So you want to get better, eh? Want to be happier? More productive? Want to give more love, receive more kindness? Want to become more efficient?
Well, look. Your heart is in the right place. It really is. But you are treading on very dangerous territory. You know, self improvement is one of the riskiest behaviors one can engage in. Seriously. Do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise. We live in a culture surrounded by self-help books, blogs, magazines. We have thrown at us from every direction that we must do this, this, and this, in order to achieve this that or the other. It seems so wonderful. Everyone improving their happiness, becoming more loving, more kind, more just.
Well then let me ask you: why are there still so many self-help books? Why are we not improving? Why are we still lost? If anything, we seem to be going backwards. Getting less happy, getting less loving, becoming more stressed. Uh oh.
Maybe now you are starting to see why I warned you self-improvement was a risky business.
Let us look closer at the concept of “self-help.” See, you must understand: a true self-help book is self-defeating. People would read it once and then no other self-help book would ever be written because nobody would have further need to buy one. Do you see how clear cut this is? This is basic logic. The conclusion is that nobody wants to really write a self-help book, and nobody could and make a profit off of it.
Here is what “self-helpers” do want. They want to manipulate you. They want to rile up your fears and then qualm them without any substantive advice. They tell you one bad story about yourself, and then substitute a new, nicer one. Do you see how all you have gained is a story? Nothing of substance. When you read a self-help book, you are being manipulated. You are being primed like a gas pump, and then ignited with a passion to consume more.
Now I am not necessarily accusing authors of being so malevolent and devious. In fact they may very well fully believe their own rubbish. I am just pointing out the logic, that for any self-help book to become popular, it must by definition be appealing to read; it must leave people wanting more at the end of each chapter; it must say what people want to hear. These are how things become popular. Does popular have anything to do with helping you? Well… no.
You see, here, even more to a point, is what a self-help book delivers. They give you the illusion of progress. You are hypnotized by the idea of improving to the point that you forget reality, which is where the improving in fact must take place. They make you feel you are gaining something you are not gaining. My, how powerful is that ability. Listen here: as long as you feel you are improving, whether you really are or whether you are just walking in circles with a silly hat on, you will be happy to continue on in that direction. Because you want improvement. And you feel you are improving. Makes sense, yea?
But of course, feeling is not the same as improving in reality. This should be evident. Let me tell you why self-help books exist. People want to be fooled. They want to be hypnotized and lied to. Of course they do, it feels great to be! But this is not the same as improvement. You know, the greatest hypnotists always tell us, “you can only be hypnotized if you desire to be; I cannot, hard as I my try, force you to do something you do not want to do.”
So this is the explanation: people are doing what they want. And some want to improve, while others want to be told they are improving. Which one are you. Figure it out for heaven sakes!
Here are some clues to help you: You read the words of others to help yourself, you have been trying to improve for years but have made little progress, you believe you are always approaching a big break, but are always underwhelmed. These are signs you prefer being lied to, to actual improvement. Now let me tell you something most have not: if this is you, don’t worry! There is no shame in this! You have chosen what you want. The only issue there ever was, was that you tricked yourself into believing otherwise. You did not have it clear. You did not know yourself, and this is what caused you to be disappointed when reality did not live up to your expectations. You found that your assumptions about what was going on -- that you were merrily and happily improving -- did not match reality. You became upset not only that you failed to improve, but that you did not understand. Nobody likes to be confused.
And how do we stop being confused? How do we help ourselves. Let’s turn there now, and I must warn you what you are about to read is “the answer.” The end. You have searched god knows how long and it comes to a close right here and right now. You may choose to read more after you finish, you may search more, and that will be your choice. But in order to actually improve yourself (in reality), the remaining words of this essay is all you will ever need.
Remember what it means to be wise: the wise man tells you something you already know, but you just don’t know that you know it yet. You already know this. It’s easy. It’s not rocket science. You just do not yet see really how easy it is. Read carefully, I will equip you with all you need.
Here it is: to improve yourself, you must… improve your self.
I have to be honest that is all you need. And given most people own a dictionary, it’s almost shocking more people do not understand this. While I’m being somewhat facetious, do not mistake that for lack of truth. That really is the answer. The question is why do you not see it as such? And that I can tell you as well. What you suffer from is not an ability to not help yourself. You can do it, you can improve. That is not an issue. Your issue is you don’t want to, and so you’ve decided to believe that you can’t. Now, helping yourself may be very easy or very hard, and so it is not entirely surprising that you may have chosen to believe helping yourself was impossible in favor of actually doing the work. But it is possible. Of course it is. I’m not saying you can do absolutely anything, but you shouldn’t be worried about things you cannot do anyways. You control what is in your power, and you definitely have the power to improve yourself however you wish.
To be crystal clear: you suffer from confusion, not ill-virtue. You cannot help yourself not because it is impossible, but because you do not really want to, and so are buying your half-hearted attempts to pretend to yourself that you are, rather than doing what would need to actually be done to improve yourself. That’s wordy, but give it another read if you have to. It’s a complicated idea, but once you get it you get it. Next comes the cure for confusion (I’ve really thought of everything here, haven’t I?)
You know, the exuberant and supremely wise Tony De Mello often said in his lectures, “Awareness, awareness, awareness.” Well, he said a whole lot more too. (Like, a whole lot more. But we’ll give him a pass just because we like him). But this was truly the crux of his message. It is that simple. Know yourself and you will find what it is you truly desire. Once you have done this, to help yourself get it will be easy. Just do what must be done. Easy.
Let us look one last time at this word, “self-help.” Do you see that word “self”? Right. That’s who is responsible.
I do not mean to offend anybody by my self-righteous language here and throughout. You are human. You are just like everybody else. This, of course, is good news and bad news for you. It means you share the same essence of the meanest criminals and dimwits, but you also are so much closer in capability to history’s greatest geniuses than you know. You are all the same; you are all human. And what do humans tend to do when they receive hard work? They ignore it. Sure they do, it’s easier to ignore it than to do it! Self-improvement is hard work and you cannot rely on anybody else to it for you. Blech, what an ugly message. Of course you would try to escape this, why wouldn’t you? I know I did for many years.
But be aware. Be aware, aware, aware. If you know not of what you do, you may seriously harm yourself. It’s a dangerous business. You wish to be happier, but you do not realize that the same quality which causes your unhappiness also causes some of your most treasured characteristics. Remove the unhappiness and with it goes the rest. Now you are still unhappy because you have lost something you treasured. Pity. Do not be so eager to go slicing and dicing yourself. You are like a blind man with a machete in a public space who thinks he is surrounded by demons.
Settle yourself. Be aware. Open your eyes first and you will know what needs to be done. This is how you help yourself, and before you do this no progress can be made, simply because you know not of what you do or what you are. See how I cannot help you here? I don’t know what you want, and even you don’t know what you want. How can I truly help you? Self help.
Focus. Be aware. That’s the message. Forget self-improvement, it is the term itself which distracts you. Just observe yourself as you are and improvement will come naturally and easily. Remember your problem is not improvement, but confusion. Improvement is easy. Just do it. But untangling the complex web of what you want and why you want it? Why you desire to improve but do not allow yourself to? Why you have mixed up reality and illusion? My, there is a challenge. You want to improve? Untangle that mess. Be aware. You’ll get something real. That’s the problem and now you have the solution.
Go ahead now, help yourself. I’ll be right here waiting.
Relax. Breathe. In a life full of stressors and troubles, you are about to receive great, happy news. You may agree with it or disagree at first, but a part of you set deep inside, that mystical part which understands when and where it encounters truth, will begin to churn and hum. You will understand that what you are about to read is different from all the other noise.
Here is where we begin: If you are someone who struggles to find motivation, your primary obstacle to achieving your goals has nothing to do with who you are. You are not less creative, you are not less smart, you are not less driven. Consider this: every human being is equipped with trillions of neurons programmed by nature’s genius to supply you with every skill and emotion you need to achieve anything which you desire. In your life you have felt the same emotions as Einstein, you have had the same thoughts as Freud, you have asked the same questions as the Buddha. In you is that essence of human nature that is sufficient to achieve the most beautiful and magnificent accomplishments. You are more complex than you could ever realize, and you have more capacity and ability than you could ever actualize or manifest in just one lifetime. All humans are gifted magnanimously in this way. We can all lead live overflowing with accomplishment.
The problem is not who you are.
Read close this subtly different method: the problem is the way you think about you. The problem is your perspective. The problem is the way you deal with your emotions. The problem is the way you understand yourself. The problem is your fear. The problem is everything you think is “you” that really is not you at all.
Without “you” to get in the way, you would have near unlimited potential. Isn’t that funny? A catch 22. The things that make you “you,” are the same things that limit and destroy your true nature. You believe you are limited, or defective. Who is the one doing the limiting? Who is the one doing the defecting? It is you.
You become the limits which you place on yourself. You say you were never very talented at mathematics. How can you be if you have decided not to be? When you do this, your true self dies. Your humanity dies. You have fallen from your natural grace. Do you know how to be fully human? To be the perfect, truest human being? Do nothing. You are it. You are human. Task complete. Allow yourself to be who you are. Only suffering can come from trying to be something you are not.
And it is by the hands of the ignorant you have been misled. You have been lied to. You have been maligned and disadvantaged. You have been told stories about yourself, what you can and cannot do, and in your fear you obeyed, internalized, and bowed your head. You paralyzed yourself with thoughts of failure, thoughts of underachievement, thoughts of inferiority.
You did this. It is your fault. And you know what? That is incredible news. That realization, when you have it, is remarkable. You did it. It’s your problem. This means you have the power to undo it. You have control over it. You cannot make a problem without having some control over it. You have never lost control. You have simply forgotten you ever had it in the first place. You have driven the car off the highway and onto the bumpy, uncomfortable road, and then you have abandoned the wheel and wonder how to guide it back to the highway. Let me tell you why this has happened to you.
Thinking. This is the root of the issue. Without thought you would have no fear, no limitations, no inhibitions. Your thoughts are not you, and yet you have come to believe they are. If this was not so, how come you can be so offended when someone calls into question your politics? Your dreams? Your beliefs? Your ideas? Ideas have no feelings. If you are made to be upset when your ideas come under attack, then you have identified with them. You have become your ideas and lost yourself.
Back when you were piloting the car, you were not thinking, you were acting. And then the second you found yourself in a place you wished not to be, you gave up control and turned to thought to save you. You contemplate what gear you should be in, whether you should open the sunroof, whether you will begin to slow down, what the best weather for driving would be. Because of your thinking, you do everything but grab back control of the vehicle and begin to drive your life where you want it to go.
And so you are told to THINK BIG. You are told to remain in this state of non-control. And you are so afraid of being small that you listen.
Do you know what it really means to think big? Do you know what you are really being told? How hopelessly hypnotized you are to accept somebody else’s message?
Let me tell you what it is to think big. To think big is to play with toys. To think big is to fantasize about fictions. To think big is to create impossible standards that you desire so feverishly you are driven mad with lust and envy. To think big is to forget reality and substitute your own fantasy in its place. To think big is to forget yourself, to create a set of impossible standards that, failing to achieve them, you deem yourself a failure and become depressed. To think big is to make an unsustainable attempt to escape your fear of being small, which you have come to believe is who you are. To think big is to convince yourself that escaping your fear by such daydreaming is actually helpful to you. To think big is to abandon yourself for somebody else’s idea of success and pretend that doing so can do anything but destroy you in the end.
When you think big, your mind is in the future. Your plans are in the future, and your accomplishments. Look how simple this is: nothing has ever been accomplished in the future. Nothing has ever been done in the future. Nothing achieved. Nothing. All things are in the present. The present is where you must bring yourself. The present is where you must act if you wish to achieve your goals. It cannot be any other way.
And the bigger you think, the smaller you become. You slowly dispose of reality and you dispose of yourself. Heavens, what accomplishment of any worth could you possibly achieve without those two things!
Thinking big is one big mess of a misunderstanding.
Now you begin to see. Your eyes begin to open to what is wrong with the way you are behaving. Hopefully you feel some sense of despair. That means you are beginning to recognize how hopeless your past situation has been. You’ve heard the worst of the criticism. From here on out we will slowly guide you back. We will begin to empower you. Give you tools to fight. Guide your hand to the wheel of the car. The rest will be up to you. Read On.
Think big, think here, think there, think everywhere. It doesn’t matter. Thinking has removed you from the here and now. Thinking has destroyed you. It is thinking that makes you miserable. Forget it.
You may wonder about these words; you may have become lost. How can I achieve my goals without thinking? How can anything of value be done?
Look here, this will be enjoyable for you to see. Remember some goals you have achieved in the past about which you are proud. Remember the things you did to get it and then ask yourself: when you are truly accomplishing your goals, when you are in the thick of things, when you are firing on all cylinders, when you are advancing in your pursuits -- where are your thoughts? They are not there. This is the feeling of being “in the zone,” of being in “flow state.” No thought. Thought has abandoned you because you have no need for it. When you are thinking, you are not doing. When you are doing, you are not thinking. So enough with the thoughts!
Then what is to be done, eh? How to achieve your goals?
Shake yourself, pinch yourself -- you are not dreaming, but you are very, very lucky -- I have the answer right here for you. To achieve your goals in three steps. Here you are. You will never need another self-help book.
That is it. Really. Look again if you have to. Come back again and again if you wish, for you will probably forget these steps. They will be here for you.
It seem too simple, you might say. Reaching your dreams takes hard work, and battling through confusion, and overcoming impossible obstacles.
Do you know what requires those things? Battling with yourself. Battling against your own self-imposed limitations. It is with those you do battle, and you have mistakenly attributed the great difficulty of that battle to that of pursuing your dream. Pursuing a dream takes no effort at all. Believing you are pursuing a dream, which is what we do when we think big, creates difficulty, but a true dream does not require belief or thinking. Only understanding and doing. Those are things which will help you; you should treasure them.
Start with you. The problem is in you. So too is the answer. Follow the steps and you will gain clarity. In clarity there is confidence, purpose, fulfillment and happiness. You will begin to see that things can be very simple. You are the one who makes it complex. Work at the three steps. Practice them, particularly the first one. First things first. With awareness all things will come. Slowly, unmistakably, the knots in your mind will untangle themselves. Focus on the here and now.
Remember: if you are thinking, you are not doing. To think requires a “you,” a character you have created with hopes and dreams and desires. To think is to believe in a fiction, which is to be confused. Understand who you are, cease striving for fantasy, and you will have found yourself and rediscovered the present moment from which you can finally begin your work. Stop dreaming and start doing. Do, do, do. That is all there is.
Something magnificent will begin to happen to you. Something truly gorgeous and profound. You will begin to have visions. Small at first, but always growing stronger. You will begin to see your future, your goals, and what must be done to achieve them. Not in the literal sense, of course, but in the figurative one will you begin to see the path you must take and the things you must accomplish.
All the great figures throughout history tell us to think big. Well, here is their dirty little secret: they used the wrong word. It is lost in translation. Those who accomplish great things do not think about the future, they see what is possible and they go get it. To them it feels like thinking, but it is something subtly different which is understanding or seeing. To see and not think, you must be grounded in what is real, you must first understand that which is, rather than believing in that which is not. You must do this no matter the cost, no matter your fear of the truth, or you’ll be chasing the flickering after-images of your imagination until the day you die. The phantoms and ghosts that will make you feel as if you are constantly achieving something while you are in reality stagnant. This dissonance is why you become depressed, why you lose motivation, why you feel like a failure, and if you let them these feelings will haunt you until the day you die.
Stop thinking big. Stop creating fiction. Focus on you. Reform yourself. Know yourself. Follow the steps and you will begin to see big.
You are on your way.