Saturday, March 27, 2010


Purpose: a result, end, aim, or goal of an action or object

Over the course of human existence mankind has sought to define its purpose.  For centuries philosophers have asked and attempted to answer the question, "Why are we here?"  Today, there are countless self-help programs devoted to helping one find his or her purpose in life.  It seems that people have a need for meaning.  We are not content to "just be" -- we have to have a reason.

I'm no exception.  For a long time when asked to name my greatest fear I'd reply, "purposelessness."  I think it was detrimental to my sense of self-worth to believe that I'm here for no reason.  No, it was more comforting to believe I was special, that my life was created to serve some unique function that only I could fulfill.

In fact, I think that's the real drive behind this search for meaning -- we simply cannot bear to think we're not somehow special.  (That's not to say that we aren't all special or unique -- I happen to believe that we are).  I wonder, though, why there aren't more people who strive not to find purpose but to just be.  Maybe that's enough.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why Self Awareness?

It has been said that in order to know others we must first know ourselves.  Many people see self-exploration as a pointless endeavor and wade through life clueless about why they do what they do and about how it affects other people.  In my field (mental health) it's important for clinicians to have self-awareness because there's always a risk of projecting our own issues onto the people we're trying to help or of our biases interfering with the helping process.  So that explains why people in my field should seek self-awareness.  But what about other people?  Why is it important to understand oneself?  After all, it takes a significant amount of time and effort and sometimes it leads to learning things about oneself that are uncomfortable or even painful.  Why bother?

1. Becoming aware of your weaknesses helps you to identify areas and opportunities for growth.  You can't "fix" something (or improve upon it) if you don't know it's "broken."

2. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, your emotional triggers, common patterns of behavior, what you value and what you don't, etc. helps you to make better decisions.  Knowing these things about yourself helps you to predict how you will respond to a particular course of action.  This enables you to make choices based upon what is likely to result in the most favorable outcome for you.

3. Knowing more about how and why you have particular emotional reactions helps you to become more comfortable with your feelings and leads to more emotionally enriching experiences.  It's common knowledge that we're more comfortable with what we know and less comfortable with what we don't.  (In fact, we often fear the unknown).  Knowing about our emotions helps us to become more comfortable with them.  It also makes us better able to manage them.

4. Identifying your psychological and emotional needs helps you to identify what motivates you.  The more motivated you are the more you are likely to accomplish.

These are only a few of the reasons it's important to know oneself.  There may be more to come...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Self-fulfilling prophecies are another example of how what we believe influences how we experience reality.  According to a self-fulfilling prophecy is "a statement that alters actions and therefore comes true."  For example, a person who goes to a party thinking, "I'll be miserable.  No one will talk to me." might appear to others as standoffish or seem so unpleasant that people at the party are reluctant to approach him.  Thus, the person's actions (he was defensive because he believed no one would talk to him) brought about what he predicted would happen - he appeared so unapproachable that no one came over to talk to him.

One common type of self-fulfilling prophecy involves what we tell ourselves about what we need in order to be happy.  If we say, "I can't be happy if I'm not wealthy, successful, respected, loved, etc." or "I can't be happy until I have a college degree, get a good job, get married, etc." then it is very likely that we will not be happy until we have or achieve these things.  I've known many people who either consciously or subconsciously tell themselves, "I can't be happy alone" or "I can't be happy if I'm not in a relationship."  They then feel compelled to seek out a relationship, even if it's with the wrong person, because they believe they need it in order to be happy.

It is worth asking ourselves -- what am I telling myself I need in order to be happy?  Are there people who don't have these things who are happy?  What's the difference between me and them?  Is it what we are telling ourselves?  Is it how we think about the situation?  Is it the attitude we've adopted?  Can we learn to tell ourselves that we already have everything we need in order to be happy?

Friday, March 5, 2010


There is an objective reality out there in the world but none of us have direct contact with it.  For any given event each person involved will experience it in his or her unique way.  The fact that there are "two sides [or more] to every story" speaks to this fact.  Each "side" of a story represents the teller's own version of reality.

So what determines how we experience reality?  While there are undoubtedly a number of factors that influence our perceptions chief among these are our beliefs.  It shouldn't come as a surprise that our beliefs shape how we perceive and experience things.  Here's an example.  Imagine two individuals from similar economic and cultural backgrounds.  These two people are co-managers for a division in a well performing and well known company.  They make the same amount of money.  They essentially do the same job.  They are both competent and efficient managers.  One of these individuals considers himself to be successful and is proud of what he has achieved in life.  The other considers himself to be a failure and downplays the significance of his accomplishments.  Two people, similar situations, completely different perceptions of reality.

Our basic beliefs -- those that govern how we view ourselves, others, and the world -- are based on our early life experiences.  For example, if we're raised in a nurturing home and are given adequate love and affection we learn, "I am a worthwhile person.  I am loveable.  I deserve to be loved."  If we are raised in a household that discourage emotional expression (by, for example, punishing or reprimanding a child for crying or for becoming angry) we learn, "My feelings aren't important" or "Showing emotion is a sign of weakness." 

These beliefs then serve as filters.  Our brains aren't able to take in all of the information they encounter on a gvien day.  They would quickly become overwhelmed if they tried to do so.  Instead, our brains use our beliefs to tell us which information is important and which can be ignored or filtered out.  Thus, a person with the belief, "I am a failure" would be likely to attach a very high degree of importance to any mistakes he makes but would hardly notice when he does something well.

I'm not one for long, drawn out blog posts so I'll wrap it up.  What we beleive determines to a large degree what we experience.  These beleifs often act on a subconscious level, just below our awareness.  When we find ourselves experiencing chronic negative emotions it might be time to examine our beliefs and determine if they are accurate and/or if they are working for us.  If not, it might be time to change them.  We choose what we believe.  Changing beliefs takes time but it can be done.

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