How to Find Out Who You Truly Are

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In the Mirror Series: How Seeing Ourselves More Clearly Can Make the World a Better Place

Part 2: Mirror, Mirror, on the wall…

Have you ever been merrily row, row, rowing along the river of life and suddenly had a rude awakening? Someone says something that upends your sense of who you are and now your row boat is steadily taking on water, if it hasn’t capsized already.

  • You are a selfish person.

  • You are not a team player.

  • You are a terrible father / daughter / [insert relationship]

What just happened?

A fundamental problem that all of us face is our ability to see ourselves clearly. Why is that, you might ask?

Our inability to see our true selves is a result of both lack of reliable feedback from those around us and our inability to distinguish from reliable and unreliable feedback.

Most of the time, other people are a poor mirror through which to see ourselves. Our friends, colleagues, and family, no matter how clearly they see us, generally sugarcoat things in order to avoid conflict or sometimes because they just don’t care enough to get into it with us.

In Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, Kim Scott shares how in a work context, people develop best when they receive Radical Candor, which is when you are Challenged Directly by people who Care Personally about you.

Do you know someone, maybe they look like you, who during their performance evaluation is criticized for the first time about things that were never mentioned before? Does that make you more or less likely to be able to trust that feedback and benefit from it?

Do you know someone who has had a rough year performance wise, but it is never mentioned in the performance evaluation and instead they are given a generic “good” review?

And finally, do you know someone who is a wrecking ball in their personal life, but is always the last person to know and the knowledge usually comes in a severe fashion?

Why is this important, Joe? I have a good life and though I'm not perfect, do I really need to constantly worry about what others think of me? This sounds like a recipe for always being fearful and disappointing others.

I wholeheartedly agree that walking around constantly trying to please everybody is a recipe for disaster. Instead, what I’m focusing on is getting a realistic assessment of who you are. The reason this is important you need to see yourself as you truly are in order to improve.

Imagine a tennis player who has a horrible serve, but thinks it is great. So instead, they work day and night on their backhand and neglect their serve. This is find in the court of their mind and even during practice, but when it comes to the real game, they will falter.

So how do we get people to give us the candid feedback we need to improve?

Step 1. Ask sincerely for feedback. You’ll need to ask more than once and no one will believe that you really want it. So keep asking.

Step 2. When you receive feedback that upsets you or that find unbelievable, the only thing you should do is acknowledge the toughness of the feedback on you and thank the person for being courageous and caring enough to share it with you.

Step 3. In private, decide what you want to do with the feedback. Pay special attention to feedback you think is ridiculous, but more than one person has shared it.

The key thing to remember is you will grow tremendously and improve your life when you are able to see clearly the areas that need to be improved.

Your Move: Who will you dare ask for feedback? And how will you handle it?


How to Permanently Change Your Misery Thermostat

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In the Mirror Series: How Seeing Ourselves More Clearly Can Make the World a Better Place

Part 1: Misery Thermostat

Have you ever noticed that when you are actually trying to gain or lose weight, your body always seems to drift back to a set point, like a thermostat?

In "The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat," Stephan J. Guyenet Ph.D. reveals why this happens and how we can overcome this tendency in order to finally lose weight and keep it off.

This got me thinking about how people, myself included, also have a Misery thermostat. You might alternatively call it a Happiness thermostat.

Think about a person you know that no matter what, is always at the same, miserable level. Good weather or bad, good fortune or bad luck, they always gravitate to a certain level of misery. Take a moment and look in the mirror and you may notice that you do the same thing. Whether our set point is high or low, we always gravitate back to it regardless of life's events.

So if this is true, are we just stuck, Joe? Like our weight, is there anything we can do to move the set point permanently?

Great question!

To change your Misery thermostat, find the joy in your misery and fill it in a different way.

What this means is you must first determine what goal being miserable serves in your life. Once you figure that out, you can replace the misery-related activities with more positive activities, but always in service of the same goal.

For example, let's say a person has a miserable attitude towards school. They place low expectations on how they do in school because they don't want to compete directly with their older sibling, who has always been exceptional in school. So they learn to dislike school and and check out of the competition.

What goal does this serve? The goal is to not be hurt by lack of their parent's approval or love.

So by being miserable in school and not trying they hope to avoid any comparison with their older (in their mind, better) sibling which might negatively affect their parent's love for them.

Once this dynamic is understood, they can then replace the dislike of school with other, more positive activities that serve the same goal of positive attention from their parents. As long as the ultimate goal was their parent’s approval, no amount of other remedies related to making school better or changing schools will matter.

There isn't a single answer here, but instead the person might be instead get more involved in a hobby or interest of their parents, find a specific part of school that they can excel at, or they could even face the competition and do their best with the realization that their value is not determined by the attention of other's, including their parents.

Your Move: What things have you done to move your Misery Thermostat? What do you plan to do?