I wish my life was something other than what it actually is. But many circumstances of my life are already defined for me. My challenge is to understand reality as it is, not as I wish it to be. From this understanding I can make plans to make the most out of my life.
Self-awareness lies at the heart of mental health and is a requirement of managing life well. This means that we must accept the things that are true and then work within the constraints of what we have been given to live life with meaning.
What does it mean to understand reality? I believe that there are several dimensions that make up our psychology. Each of these gives a unique vantage point from which to assess life. Failure in any one of these dimensions will cause life to be less meaningful and joyful than it should be.
There are certain things that I control and much that I don't. It is critical to my well-being that I properly distinguish between them. I can only control myself, and really have no control over others or the world at large. I must take responsibility for my actions, how I relate to others, what I think and feel. I cannot be responsible how others act, relate to me, or what they think or feel.
I have limited influence over others and so I am not responsible. Realizing this is tremendously freeing. It is not my problem if other people do harmful things but I should act within my ability to influence them toward health and reason. Manipulating, cajoling, and coercing are off-limits and create huge problems for everyone. Others are free to follow my advice but it is never my right to force them.
I can fail by not taking responsibility for those things that are actually under my control. When this happens I blame others for things that are really on me. I may also falsely assume control of the behavior and thoughts of others. This makes me at war with all those oppose me. Acceptance of the constraints of life is a first step toward mental health. Lack of acceptance will lead toward ruin.
Emotions have enormous influence on everyone. Powerful neurochemicals are automatically released when certain experiences of thoughts trigger them. These chemicals drastically influence our behavior and experience of life. While this automatic response is involuntary it is also short-lived. Within a few seconds we are able to engage reason to manage this emotional reaction.
Some people do not take responsibility for their emotions and refuse to be accountable for how they feel. A toddler does not have much control over their feelings and it leads to catastrophic results. Emotional management is an area we must master or we will have severe disabilities throughout life.
Awareness of how emotions affect us is essential to understand how to manage our emotional state. Many people remain largely unaware of their feelings and are constantly at their mercy.
What I value determines my priorities, which in turn sets my goals. Setting healthy goals must start with an assessment of what I value most. This resolves around what gives my life meaning and purpose. Identifying the purpose of my life lets me select the most important roles that I should pursue.
My priorities should determine the amount of time and energy that should go into developing each area of life. Every role that I take on has a series of goals that are required steps toward success. Goals really are just a demonstration of what we value.
Let me illustrate. I have a value for sharing ideas with others. This leads me to the idea that writing would bring meaning to my life, so I wish to be a writer. A step toward success would be writing a blog, so I commit time and energy to that goal. Value --> Purpose --> Role --> Goal --> Time
Often my true values are different than the ones that I express to others. Ultimately the true values are expressed by how I allocate my time. Priorities reveal values.
Building the life we want starts with understanding the advantages and constraints that we have been given. We each have resources to work with but also limitations that must be accounted for. Creating a good life builds on the resources we have to optimize the things that we most value.
I was born in a specific time and place into a particular family. From my birth I have had certain opportunities and been blocked from others. I have been born with certain physical and personality traits that continue to shape my destiny. These can be viewed as assets and liabilities that I must work with to build my life.
Over the years, I have acquired skills, built relationships, and gained experience that all should be viewed as resources that can be drawn upon. My life has brought me to where I am, and this is the starting point for the future. What resources and constraints do I have to build the life I want to live?
Living in the past can be an alternative to experiencing life now. Some people get stuck rehearsing past hurts and regrets and are unable to let go of them. Other are drawn back to the glory days and find themselves unable to accept the current reality. It is a reminder of all that was lost and creates a overwhelming sense of disappointment.
Another danger is being stuck in the future, either longing for a better lie, or in fear of the catastrophe that lies in wait. I experience both of these extremes and tend to dwell somewhere in the future. As I pessimist I tend to imagine the darkest vision of the future and constantly worry about it becoming a reality. I catastrophize the future and worry about surviving it.
At the same time, I believe that we make the future. I fantasize about a bright future try to plan actions that will make it more likely to happen. I put a lot of energy into scheming, plotting, and planning to be able to create the world I want to live in.
Real life is found in the moment: not lost in reliving the past or imagining the future. A major point of growth for me is learning to live in the present reality. I seek to learn how to connect with others and listen at a deeper level. True life and true connection only occur NOW, everything else is a fantasy or a mind game.
Humans have a predictable set of basic needs but an endless string of desires that go beyond that. One of the keys to happiness is distinguishing between what we want and what is truly needed. Are needs can often be met while our desires are unlimited. Contentment is the mindset of realizing that what we have is enough.
Needs occur at several different levels: Physical, Security, Love, Respect, and Purpose. The more basic needs are required for survival, while the others are required to thrive. But all of the needs fall far short of the wants that occupy most of our thinking. Contentment is drawing the line for happiness at what we already possess and resisting the urge to chase after more.
Contentment lets us focus on true unmet needs rather than put energy toward random desires. There is a clarity that comes from prioritizing needs over wants that allows us to lead a simpler life. Satisfaction is amplified by the knowledge that we are working for what truly matters.
In every relationship there is a certain amount of give and take. In our society this is reduced to a transactional model. We work a job and contribute our skill, then we reap the rewards and get paid. We give and receive in every interaction.
Many think primarily about what they would like to take from each interaction, while giving little consideration what they can give to others. This creates a bad mindset of exploitation. The starting point of self-interests leads us on a path of using others to meet our needs.
Another mindset is needed for our health. Generosity starts with humility. Recognizing that we are not the center of universe is the first step towards being generous. Each of us have gifts to bring to our families, jobs, communities, churches, and world.
These gifts are often not given because we are so preoccupied with getting our needs met. The true sign of maturity is the shift from "What will I get?" to "What can I give?" . The journey from Take to Give is the transformation from a mentality of Exploitation to Generosity.
This not only includes our money, but our time, energy, affection, praise, forgiveness. The lens that we see through affects every interaction that we have with the world around us. To be healthy we must be moving toward attitudes of openness to others and aways from being closed to their needs.
We have looked briefly at seven different dimensions to the reality that we experience. Each of these represent a perspective or lens through which we see the world around us. Each face of reality has its own failure and success path. Becoming aware of each dimension lets us manage it more effectively.
Overcoming the common pitfalls is required if we intend to live the best possible life. Each of these key perspectives demand pondering. There will be little growth without self-reflection. I have found some of these truths to be hard to swallow and neglecting them has brought me much regret.
I hope that where ever you find yourself today that you will pause and reflect, learn, and grow. There is always more. The road of personal transformation is the road the health and the best possible life.