We all want to change ourselves. Even those of us who feel the burning flames of personal contentment still have monsters inside we’d like to cook. I consider it adding the seasoning to the meal. The hearty, bloody, satisfying meat is all there, but I wanna make it taste even better.
There is no easy change. Any changes we make has to get past the roadblocks we set for ourselves. At some point we’ve all found ourselves unable to do something we know we should. Assholes out there say “just do it!” cos THEY just did it at some point, but that might be their base character. They may have the strength to jump in and do anything.
This is not a message from the excuse brigade. There are some things we just cannot bring our selves to do at this point in time. But that does not preclude the ability to do it at some point in the future.
There is work to be done. That work is to bring ourselves to the point where that action we so dearly want to take is, while perhaps not easy to do, at least within our realm of ability.
Guilt rears it’s ugly head often at this point of self-change. We feel guilty for not being the man we are supposed to be, despite the fact we may never have practiced to be that way. We may never have been taught to be tough, or to take action, or to meet women, or to go to the gym, or to talk in front of crowds, or to finish what we start, or to achieve goals that we set. We have never performed these tasks, we have never practiced these things and have never been taught them by a skilled practitioner, and yet we believe we should have the innate ability to perform all the tasks necessary to being a man, or a capable person, or whatever the label you are striving for happens to be.
When we fail to live up to these unpracticed standards we’ve set for ourselves we feel guilty. We have let the team down. We should have been able to perform despite all logical reasoning pointing to the opposite. So we are weighed down by the burden that is guilt. John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress described Christian as carrying a large burden on his back, the burden of guilt. This is literally the way in which I feel guilt, as a weight upon me. I feel it as a sensation of heaviness in the bottom of my chest that pulls me down and forward.
But guilt is a thoroughly useless emotion, the only purpose of which is for external control. You have taken this emotion, thought it was somehow useful, and turned it upon yourself in order to make yourself perform. But guilt never works in a positive sense. You never felt good about doing the task for your parents or whoever else emotionally blackmailed you into feeling guilty. You did it to rid yourself of the horrible gnawing feeling in your guts that people with a conscience feel. When you feel guilty for your own lack of action, even if you eventually perform the act, you will not feel really great about it as you only did it to assuage your own guilt. Likely you will still feel guilty, perhaps about not doing it earlier or some other reason.
Imagine instead performing an action because you truly enjoyed it. Or perhaps as a personal challenge, and you enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that you get from overcoming difficulty. Imagine doing that thing you hate not because of guilt, but through a desire for victorious battle.
I started thinking about going to the gym in my mid-twenties after reading about the positive effects. But I could not bring myself to go. The anxiety was too great.
What could I be anxious about in going to the gym, you ask? Before I first went, small things had built into mountains. I didn’t know what the people would be like…. were they all marshmallow douche bags? What was the routine like? How did you change from one machine to another? Was there some secret code that I knew nothing about? What if I didn’t know how to use a certain machine? Would everyone laugh at me? Would I stick out like a mole on a model because I was small and thin?
It all sounds so ridiculous to me now, but at the time I COULD NOT DO IT. It was like travelling to the moon for me, completely beyond the realm of my ability. The anxiety was far too great and involved all the deep feelings that imagination lends you, like the fear of humiliation and intimidation. And I felt guilty for not being able to do it.
At some point I had to render guilt useless. All it took was a modicum of self-control. I realised I felt guilty about something, then used logical thought to destroy that feeling. I found it far more useful in the long run to be gentler with myself and allow failure without guilt, then to allow guilt to prosper and be left immobile.
It took a lot of practice. Often I would find myself with a feeling in my guts that took a while to uncover. Guilt sneaks in while you are not looking. You must be forever vigilant to protect yourself against this energy sapper.