Let’s say you read some cool personality test results that really seem to click.
Or maybe it’s literature on your birth animal.
Well, what exactly is what you’re reading clicking with?
What are you?
Personality tests and systems for understanding yourself highlight traits and qualities you identify with, contrasted with those you don’t . . . using adjectives like: thoughtful, conservative, open, wild, empathetic, industrious, insightful, kind…
And all those aspects tie to things you tend to prefer to focus on (or ignore) in the outside world.
What’s a thoughtful person thoughtful about?
What might one be open to?
Who are you empathetic toward?
So, while you look to traits and qualities in your search for your best “I” self to be, all such measures must tie back to external driving “why” forces, which show up, merge, interact, and conflict, compelling you in any number of directions.
You experience those “why” forces as specific values or sets of values wanting to use your life to exist more in the world.
Driven By Values
To illustrate, imagine the following simple example of a common decision you have to make…
You’ve been talking with a friend on Skype for hours, and you realize you’re hungry.
What will you eat?
Options occur to you.
And you could follow each option back to a specific food-related value.
The value might be enjoyment—you picture your delight at tasting something sweet or salty.
It might be temperature—it’s a cold night, and you imagine the way a steaming bowl of soup will warm you from the inside.
Maybe it’s health—you see yourself feeling energized and confident, your body well-fueled and ready to take life on.
For any decision, no matter how complex, it always comes back to priorities of values . . . to what seems more or most important to you.
And each value you’re influenced by demands your full attention and focus.
Professor Anthony Rudd says of values,
I perceive things around me not just in abstract or neutral terms, merely as objects possessing certain properties, but rather as having significance for me. Those that have more significance are the things that stand out for me, while the others recede into the background. And this distinction of focus is a crucial part of perceptual experience; things are never just noted in an equal, even way. There is always a distinction between what is at the center of one’s attention and what is on the periphery. The way I perceive the world, then, depends on my virtues and vices, the projects I undertake, and the kinds of things I value or despise.
Vices and Hindrances
Note Rudd’s mention of “virtues and vices . . . things I value or despise.”
What do you despise?
How do your vices relate to your values?
If what you care about most is being your best self . . . making the most of your time and potential in this world . . . consider that the only measure you have to go by for how you’re doing is your actions (your behavior).
So what you do . . . how you see yourself living . . . reveals the degree to which you rate your values as successful or unsuccessful in being brought to life through you.
Health professor at the University of Illinois, Dr. Shahram Heshmat, writes,
Fulfilled people are able to live a life true to their values and pursue meaningful goals.
With that in mind, reworking this notion of vices and things you despise: What’s stopping your values from growing and existing more?
What’s keeping you from living a fulfilling, meaningful life?
Those hindrances are the antagonists of every “I” story you tell yourself about yourself . . . adversarial obstructions, which take the form of character flaws, inconsistencies, limitations, contrary circumstances, compulsions, immaturities, obstacles, addictions…
For simplicity, all “I” story antagonists fit 2 basic categories: difficult and easy.
You see yourself as held back by either difficult circumstantial roadblocks, or easy consumptive substitutes.
Maybe you believe you lack the resources needed to accomplish your big dreams.
Or, you might think about all the changes you’d have to make in order to rise up to a life you’ve never known; and you’re response is to submerge yourself in all manner of distracting consumption instead: taking in content, attention, substances, pitty…
In the end, both circumstances and substitutes are excuses and escapes.
Both serve only to keep you stuck.
When you get right down to values and hindrances, life’s equation gets incredibly simple.
It’s one or the other.
If you focus on your values and the good you want to experience, build, or become, then you’re resourceful; you step out, try options, and measure which opportunities work best.
But if you focus on your problems and shortcomings, every obstacle seems insurmountable, every character flaw innate and infinite, and every reason to write off possibilities unavoidable.
This dichotomy of positive or negative directions in life is at the core of The Secret, anything in the realm of Law of Attraction, the Word of Faith movement, and a host of other personal development philosophies built on the idea that you ultimately move toward what you tend to set your mind on, good or bad.
And both consumption and production are perpetual.
But consumption gets less and less satisfying when it takes the place of production—when you use easy substitutes to escape difficult next steps toward living as meaningful a life as possible in the time you have.
Stuck in Your State
How does this relate back to who and what you are?
Well, while your focus determines your direction (good or bad) your focus depends on your beliefs . . . particularly your beliefs about yourself, ie. the “I” self story you’re ego convinces you to cling to for all your worth.
You consume as an excuse not to stretch and grow because you don’t think growth is really possible, isn’t right for you, you don’t deserve it…
And seeing yourself consume gives more and more weight to your conviction that your flaws are insurmountable.
This of course leads to more negativity and consumption to further drown out the increasingly unbearable call of your suppressed values.
It’s important to understand that your ego and conscious mind aren’t actually working to take you anywhere new.
The stories you tell yourself about yourself are told to justify and fortify your current state.
Holding to the way you see things keeps you in stasis as you give yourself every reason to stay exactly where you are.
In that way, your “I” self stories are perpetual . . . while they’re determined by your state, they also work to hold you to your state.
But remember how many times removed those conceptual-reflection stories are from the real “why” force values rendered up through unconscious perception.
How affected should what’s real be by a copy of a copy?
How ironic for your values to be confined by your perspective as you justify every excuse or escape, settling for your current unfulfilled, limited, unhappy, negative state.
Renowned life coach, Tony Robbins, says,
80% of success is psychology, and 20% is mechanics. Most people are looking for the right strategy. But more often, you’re missing the right story. The only thing keeping you from getting what you want is the story you keep telling yourself about why you don’t have it. With a lousy story, you’ll never find the strategy, or you’ll come up with a reason why it’s too expensive, you can’t get there, you can’t access it . . . or you’ll even get the strategy and then half-ass apply it just so you can reward your story that says, “It doesn’t work, because I tried it.” When people’s story changes, they can find and apply the right strategy, and then the third and most important thing changes: their state.
So, if you’re stuck in your state because of the stories you tell yourself about why living by your values can’t be possible, how can you start telling yourself a new story and break free?
How can you pick yourself up by the seat of your proverbial pants and convince yourself you’re capable of doing what you’ve never seen yourself do before?
Is more willpower the answer?
Should you simply fight harder to feed yourself new beliefs, line-by-line, memorizing mantras and affirmations as rockets to boost your thought-patterns by sheer grit?
Should you shout at yourself words you know you don’t really hold to be true?
For while the values vs. hindrances equation is indeed incredibly simple in that your direction in life depends on your focus (your story) . . . telling yourself a new story begins with asking the same fundamental question we won’t stop coming back to in this series: What are you?
Personality test results . . . or astrology/numerology readings . . . might feel like they hit so close to home.
But what’s home?
What are they hitting close to?
What are you?
As we continue to uncover what it could mean for you to see yourself as a “why” clinging to an “I” story (instead of an “I” driven by a “why”) we’ll come to find that what you see as hindrances to your values aren’t really hindrances at all.
And once your hindrances stop being hindrances, the path forward then becomes not to fight or run from how you see things, but to go down even deeper into the details of your “I” story.
In the old days, villagers had several responses ready for when an approaching forest fire was detected.
Sometimes, the only course to safety was to preemptively set the whole village and surrounding lands ablaze so there would be nothing left to burn once the coming fire arrived, providing a safe place to hide.
See yourself for what you are, and the specifics of your “I” story can actually be your way of escaping the very limitations that story cites and accounts for.
Heshmat, S. “Science of Choice.” Psychology Today. 8 December, 2014.
Rudd, Anthony. “No Self?: Some Reflections on Buddhist Theories of Personal Identity.” Philosophy East and West. 2015, Vol. 65, p869-891.
Success Resources Australia. “Tony Robbins Live at the National Achievers Congress, Sydney 2015 .” 16 April, 2015, https://youtu.be/0RuzE6Zmn8o
Zacks CleverNetworker. “Tony Robbins Solve Your Inner Conflict .” 14 February, 2013, https://youtu.be/4JIzngH9UBQ