A step-by-step guide of implementing self-help book tips……(just kidding).
So, yeah, there really isn’t a trick. It’s a lot of trial and error and disappointment and confusion, but when you get there you will have a fantastic “AHA!” moment and it will all be worth it.
When I read nonfiction books (neuroscience or self-help), I take notes on a google document somewhere. Mostly because I’ve gotten the book from the library, however, there are certain books I would love to buy for my future book collection (ex. right now I’m reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and it’s truly wonderful). Sometimes I take notes while I read, but I get less out of it that way. I like to read a whole chapter, then go back and take notes. I want the big picture on “how to be better” instead of all the tiny little things I’ll probably forget in a few days.
When I was growing up, I was made aware of the fact that I was very sensitive and had anger issues. Now I didn’t struggle with accepting it, but I struggled with figuring out what to do next — I’m a very action-oriented person. Clearly my parents lectured me about this because they wanted me to get better, they weren’t pointing it out to hurt me. I constantly asked, while crying, “ok, ok, I get it…but how am I supposed to change??”
I was very overwhelmed. First of all, I feared that I might fail to change — I failed to believe in myself, and I did not want to fail because that would be so embarrassing (how dare I fail at something really difficult, right??), so I avoided trying. Second of all, I was freaking out while in an already emotional state — not ideal. And without any concrete steps of what to do, I felt lost. I like to know exactly what’s happening and exactly what’s coming; basically, I like being in control. Apparently, I wanted to control everything in my life except myself because I thought it’d be easier.
Obviously I was being extremely stupid because it’s impossible to control others and outcomes. The best part of this book is that it’s reminding me to take responsibility for everything. It doesn’t mean I have to control everything or that everything that’s already happened is my fault, but it means that in this current second, and as I move forward, I’m responsible for the way I react to things.
I, like many others, have read self-help books and wondered, ok, how the heck do I actually do these things? I know what I need to change, I know what’s going on…but now what? Mark described it perfectly. He said that it’s simple, but it’s not easy, it’s actually really really hard. It’s simply all about choices — how to react, what to prioritize, etc., but the hard part is dealing with the weirdness of the change. It’s going to be new and uncomfortable and weird, but it’s going to help in the long run.
So how do I interpret this? I think the first thing that comes to mind is thought. You have to constantly think about a new idea to let it start infiltrating your life. Maybe you meditate on it in the morning, maybe you reflect at night on the day that just passed, or you apply this new view to the past two weeks and see what you could have done better. Bringing attention to this new idea is really important because it allows you to work on the next step.
Second, identifying — I honestly cannot tell you how to identify that you’re feeling a feeling because it’s extremely difficult. I’ll use my self-righteous anger as an example. I usually struggle to find that I’m being self-righteous until way after the fact. However, there are moments I’ve nearly immediately identified it — whether halfway through an angry rant or right after it, and that’s when it clicks. Sometimes it takes just that one instant to suddenly be much more aware of your habits and tendencies towards yourself and others.
After you start to identify moments of your stupidity (harsh, but a bit true), you can start to figure out a few things — why you react the way you do and what you can do better next time. It doesn’t mean you will definitely do better next time, it just means that you’re suddenly aware of one more time you experienced that specific situation or emotion. And with self-righteous anger, for example, it’s quite easy to say why you reacted a certain way — because you thought you knew best and that only your opinion matters. And then you’ll remember the poor outcomes that came from it, and you won’t really want to do it again.
There’s no perfect formula. There’s no snapping of the fingers to magically “fix” you — there may be instant identification of a problem or situation, but the key is figuring out what you’re going to do next to make it better, and that’s the hard part. How do you move forward while realizing you failed and that you may not know exactly what you’re doing? Well, it’s really hard. But you do it because you have to.
If you expect yourself to be able to change the very next time you experience the specific emotion…well, probably don’t. I’m not saying to have low expectations for yourself, but you definitely can’t succeed until you try at least once, or even twice or three times. So you will have to push forward even with that little bit of doubt.
Everyone is different. We all have different levels of emotions and logic and desire for control, so that’s why it’s so important to take everything you read, see or hear with a grain of salt. However, I think that constant thought (without causing yourself extra pain) and identification will give you a great place to start. You can’t really fix a problem if you can’t identify it, ya know? And problems always exist, it’s a fact of life.
There will be a moment when everything clicks. And it might take a long time, and that’s ok. It’s taken me 23 years to identify things, and it’s a breath of (slightly or very painful) fresh air every time. It’s not meant to be easy but when you come out the other side you’ll be better. A better friend, listener, partner, child, parent, whatever you desire to be.