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So What Do You Think?

May 27, 2012

Self HelpIn that last dozen or so years, in pursuit of my ‘perfect life’, I have spent a good deal of time reading what some would call ‘self help’ books (at least, that’s where you find them shelved in the bookstore).  Some were enlightening, some frightening; a few were helpful, an equal number were of no help whatsoever; some have become well-read favourites, others were quickly relegated to the ‘donation’ box for the annual Humane Society garage sale. I can, however, honestly say that I learned something from every single one of them (even if it was just the fact that one person’s journey to illumination can seem totally ‘woo woo’ – or just downright hilarious – to another, less ‘enlightened’ human being.  ‘To each his own’, I suppose).

Shangri-LaI know there is no single book (or philosophy or path or course) that is going to provide me with the steps (presented in sequential order, please) to my ‘right life’. It takes a great deal of willpower to even want to change, never mind to make it happen. Each person’s journey to their personal Shangri-la is an individual one, and many never quite find the path that leads them where they hope to go (and some never even embark on the journey in the first place).  I suppose what I look for in these books is a few ideas, a little guidance, and a dash of encouragement as I try to determine exactly what it is that I was put on this earth to do (besides all the things I’ve already done and those I’m currently engaged in).  It would be extremely presumptuous of me to suggest that any one book (or even any one author) has all the answers – they don’t, but they do have some good suggestions that I try (at least occasionally) to put to good use as I go through my daily life.

One concept that struck me as particularly enlightening (if I can use that word in its simplest context) was to “Stop believing anything made of language … Words are never the Truth – they are arbitrary combinations of sounds that we associate with ideas” (from ‘Steering by Starlight’ by Martha Beck ).  What Ms Beck is talking about is the ‘fears’ we experience when we live our lives according to what we’ve been told is ‘right’ (or good, or honourable, or required) by others (parents, religious leaders, teachers, employers, politicians, newscasters, etc.) Who Cares? She quite accurately points out that humans are the only animal that believes ‘words’ over ‘experiences’.  All other animals operate on instinctual action and response – you won’t see other species worrying about what ‘someone else’ will think about what they do, about the consequences of their actions, about how their ‘decisions’ might impact others, or about what disaster might befall them tomorrow – they just go out and do what they need to do and get on with living their lives.  By contrast, humans often get stuck in lives that don’t fulfill them because we believe and live by what we’ve been told, rather than by our ‘gut instincts’.

WordsThis is a pretty heady concept, and not one to be taken lightly, especially considering that most of us have spent decades becoming conditioned to believe the words we hear and the ones we think (those 70,000 thoughts you have every day are made up of language!)   But I can personally attest to the fact that words are not always ‘the Truth’, because I have found (through ‘trial and error’) that not everything I was taught to ‘fear’ as I was growing up was actually true.  To wit – I have personally ‘broken’ several tenets set out by family and other so-called ‘experts’ related to education and career choice, marriage and divorce, child rearing, teaching, quitting a well-paying job, etc. and found that – surprise, surprise – the world didn’t come to an end and neither did my life. Sometimes the most ‘shocking’ of these decisions (to others; the hardest for me to make) turned out to be the best things I’ve ever done! 

So I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that locking yourself into a ‘cage’ based on things you’ve been told to ‘believe’ is a death sentence! Living your life by your own feelings and experiences can be very freeing – and absolutely essential to finding the path to the life you were meant to live.

Is It True?The lives we live are constantly changing – some (most?) of those changes are beyond our control; other things are well within our sphere of influence and power.  It’s just a matter of paying attention to the stories we tell ourselves (“I can’t do X because of Y”) and asking whether or not the ‘rule’ we are quoting is absolutely true (100% of the time; never, ever ‘broken’ by someone else; world or life-altering or ending if broken), then rethinking the premise, and detaching ourselves from the misguided ‘truth’ of what we have been led to believe and going our own way (i.e., making the decision that serves US – not others – best).

For example, I was led to believe that life wasn’t much worth living past the age of 50 – yet here I am – living, and loving, and laughing and reinventing myself day after day on … the other side of 55.

Authors/Books/Works Worth Checking Out:

  • Byron Katie (Loving What Is; A Thousand Names for Joy) 
  • Martha Beck (Finding Your Own North Star; Steering by Starlight )
  • Dr. Wayne Dyer (The Power of Intention; Change Your Thoughts-Change Your Life; Being in Balance; Excuses Be Gone!)

Words of Wisdom

  1. May 29, 2012 8:42 am

    As a fellow other side of 55er I’m hearing what you say. I’ve wasted way to much time worrying about what other people think.

    • May 29, 2012 8:54 am

      I’ve often considered writing a book called (something like) “Opinions I Never Should Have Listened To”. I’m shocked sometimes by how many ‘bad’ decisions were based not on what I wanted to do, but on what other people told me I should want to do. SIGH!


  2. Becky permalink
    May 29, 2012 12:45 am

    I completely understand what you are saying about self-help books. Not all of them are as helpful as they claim to be, but there are some that hit the nail on the head, and become books that you re-read over and over. Gerard M. Doyle ‘s latest self-help book, “Being You: How To Live Authentically” does that for me. It is full of very useful information. It has helped me to understand my needs, clarify my values, establish a life-vision, and develop greater self-worth by thinking, feeling and behaving in more skillful ways. I intend to check out some of the books you have suggested as well. Thank you. You can never get too much information when it comes to improving yourself.

    • June 3, 2012 5:23 pm

      We’re always in need of at least a little self improvement!


  3. Cathy permalink
    May 27, 2012 10:31 pm

    Very uplifting, Margo. And very true. In so many ways we live our lives according to what others believe is right for us and therefore we think, must be so. It’s very hard to go against all that and really find what it is we want. I’m not sure I have. Yet.

    • May 28, 2012 8:47 am

      I’ve been trying very hard to listen to my ‘gut’ rather than my ‘brain’ – sometimes the ‘right’ decision isn’t the first one you think you should make!


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