By Jimmy Warden
I haven’t always taken the stance of a learner throughout my life. I wasn’t always eager to go to school growing up, nor was I always excited to go to my classes in college. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve rediscovered my joy for learning. I’ve started to enjoy learning again, not only for the benefits that it brings me, but also the benefits it can bring other people. I try to read and absorb information across an array of topics and medias to try to provide insights that would be beneficial to others when it comes to their own lives, so naturally, I have begun to be more reflective in my recent years, too. But enough about me, let me tell you about five life lessons that I’ve learned through reading and reflecting over the years.
1.) Perception isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
When I think of the term perception, I think of the neurobiology aspects of how we experience our senses, but I also think of how subjective that the psychological experience of sensation can be. For example, let’s say two people touch a hot stove with their right hands. There are pain receptors in their brains that will send a signal to their right hands to alert them that they are touching a hot stove. However, if they were to rate how painful their experience was on a scale of 1-10, there is a good chance that their answers would be different. Therefore, they are perceiving the same pain stimuli, in this case heat, at a different magnitude.
This is an absolutely fascinating occurrence because it can be applied to just about any context. Another great example is food. There are so many different foods that people can eat (or in some cases can’t eat) and yet we all experience them in such a different way. One might say tomato, while another might say don’t come near me with that weird fruit vegetable hybrid thing. Even though the tomato activates taste receptors, each person’s experience of eating a tomato varies tremendously, hence why some people like them while others would prefer to use them as projectile.
Having a better understanding of how others are perceiving the world around them will help us better understand them as a person. A lot misunderstandings between people occur due to the lack of understanding of how the other person is perceiving the same situation. The more that we can understand others, the more that we can try to find common ground with them, and have a productive dialogue in our conversations and in our relationships.
2.) The narrative you have with yourself drives what you do, think, and feel.
We all have an internal dialogue with ourselves. A lot of people refer to this voice as their “conscience” or “gut feeling”. This internal dialogue knows what our morals are, what we value, and when they’re at a crossroads. For example, we might have morals to be a healthy person, so therefore we also value self-care. These two ideas might come to a crossroads when we are stressed out and are looking for a quick bit of stress relief, so we might turn to something that comforts us and makes us feel good so technically in that moment it feels like we’re taking care of ourselves by relieving our stress, but in the long run that stress relief choice is not a healthy choice for overall health.
It is the narrative that comes from within that often dictates what we do at the crossroads. Sometimes we have that back and forth dialogue before we make our final decision. Do we stick with our morals and say no to the impulsive pleasure or do we fall for the momentary release of stress? The stronger of the two arguments in that moment will be the winner. We often convince ourselves that we need the drink or the dessert because it will quickly relieve the stress the day brought to us as opposed to something more demanding like exercise, meditation, or reflection.
Not only do we convince ourselves of what to do, we also convince ourselves what to think and feel with the personal narratives that we have. When we fail, a lot of us might say something like, “I am a failure” or “I am not good at _____”. Each time we say something like that to ourselves, we are planting the ideas that we identify ourselves as a failure and we identify as someone who is incapable. This is a voice that gets repeated each time that we fail, and over time, we begin to identify ourselves as a failure. When our sense of self is damaged, we damage our emotional well-being. We make it harder for ourselves to feel positive emotions and feel good about ourselves because most of our associations have brought negative self-worth to our psyche.
So try to be aware with what you’re saying about yourself, to yourself. You just may be bringing yourself down more than is necessary.
3.) Motivation wanes and is unreliable because our narrative changes
In order to stay motivated, we need to have a narrative that is motivated, but with all of the interference that life can bring on a daily basis, it is a large challenge to stay motivated all of the time. Life responsibilities, pop up responsibilities, life maintenance responsibilities, distractions, and fatigue are all interference factors that manipulate motivation levels. Due to the fact that motivation levels have been affected, the narrative is also affected as a result.
When we are telling ourselves we are tired or we have too much to do, our motivation to do something productive immediately drops. We convince ourselves we don’t need to exercise after work because the day was too tiring, we have too many chores to catch up on, or we still have extra work to do after we’ve punched out for the day. There are also two large distractions we all face in the forms television and smart phones that prevent us from keeping our levels of motivation sharp. It is much easier to turn on a show or catch up on social media than it is to exercise or do something else that is mentally or physically taxing, so we often tell ourselves to partake in what’s convenient. We convince ourselves that that’s what we need because it will satisfy short-term needs even though it’s not helpful in the long-term.
There are also events that inevitably “pop up” every so often that start to unexpectedly fill our calendars. We’ll have formed a plan to exercise or work on a project for ourselves and all of a sudden our family is coming in from out of town or our friends want to get together for a dinner. All of a sudden, we have a decision to make. A lot of us will end up cancelling our personal plans in favor of the family gathering or the friend dinner because we’ll tell often ourselves we’ll be missing out if we don’t. These types of occurrences happen quite frequently in our place of work, too. We’ll have made plans to do something personal after work, but our boss asks us if we can stay late to work on one more task or make one more phone call. Instead of politely refusing, we’ll often say yes because we’ll think if we say no that we’ll become unreliable and potentially move down the pecking order in our place of work.
So be wary of the narrative you tell yourself as it will be a large influence on your level of motivation, for better or worse.
4.) You are not your thoughts, your thoughts are a decimal of you
This particular idea I’ve given some thought for quite some time. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really tried to consider how it affects our self-esteem. For reasons that I am still trying to figure out, our thought stream about ourselves often has a negative tone. “I’m so stupid!”. “Why did I fall for that?”. “I can’t believe I caved in again!”. These are just a few phrases that a lot of us (myself included) have said to ourselves at one point or another. The challenge is that we often repeat these types of phrases when we come into similar situations that made us say it in the first place. The challenge is that the more that we say these phrases about ourselves, the more that we identify ourselves as such.
For example, let’s take the phrase, “I’m so stupid!”. We may have said that amidst a mental blunder, but each time we say that phrase during a mental blunder, the more that we solidify in our minds that we are in fact stupid. Another common phrase that we mutter or shout is, “I can’t do this!”. Statements like that can literally paralyze us from taking any action towards our goals. Their strength is worldly when we agree that that defines who we are. This is why it’s important to recognize that we are not our thoughts, but rather a decimal of them.
Sure, we all make mistakes, but that doesn’t always make us a bad person. In order for us to begin differentiating making mistakes from our being, we have to separate action from person. Meaning, if we do something stupid, it is merely that. We acted in a stupid way. That doesn’t always mean we are a stupid person. That’s why there is the saying “hindsight is always 20/20”. It isn’t until the mistake is made that we can reflect and learn about what could’ve been done differently in the same situation. This is also why we should try to do our best forgiving ourselves for not knowing the best action to take because we’re often trying to do our best with the knowledge that we have at that moment.
Therefore, the things that we think about ourselves, whether they are positive or negative, they are merely just a small decimal point of our whole self. The actions that we take are a better compass of determining who we are.
5.) Patience is a virtue
This life lesson may come as no surprise to some, but it is one that is still worth mentioning. We live in a world where we pride ourselves on not just being the best, but also being fast. We want the results of our goals and dreams to happen overnight, we want to accomplish all of our daily tasks in an amount of time that will allow us to decompress or keep adding tasks (depending on the type of person we are), and we also live in a time where we need instant gratification to keep going.
The challenge is that nothing worth having ever comes easy and these outcomes that we want often take time to achieve. When we are impatient in the process, we are not allowing ourselves to see it all through to the end. Our impatience often hinders our performance as we become too frustrated and agitated to perform at our best. This frustration and agitation often pops up because things are not happening quick enough for us. The more that we can be mindful of the big picture and knowing that the more patience we exercise on a daily basis, eventually we will be able to get to where we want to go. The pace may not be that of a freeway, but it will be a nice scenic route where we can take everything in.
So just try to remember, if you’re not where you want to be, you may have yet to reach that point in your life’s drive.