Digging up Baobabs

“If you are given a choice, you believe you have acted freely. This is one of the darkest of all psychological secrets.” ~Teller

There are countless sources that offer advice on how to bring about the change you want to see in yourself. Some are valid, offering information that’s relevant. A lot are faddish, and tout the latest trend in an effort to expose you to products and advertising. But what the vast majority have in common is their outward focus. To solve your problems they tell you to buy their products. They tell you to adopt their program. They tell you to take this, or try that. Each claiming their product is superior, their solution final. And beneath each promoted success, in fine print as small as legally possible, is the disclaimer “Results not typical.”

The hypocrisy makes sense. It’s a consequence of capitalism. It’s the market recognizing a need and designing products that address it. The reason hardly anyone suggests looking inward is because there’s no money in it. The person who understands himself, and accepts himself, doesn’t spend money on external fixes. The person who is alert to his emotional state is not prone to the emotional pitfalls that businesses sell the ladders to climb out of. Moneymakers need to sell ladders, so they need people in holes.

I see things differently. I believe the vast majority of hardships can be alleviated or averted with greater self possession. A self possessed person is aware when frustration builds up, and tempers it so it doesn’t boil into anger. She understands how the environment affects her emotions, and recognizes when her thoughts are skewed by them. She identifies cravings, and maintains control over her actions. She still has faults, but is directed towards their resolution. She is not in denial, and doesn’t ascribe the source of her troubles on the external world.

I’m here to guide you in uprooting the Baobabs, the seemingly inherent, adverse qualities we each have a fair share of. The ideas I write about are unconventional, and will challenge your conceptions. I won’t simply confirm your world view, so you the reader have to be willing to wrestle with the ideas I present. These ideas are for those in need of change, the lost souls, the confused, and the broken. The perfectly content need not apply.

If you learn to alter the Baobabs, the behemoths of your psychological disposition, then starting a new exercise routine will be simple. Learn to root out fear, and self confidence will grow naturally. Corrupt your susceptibility to stress, and escaping indulgence will be basic. Develop self possession, and the vexations of life will fade. The smaller stuff falls into place. Problems transform into challenges like hurdles between a runner and his finish line. All it takes is a properly cultivated mindset.

At its fundamental unit, change boils down to choice. But we are not always consciously aware of our actions. An unexpected crack of lightning, the exploding of a firework, and touching a hot stove are all examples when our will is hijacked. In those instants, we are not rationally deciding anything. We react out of instinctive self preservation.

Imminent danger is not all that detracts from free will. Chronic pain, hunger, thirst, nausea, and dizziness are just a few effects that each impede our ability to be conscious and rational. While feeling these discomforts, our minds are partially consumed by thoughts of relief. If those aches grow too strong, we have no choice but to address them. We have no choice.

But by far the most subtle influence is that of our emotions. It’s easy to notice how fatigue or inebriation affects our judgments. Our emotions, however, deceive us into thinking our decisions are optimal. In the heat of the moment, our anger makes us believe that we’ve truly been slighted. In the depths of depression, we truly believe there is no hope. It takes a strong sense of self awareness, in proportion to the intensity of the emotion being felt, to realize how inhibited rational thought really is.

Just like you devour a whale one bite at a time, you direct your psyche one choice at a time. The difficulty lies in how predetermined our choices really are. Our routines often decide our words and actions for us. The expectations of our peers and culture constrain our behavior. As mentioned earlier, our emotions sometimes usurp rationality. And our habits anchor us to a status quo. We spend so much of our lives unconsciously drifting down the river of time.

But it is possible to wake up. Through practiced self awareness you can begin to recognize the moments when you’re acting out of habit, expectation, or emotion. If you can catch yourself in those moments, you can make different choices that, made again and again, will lead to a different mindset.

It would be nice if we could just choose to be more charismatic, more laidback, more assertive, or more disciplined. But those qualities take time to grow. More importantly, growing them takes the skill to recognize, in the heat of the moment, when their opposite is being strengthened. That is where self awareness comes in.

Changing oneself is a gradual process that often begins as a contrivance. You’ll rarely be swept with an overwhelming urge to begin something new or do something differently. You’ll rarely feel comfortable or ready. More often than not, you’ll feel averse to change. But the best way to become a carrot eater is to eat carrots. If you don’t like the taste of carrots, you have two options.

You can look outward and mix them in salad. You can blend them into a smoothie, or smother them in butter.

Or you can aim inward and just eat the carrots. Be stronger than your dislike for carrots. In this decadent society, unpleasantness and discomfort have become detestable, but they are merely the wild underbrush of unbeaten paths. It’s difficult to tread through them at first, but they pack down in time. Keep eating carrots and eventually they won’t taste bad. Adapt yourself to the world instead of attempting the reverse. It is almost always easier and far more useful in the long run.

Years ago, anguish motivated me to first choose differently. I used anger to spur change. For those not in the throes of melancholy, I’d say do it out of pride. Or do it to make a statement that today will be different. Even if tomorrow you slip back into routine, make today different. Do it to prove you can stand up against the unpleasantness that tells you “Don’t!” Or do it out of anger, sorrow, or some other negative emotion. Let dissatisfaction spur you to change. It’s the greatest use for anger I know of. Whatever your reason, do whatever it takes because nascent habits are vulnerable to the countless excuses that seek to crush them.

The thought that we are acting out a role, and not freely making choices, is so instinctively frustrating that many deny it is the case. Whether we admit it or not, the world influences us to a profound degree. This is why it is paramount to train yourself to augment your will. Without a strong will, you’ll be forever susceptible to the influences of this world. Your more primitive impulses will dominate. You’ll get fat when exposed to fatty, sugary, salty foods. You’ll get angry whenever inconvenienced or disrespected. Your primal impulses of lust and fear will be used against you to sell you cars, beer, and pharmaceuticals. You will live a life of default.

Practice self awareness everyday in order to notice the moment you begin feeling a certain way. Then ask yourself why you feel that way. Eventually, you’ll be able to control your emotions because you’ll control the thoughts that lead to them. Once in control of those charged thoughts, you’ll be able to choose to avoid the tired path of malcontent that they lead to. And this ability to choose is the quintessence of being sentient. It is the epitome of being human.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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