Thursday, 14 March 2013

What does it mean to improve oneself?

So... to start this ongoing investigation into the urge for self-improvement I should, by rights, first take a look at just what the hell is meant by self-improvement. Does it mean going to the gym and having a healthy diet? Or perhaps, is it to do with achieving goals and making a success of oneself? Is it, maybe, connected to morality and making sure that we are living a "good" life (whatever that means)?

The fact of the matter is... it is these things and more. As the artists of our own self-creation process - the directors calling the shots on the stages of our lives, if you will - we have as our task a project whose completion is a whole human life. I'm talking, biologically, spiritually, philosophically and many other words ending in "ally".

When viewed as a whole, the task can seem like an unachievable dream. However, like all motivational pundits assert - if you break it down into manageable pieces then there is nothing to fear. People often prevent themselves from achieving things by focusing on the unreasonable seeming amount of time it is apparently going to take away from them. This is an illusion. Time is never taken away in pursuit of the higher goals. Each step of the journey is lived, and as each milestone is reached more satisfaction and pleasure in the journey itself is attained. What, after all, would have replaced the beneficial activities that seem so hard when viewed from afar? Watching the t.v.? Going to the pub? All of these activities give immediate rewards that have a tendency to pale to insignificance in the long run. The amazing plethora of methods modern man has developed precisely for the purpose of killing time is dizzying to behold.

I propose then, that we stop "killing time" and start using it! It seems such a trite thing to say I am wincing as I write it... but it is true nevertheless. On this subject Seneca said "It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. ... The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully." I have to say - I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment!

So what are we to fill our time with then? I hear you cry. What is it that you would have us do? What about yourself you tubby git... are you going to do these things too?

Ahem... now, while I am sure you are all far too polite to actually mention it (as I did just now for you above) I think it is fair to say that I have historically fallen short of this exacting requirement with regards to the good usage of time. I would be hypocritical not to admit that I am still guilty of it nearly every day in some respect. But like every addiction, time wasting is a difficult habit to kick. I am not on the wagon yet, but I'm at least jogging close behind.

Having recognized my imperfections in this respect (amongst others) the next step is to forgive myself, tell the guilt to jog on, and make a plan.

I wish to be the best version of myself that it is possible (context allowing) for me to become.

This is the mission statement I have for myself and one that I urge you to take up yourself. After all, you don't want to be just a mediocre version of yourself, do you? In thirty years time as you're sipping a cup of tea with your grandchildren at your knee do you want (on being asked to tell stories of your life) to have to admit that actually other than going to the office and having a few pints on the weekend with your mates, you didn't really do all that much? I didn't think so!

What parts of that nebulous conglomeration of matter that constitutes the thing you think of as "I" do you actually have the power to change for the better? Lets make a little list...

  1. The physical body
  2. The intellectual capacity
  3. The Moral judgement
  4. The Behavior
  5. The attitude
  6. Rational thought
  7. Emotional wellbeing
  8. Spiritual awareness
In the post following this one I shall start to look at some of the different ways in which one can affect change in these areas (and indeed what type of change is desirable). For now, for the sake of clarity I will simply Identify what I mean by each of these things and let you reflect on these aspects of yourself between now and the next post.

Number one, is pretty self explanatory - this refers to the biological you and all the varying aspects of it that can be influenced by choices of lifestyle.
Number two is a reference to the marvelous faculties of our minds/brains and those aspects of it which we can develop or leave fallow.
Number three and number six belong together really, as these are specific to philosophical views/beliefs and how they affect the way we make decisions in our lives. Moral judgement is the mechanics of the (often subconscious) ethical code that shapes our decisions, while rational thought refers to the critical thinking skills that enable us to analyze and categorize our experiences.
Number four and number five are likewise linked in that the one affects the other and oftentimes this is an area which people mistakenly abdicate responsibility believing themselves to be "just the way they are" and in some way beyond help. By behavior of course, I mean those actions which we undertake in any given situation, and by attitude I mean the system of beliefs and intertwined emotional states that govern our responses to outside stimuli.
Number seven, refers to how our emotions affect us and also the varying degrees to which we are able to affect our emotions. This area contains self-esteem, which is something I will focus on in later posts.
The final area of ourselves that we can affect positive change, is what is referred to as "spiritual awareness" and it has an array of meanings that stretch from superstition right through to transcendental enlightenment. This is intertwined with everything (I can already hear the secularists among you groaning) but don't worry I'm not here to preach. I would simply remind those who do not have any truck with matters "spiritual" that this word (with all its cultural connotations) is merely a description of a type of human experience. It is perfectly rational to conclude that so-called spiritual experiences while not necessarily being truly supernatural, are real experiences that have been interpreted. Also it is rational to accept that particularly with regards to meditation, spiritual practice has demonstrable beneficial effects... so keep an open mind...

I shall leave you to your cogitations and when I return we shall begin the practical side of this investigation. How to decide what change is desirable, and what we need to do to affect that change. Peace.

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