves every minute of every day for 365 days of the year, we would find life almost unbearable. Could this be why suicide has been a problem that so many philosophers have been obsessed with? Is the “examined life” that Socrates promoted so difficult to stomach that committing suicide becomes a viable option?
For me, the idea of not examining life would be much less bearable than living a life where seeking the truth was the first priority. I am very tired of an existence in which persuasive lies masquerade as truth and in which people play roles. This is why I urge my readers to be their authentic selves. The problem is in finding that authentic self.
If we play a role for long enough, being ourselves may become nearly impossible. It may also be difficult for others to accept us as being a different person from the individual they have come to know. I recently read about a man whose self-concept was so warped that even years of psychotherapy prevented him from being able to disassociate himself from it. Our self-concepts are part of who we are. But must they also be an part of the person we become?
Well, if the person you want to become is different from the person you are now, then I would say that you will have to let go of the self-concept you are currently identifying yourself with. For example, if you are overweight but you want to be thin, you’ll have to change your self-concept to create a new reality. Similarly, if all of your past relationships with the opposite sex have been unsuccessful, you will need to make sure that you do not have a self-concept that matches up with a person who is incapable of having a healthy relationship before you pursue another man/woman. Otherwise, you will most likely find a way to sabotage any relationship that you begin, no matter how much potential the relationship has. Why? Scientific studies have shown that most of us are more inclined to pursue experiences that are congruent with the person we perceive ourselves to be instead of pursuing experiences that would be more in keeping with the person we want to be. The reasons for this are still being examined.
Is it that we’re afraid of change? Or as some people have suggested, are we afraid of our own power? To me, the latter explanation makes very little sense, even though I have friends who would disagree with me. I’m sure that there are instances of people being afraid of how powerful they are, but, where are such people? Those people whom I have known who have been afraid to make changes in their lives seem to be convinced of their own powerlessness. They seem to regard themselves as being relatively insignificant in the scope of things, and the decisions they make on a daily basis seem to show their own sense of insignificance.
For me, the very word ‘power’ is a problem. I tend to see power as one of the things that is misused most often in the world. Moreover, it is the desire for power that has caused some of the events that have destroyed hundreds and even millions of lives. Thus, I prefer to embrace the idea of a life of purpose. There is nothing wrong with having powerful convictions, but we should be careful how we throw around words like “power”.
What should we even try to have power over besides ourselves? Do we have the power to control anything other than our own thoughts, words, and actions? And, if we do, is it power that we should take? Only those who are weak need to have power over anything besides themselves. To control other people and to attempt to control events shows a lack of strength. We must give others the same freedom that we give ourselves.
But, what is freedom? Isn’t that also a word that is capable of being defined in more than one way? Are not those who promote the idea of freedom often the same people who try to take people’s freedom away? In answer to my first question, I would say that freedom is the ability to live your life as you choose to, without having to answer to someone else for your opinions, views, or decisions. As for defining freedom, I would suggest that it can be defined in both general and specific terms. My definition was very broad and general because examining freedom is not the object of this article. Obviously, I do not believe that we are free to make decisions that adversely affect the lives of other people. In other words, we are not free to kill, rape, or harm other people, even if we want to do so.
My last question is the most complex to answer because I believe it is dependent upon specific circumstances and is a subject that is worthy of much debate. Are those who promote the concept of freedom oftentimes inclined to take freedom away from others? From personal observation, my answer would be yes. This is because that which we say we believe so often fails to match up with that which we truly believe. And, freedom is a word that most people would publicly define in a similar way, even though most of us have our own private concept of the term.
As I have said more than once, the purpose of my articles is not to sway you to see things the way I do—but rather to prompt you to examine your own views. If I challenge some of your beliefs, perhaps you should look within yourself instead of finding fault with me. As interested as some people are in contemplating the cosmos without, I tend to think that the cosmos within is worth a lot more thought. What do you think? If the person you are now is not the same as the person you want to be, might it not be worth spending some time in self-examination? That’s a question only you can answer, and it may well depend on whether you choose the security of the present over the unpredictability of the future.
Alexis, your SuccessDiva
This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva Pages is written by Alexis Wingate. (C) Copyright 2010 by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva. All Rights Reserved