One day I woke up and realised I had changed. I didn’t notice when the changes were occurring. Change is rarely as dramatic as people make it out to be. Like ageing, it’s a subtle process. It’s happening every day but since we’re not looking out for it, we don’t spot it.
Although the changes were incremental their impact was monumental. I realised that I was going to contradict my (old) self because I no longer believed what I once held as gospel. I began blogging with caution, afraid of making bold statements about my beliefs. I didn’t have a problem with contradicting myself. I had a problem with what people would say when I contradicted myself, knowing that the likelihood was I’d be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency. I didn’t have the time (or will) to explain to people that what they interpreted as hypocrisy and inconsistency was a sign of evolution.
For a while I plodded on, writing and living in a timid manner, then after discussing my dilemma with a friend she asked….
‘How would you live if you thought no one was paying attention?’
I was unable to articulate how exactly I’d live, but I knew wanted the sense of freedom such a life offered. I decided I'd rather live with freedom and be mocked for who I am, than conform and be embraced for who I’m not. So over the past few months I’ve been on a journey to liberate myself from those intangible constraints I'd allowed to define my life for so long.
Speaking to other people, it became apparent I wasn’t the only one who felt the impact of intangible constraints. The truth is at some point in our lives most of us have allowed what we think people will say or what they’ve actually said, to constrain our actions.
It doesn’t matter if it’s criticism or praise, what others say has the ability to sway our paths in such an insidious manner, we’re often unaware we’re being influenced. The likelihood is after hearing scathing criticism; we’ll feel discouraged, despondent and diffident. Criticism handled badly can become seeds that plant themselves in the back of our minds. If we don’t uproot them, the seeds begin to germinate. Eventually they grow into huge plants with voices of their own. They scream loudest in those moments when we’re contemplating taking a leap and making a change in our lives. In turn of us many of us give up before we've started. We convince ourselves ‘the time isn’t right’, ‘we’re not ready’ or even worse ‘I’m not good enough’. Forgetting history is littered with individuals who rose to greatness despite people telling them otherwise.
On the other hand if we’re constantly told how are amazing we are, human nature dictates we’ll start to believe our own hype.
Sidebar: The exceptions to the rule are those surrounded by people who temper the sycophants and actively seek to remain humble.
We become complacent and no longer seek to push the frontiers of our ability. Initially our growth slows, then it plateaus and eventually it diminishes.
The more I thought about how what others says has the ability to dictate our path, the more I began to question my decisions. Was I doing things because of what people said to me? Was I deliberately living in a way that pre-empted the criticism that came with standing out? Or were my actions truly authentic to who I was?Upon the discovery that too much of my life was being dictated by people that didn’t matter, I decide to rebel by becoming indifferent. Whether I heard scathing criticism or praise, I chose not to care.
Although this route immunised me against getting hurt, it had its downsides. I realised I needed to find a balance between living life the way I wanted to, not caring too much about what people think and being open to words that could change me for the better.
Eventually I found a method. It’s not perfect, but since this is the most balanced I’ve felt in years (I think the jogging and meditating helps!), I thought I’d share the steps on here.
3 Steps to Destroying Intangible Constraints
1) Figure out what matters to you and pursuit it
Want to learn how not to swayed by others? Find your purpose and run after it.
Growing up my dad told me the things that are long lasting, beneficial and able to survive after you’re gone, are those driven by a purpose. The problem was I didn’t understand what purpose was. It was such a grand and almost esoteric term, for years I didn’t bother trying to figure out what mine was. Eventually I came to define purpose for myself. I found the areas in which I wanted to achieve were the things I was passionate about. I found my ‘purpose’ in my passion and in turn my passion energised my purpose. Figuring out what you want and pursuing that wholeheartedly, gives life such meaning it drowns out all other distractions.
Sidebar: If you’ve already found what matters to you and/or your purpose, cherish and cultivate it.
2) Block out the noise
A while back I wrote a post about our mind’s being our greatest asset. See Here.The emphasis in that post was placed on us investing in our minds. However I missed the fact our investment needs to be protected.
We have to be careful what we allow to ‘live’ in our minds. Most people live a life ruled by fear and are resistant to change. As a result of this they project their fears and limits on others. Unless we learn how to guard our minds against the negativity energy, we’ll always be at risk of falling off track. Learn to block out the noise and stay focused on your task. And if you haven’t found a ‘task’ expend your energy finding one, which is healthier than meditating on negative words.
3) Decide whose opinion you value
Some of us have an intuitive ‘hierarchy’ of opinions. We already know whose words we hold in esteem and whose we take with a pinch of salt. However sometimes we forget ourselves and pay attention to the sycophants and ignore the warnings of those who love us. (Or we may amplify the curses of those who don’t know us and ignore the reassurance of those who truly care).
The bottom line is we must decide whose opinions we value and take the time to remind us ourselves. Since we’re giving these people the authority to speak into our lives, we must be careful who we give authority to. The swiftness with which old friends can become new enemies is one of life’s tragedies. However if we pick the right people, living life with intangible constraints could soon be a distant memory.