Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mental Trick for Changing One's Personal Story

You may have heard the trick of imagining your ideal self and then imagining you are already that person (or thinking of your goal and then visualizing having it). This has to do with the idea that we are "talking to ourselves" all day in our heads, and that what we say to ourselves reflects our view of ourselves and what we're capable of - our personal stories. Rather than trying to change individual behaviours with a brute force method, we could instead change the internal story which led to the behaviours in the first place.

Unfortunately I have found that it often doesn't work to simply tell myself that I am the person I want to be. Perhaps this is because if I tell myself that, for example, I am someone who is always considerate and acts accordingly, this works right up until I do something from long standing habit which does not "fit" this model. Then the illusion is shattered and I fall back into my old story.

Perhaps I need to adjust the story of who I want to be such that it is compatible with the transition. In other words, make the goal not just some static standard of perfection, but an ideal process. So instead of, "I want to be someone who is always considerate", it would be more like, "I want to be someone who strives to be considerate, and when she does something inconsiderate takes the necessary action to learn from it and make things right." Notice that the former statement is unobtainable, and that the latter statement is completely doable.

There's a big issue of guilt in my personal stories. It seems I tell myself something like, "I want to be someone who never does anything she should feel guilty for". I describe the details of what I would do rather than state it this way, but that appears to be the underlying nature of the sentiment. Really, it is built upon the foundation of the concept of blame. If this concept is accepted, then I would always have to strive to be someone who acts in a blameless fashion. That is the supposed function of blame after all; to scare people into doing "the right thing" in order to avoid feeling guilty. Since there will always be people who blame even without good reason, avoiding it would be essentially impossible. My only alternatives would be to surround myself with a sufficient number of people who find me blameless in order to counteract this effect or to isolate myself from those who would blame me by labelling them as unreasonable or blameworthy themselves. These are common strategies, but short term solutions at best.

On a conscious level I choose to reject the blame/guilt model altogether. Guilt and self blame are not useful. They are counterproductive. They keep me stuck. I know this. Yet it appears to be the most difficult of all my thought patterns to break. There is an alternative world view; nobody is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is what we do after we make a mistake. Very cliche sounding, but how often do these concepts actually sink in? This view requires abstaining from blaming altogether, self and others. I can get quite far with not blaming others, but the circuit never quite completes itself when it comes to not blaming myself.

Doing something different and acknowledging something I regret seem to be... uncomfortable tasks at best. Unthinkable at worst. Why? If a person regrets what they did, wouldn't it be quite natural to state that something went wrong, why, and then implement a solution after the completion of their analysis? This would not require self hatred. It would not require unshakable guilt. It would simply require seeing that something went differently from the way one hoped, finding out why, and then looking for potential methods of improvement. Once again, the old blame model is standing in the way. But why is it so hard to shake, even conceptually?

One thing I find problematic is that, while internally the two perspectives could not be more different, externally I haven't figured out how to differentiate between them. I may design an action that I intend to take out of guiltless regret, no blame, just attempting to fix the miscommunication or poor technique. But this very action fits too easily into the blame model as well. My fear seems to be that it will look as though I have accepted the blame and the underlying assumptions; that I am a bad person, incompetent, irrational etc. The fear is that this will put me in a poor position in the future, as someone easily dismissed or looked down upon. Or others will think that by considering their needs so openly, I have decided to sacrifice my own, as would be dictated by the blame model.

(Note: there is likely something else at play as well which catapults me back into the blame model, as I often find self loathing springing up the instant I start actually considering the most logical mitigating action.)

So it appears I need a personal story that not only works for the transition process, but which also works for interfacing between the blame model that others might retain and my desired, guiltless regret model. That is, I need my new story to work without requiring others to accept the idea that blame is counterproductive and destructive and that change can be motivated quite easily without it.

I focused on one example in this post (overcoming guilt as an obstacle to becoming more considerate), but I'm sure the concept could be applied to just about any goal. The theory that seems to be emerging is that, when attempting to change one's personal story, the new story should meet a few requirements:
1) The goal should be realistically obtainable.

2) The new story needs to allow for a transition from the old story.

3) The new story needs to be compatible with other people's reactions and other effects.

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