A Guide to Being Yourself

punk_girl_with_mohawkTake as much time as you need to laugh at how ridiculous the title of this post is.

Once you’re done, come back to discover why it’s not so ridiculous.

I’m sure you’ve never come across a book that taught glass cups what to do when falling to the ground, or instructional videos that taught cats how to “meow”, but why do human beings need a guide to teach them how to be themselves?

Aren’t we all being ourselves already? After all, who else can we be?

The advice to “be yourself” isn’t as simple as many writers make it out to be. I included it in the 7 ideas that are probably ruining your life list for a reason: when a complex idea is dished out in a simplistic way, misunderstandings are likely to ensue.

If you are being yourself, is there any need for personal growth and character development? What are you developing towards?

I have come across many individuals who are disrespectful to others, and the only apology they can offer is to shrug and say: “I’m just being myself.”

But who are you?

What do you identify yourself with?

Are you the way you acted as a child? Or the hobbies you enjoyed as a teen? Or the subject you studied in college? Or the career you pursued as an adult?

Are you defined by what you eat? Or how you look? Or who you spend time with? Or how much money you have in your account? Or how many cars decorate your driveway?

Is it your sense of humor? Or the way you speak? Or the movies you enjoy watching? Or the way you handle stress?

Is it how you see yourself? Or how others see you?

Is it how you feel? Or what you think? Or what you do?

Is it the culture you belong to? The religion you believe in? The society you live in? The family name you carry?

If you are being yourself, then what happens when you seek to change? Are you compromising who you are?

There’s more to being yourself than… being yourself.

Who You Are

You are not your thoughts, but the one who thinks those thoughts.

You are not your feelings, but the one who experiences those feelings.

You are not your actions, but the one who chooses those actions.

You are not what people think of you or what you think of yourself.

Those are impressions based on past decisions you’ve made.

You are the one who decides what you think, what you feel, and what you do.

The one who chooses is You.

Identifying with your thoughts, feelings and actions strips you from your ability to choose, change and grow.

It makes you defensive and offensive.

It makes you vulnerable and aggressive.

To truly be yourself, you have to develop a healthy relationship with your thoughts, your feelings and your actions, so that you don’t see yourself as being those things, and overlooking the choice you are able to exercise.

What You Think

Authority figures rarely endorse freedom of thought.

Instead, they want others to blindly accept their convictions and values, and to lead their lives accordingly.

Politicians try to dictate what citizens can and can’t do.

Religious figures demand that their congregations not question the message delivered to them.

Teachers expect students to learn the material they are taught, and to keep their questions for their parents.

Parents teach their children to listen to them, because they know better.

We grow up relying on the thinking others have done on our behalf, without question.

That doesn’t mean that we no longer think.

Thinking is a necessary part of our lives. We’re always collecting information and processing it.

It does mean that we think within the worldview we were taught to believe is truth and according to the values we were brought up to accept as moral.

But we can’t make sense of our experiences on our own.

Being yourself means that you take on the responsibility to think for yourself, without feeling obliged to accept the beliefs and values of others.

Sure you can ask people for their opinions and insights, but you respect your own intellect and your own ability to evaluate the ideas that come your way.

What You Feel

Emotions are often perceived as a weakness, but that’s only because they are gravely misunderstood.

We cannot function properly as human beings without our emotions, both negative and positive.

What we feel indicates to us what thoughts are operating (often subconsciously) in our minds, and our feelings are a physical expression of our own values.

To condemn your feelings isn’t healthy. They’re only revealing what you think.

Rather than shun them or suppress them, listen to them.

What are they telling you? What can you learn from them about your thoughts and values?

When you feel angry, you are not the anger. You are the one experiencing the anger.

But why are you feeling angry in the first place?

Do you believe it’s the right emotion to convey, at the right time and to the right degree?

Here “right” doesn’t mean socially acceptable. It means that it supports your life and well-being.

If anger gets in the way of constructive communication, then it’s unhealthy. But if it compels you to confront injustice, then it’s healthy.

What matters is that you give yourself the space to feel and listen to your feelings, without judging or condemning yourself, or identifying with your emotions.

Emotions stem from thoughts and your thoughts are of your choosing. It is up to you what emotions you would like to cultivate, based on the thoughts you choose to have.

What You Do

What makes habits so difficult to change isn’t the habits themselves, but who we think we are, based on what we have done in the past.

If you’ve struggled to wake up early in the past, you may conclude that you’re “not a morning person.”

If you’ve acted violently towards others, then you may conclude that you’re “short-tempered.”

These labels you place on yourself dictate how you lead your life and what decisions you’ll make in the future, based on the decisions you’ve made in the past.

The implicit thought behind your decisions is: “If I was me, what would I do?”

And then you act according to that answer.

But that answer is your self-image. It’s not who you are.

Being yourself isn’t about embracing your self-image.

It’s about abandoning your self-image and realizing the ability you have to choose other behaviors, and develop different habits.

Again, you are the one that chooses. You are not the choice you make.

All the characteristics and labels you’ve placed on yourself, based on your past behaviors, only reveal how you’ve behaved in the past. They do not reveal who you are.

Just because you’ve made poor decisions in the past doesn’t mean you have to remain consistent with those decisions.

Such a commitment is a betrayal of yourself, since you’re abandoning your ability to choose.

How To Be Yourself

The default approach to take to “being yourself” is to go against what society expects you to do and rebel against The System.

But that’s the opposite side of the same coin: using society as a standard of how to live your life.

To be yourself, you need to embrace your own ability to choose your thoughts, your feelings and your actions.

You are willing to listen to others, but ultimately decide for yourself.

You can have strong convictions and remain open to accepting new ideas.

You can experience intense emotions and be willing to listen to them, or change them if they don’t serve your life.

You can act with passion and be able to evaluate your own behaviors, without falsely concluding that you are the decisions you’ve made in your past.

To be yourself, you create the space needed for you to consider the alternative options open to you, and to choose for yourself.

That’s what being yourself is about.

Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt (a.k.a. Pink Sherbet)


The Selfish Spectrum

rainbow-umbrellaNothing has contributed more to human misery than the pursuit of happiness.

It’s not because happiness is a bad thing.

Far from it.

But we’ve made misery a necessary part of happiness.


To understand that, we’ll need to have a look at what I call…

The Selfish Spectrum

Imagine a horizontal stick. One end represents being Selfish and the other represents being Selfless.

[Or if you don’t feel like imagining, look at the graphic below, made by Larry Coppenrath. Thanks, Larry!]

The Selfish Spectrum

In order to pursue our own happiness, we must move towards the Selfish end of the stick.

And if we want to make others happy, we must move towards the Selfless end.

That’s the Selfish Spectrum.

It pits our happiness against the happiness of others and presents a false dichotomy between the two.

To be happy, we must be happy at the expense of others.

To make others happy, we must make sacrifices for the sake of others.

Happiness is tied to misery.

Either be miserable and make others happy, or happy and make others miserable.

When happiness is discussed, it’s often placed within the context of the Selfish Spectrum.

Your own happiness is often justified only as a means to the happiness of others.

“Taking care of your health isn’t selfish, because it allows you to better serve others.”

But rather than explain happiness within the Selfish Spectrum and find a “middle way” between self-indulgence and self-sacrifice, we should abandon this false dichotomy entirely and value our own happiness as well as the happiness of others.

Without the need for sacrifices or score cards.

There Is No Spectrum

Your happiness does not have to be at other people’s expense, and being moral doesn’t demand that you sacrifice yourself for other people’s sake.

You can be happy and make others happy.

Your happiness matters and other people’s happiness matters.

We can only truly appreciate our own happiness when we respect other people’s right to the pursuit of their own happiness.

And contributing to other people’s happiness doesn’t take away from our own, but can enhance it. Provided that we value other people’s happiness and aren’t forced to make sacrifices.

But don’t relationships demand sacrifice?

Only if you hate your partner.

Why would you see your partner’s happiness as a sacrifice of your own?

Why would you demand that your partner make sacrifices so you can be happy?

Don’t accept living within the Selfish Spectrum.

It’s a recipe for misery. If not for you, then for those around you.

And is living with miserable people a conducive environment for your own happiness?

I don’t think so.

As a human being, you have a variety of needs (as the Personal Growth Map illustrates).

You can’t be happy if you pursue your Spiritual goals while ignoring your Physical needs.

And you won’t experience genuine happiness if you don’t work on building your Social relationships, which means that you have to value other people’s happiness in the same way you would like them to value your own.

You may not be able to spend your entire day on Recreational activities because your partner and children need your attention and love.

But that’s not a sacrifice.

That’s healthy, balanced living.

In what ways can you be happy?

In what ways can you make others happy?

You know you’re on the right path when the things that make you happy don’t hurt others, and the things that make others happy bring you joy.

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography


25 Tips To Becoming A Human Learning Machine


One of the reasons why schools can often contribute to making kids dumber instead of smarter is that they focus on what to learn without helping students develop the skills of how to learn.

Since I’ve set out some fairly ambitious goals for the new year, I’ve decided to invest some time in learning more about… well, learning.

These are some tips on how to enhance your learning abilities and become a Human Learning Machine.


Rational or Emotional? The Truth About Your Decisions


There’s been a longstanding debate about the nature of decision-making and whether we base our decisions on rational reasons or emotional impulses.

Some say we should consult the mind and ignore the heart if we want to make the right decision.

Others say that we should follow our hearts and ignore the paralyzing calculations of the mind.

And still others say that there’s always a blend of rational and emotional elements to decision making.

I’ll save you the suspense:

All your decisions are driven by your emotions.

Sounds insane?

Then we need to revisit what “rational” and “emotional” mean, and what role they play in our lives.

The Role of Reason

Have you ever smelled something with your hands? Saw something with your nose? Tasted something with your ears? Touched something with your eyes? Heard something with your tongue?

I’m willing to bet the answer is no to all these questions.

You don’t smell with your hands. That’s not the purpose they serve in your life.

And when it comes to understanding the importance of reason to our survival and happiness, it’s essential that we identify the role it serves in our lives.

Reason allows us to make sense of the world.

We use our senses to gather data, and our rational faculty helps connect the pieces together and form an understanding of how the world functions.

We use past experiences (and other people’s experiences) in developing our understanding of the world and what we ought to do to make progress in life.

But reason only sets the destination.

It is emotion that drives us to action.

The Motion Of Emotion

You can “know” that junk food is bad for you and still eat it with pleasure.


Because reason has described the landscape and your destination. But if your emotions are set on a different direction, you will go in that direction.

Emotion is the ring that connects reason with action. Without emotion, we won’t feel compelled to do anything, no matter how much information we know about the importance of that action.

To be honest, the question of whether we decide rationally or emotionally is flawed in itself.

It assumes that reason and emotion are at war with each other, and you must choose between them.

But emotion is an extension of reason and it serves an equally valuable – but essentially different – role in our lives.

“Hold on!” I hear you shout (yes, I have good ears).

“If emotion is an extension of reason, then why are they in conflict? Why does reason pull us in one direction and emotion push us in another?”

A very sensible question and the answer is a very interesting one…

Mixed Signals

Just to recap:

There is absolutely no inherent conflict between reason and emotion.

So why do they often pull us in separate directions?

Because every emotion has its own reason, which we often neglect.

The conflict isn’t between reason and emotion, but contradictory reasons, each with a different emotional value attached to it.

What we tend to do is look at the “rational” factors and overlook the reasons that drive our emotions (because we consider emotions to be irrational).

But every emotion stems from a reason, and the cause of the conflict between reason and emotion is the mixed mental signals we’re giving our bodies.

Since reason doesn’t drive us to action (that’s the role of emotion), we go by what we feel most inclined to do.

Every time.

Anger doesn’t develop out of thin air. It’s the result of a thinking process. When you feel angry and want to lash out at those who have caused you to be angry, you don’t think – there and then – that your anger is uncalled for.

You believe that you are justified in feeling angry and those you lash out at deserve what they get. Somewhere inside you, you don’t believe that your anger is irrational. It makes perfect sense.

But there’s another reasoning thread – with a lower emotional charge attached to it – that asks you to consider the law, social etiquette, other people’s feelings, etc.

Which “reason” do you believe you will act by?

That’s right. The emotionally charged one.

Making The Right Decisions

If you’re not happy with the decisions you’re making in your life, don’t blame your emotions.

They’re on your side.

They deserve to be loved and respected.

But you need to identify their root and resolve the conflict between contradictory reasons.

Conflicts often arise when you were brought up to live by certain beliefs and values without questioning them. While you were developing your own reasoning, you were acting according to the values you were taught to accept.

You value your own happiness, but are taught that selfishness is a bad thing.

You believe having fun is good, but are taught that it’s irresponsible.

You think that you can be moral and wealthy, but are taught that money is the root of all evil.

Such conflicting opinions will naturally lead to mixed signals.

If you want to make the right decisions, you have to consciously address all your beliefs and listen to what your emotions reveal about the beliefs lurking in your psyche.

That’s the only way you can dissolve the false dichotomy between the rational and the emotional.

Photo Credit: CarbonNYC

Personal Growth

The Countdown – Day 1: Resources For Your Resolutions

OK, I know this may sound disgusting, but I’m drooling right now.

I just completed a couple of resources that I think you’ll find insanely useful to…

*Wipes drool*

… achieve your resolutions.

Before you hunt those precious resources down, I’d like to thank you for reading The Countdown posts, and hope that you found them useful! 😀

But as useful as they may be, they’re nowhere near as useful as these resources I’m telling you about.

To download them, head over to the New Year, New Life page.