This ONE WEIRD TRICK has changed my life

June 02, 2024

Sometime within the last few years, a realization hit me.

I am the one person in the entire world who has the most complete capacity to understand and help myself. By spending time analyzing who I am, my strengths and weaknesses, my capacity for discomfort, and the patterns and cycles I tend to fall into, I can obtain a deeper understanding of myself that can serve as a foundation for being in control of my life.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, aren’t I more likely to perform well in a game if I know the rules and potential pitfalls inside and out? If I know my limits as a player, I can plan a strategy that accounts for my weaknesses and my strengths, which increases my chances for success.

I used to be a stranger to myself. I felt like a slave to my own brain and the unhealthy patterns that I seemed to repeat over and over again. I made the same mistakes and didn’t understand why. I felt out of control.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of identity. Like who am I? I felt like I didn’t have an identity at all. I felt like my “identity” was forged by my past experiences and circumstances, specifically the ones I didn’t consent to. It felt like I had no identity at all, just a collection of scars that acted as limitations on what I could or could not do. This level of alienation from the self is especially common for victims of trauma.

To try and fix this, I researched how to “discover” my identity and learn about who I really am. I found questionnaires and worksheets that asked what my hobbies or aspirations were. Part of the struggle was that I had (and still have) trouble identifying my hobbies and aspirations to begin with, because it all seems to come back to a lack of identity.

Since “identity” seemed like too much of an enigma, I concentrated instead on more general and concrete concepts relating to myself. I asked myself what happened in my past that contributes to the way I act or think today? What sort of problems do I tend to run into again and again? If I want to accomplish X, then what has prevented me from accomplishing it before? What actually motivates me to get things done? Is there any specific knowledge that I’m lacking which would make accomplishing Y any easier? Does it feel like my current circumstances are compatible with what I’m trying to do? Am I trying to build something (e.g., a skill) on a stable or unsteady foundation? What are my actual, objective limitations, without downplaying or sugarcoating them out of shame?

Also, I do not exist in a vacuum. None of us do. I grew up as part of a family, a neighborhood, a geographical location and a socioeconomic class. I spent almost 20 years of my life inside of institutions (schools) which were also shaped by these things - potentially more than 20 years if I include time spent in the workforce. In my case, my potential for gaining greater understanding and control of myself only became possible when I had escaped the most oppressive of these circumstances. This is why, when analyzing myself and asking questions about myself, I’ve had to take into account my past and present circumstances and their impact on me. This helped a lot to be able to make sense of the world around me (and consequently, myself) which meant seeking out a sociological and political education.

A prerequisite for understanding all of this was to make a conscious effort to pull myself out of autopilot. As someone with ADD, I still struggle with this. When I’m on autopilot, life flies by without time for critical analysis. Autopilot goes hand-in-hand with escapism, both of which were huge coping mechanisms for me during my darkest moments. I used to only think of escapism as consistently seeking to “lose myself” in books or shows, but I’ve since come to learn that I’ve also tried to bury myself in work, hobbies and essentially trying to stay busy all of the time so I never have the chance to stop, re-center, and reflect. I still enjoy doing these things, and it has been helpful, for example, to understand why I am drawn to certain topics and themes in fiction. However, now I try to counter my desire to “binge” or hop from one thing to the next without any sort of reflection or analysis.

Analyzing your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, preferences, and even your history is extremely difficult if you hate yourself. This has been a particularly difficult part of the process for me. I have always struggled with low sense of self-worth and taking myself seriously. Therefore, in order to put these things into practice, I have had to shift the way I perceive myself. That’s not to say I’ve overcome a sense of low self-esteem; this is a lifelong battle. However, it’s fair to say that I’ve made a ‘truce’ with myself. Instead of fighting myself and seeing my brain as this feral, poisonous organ that is trying to co-opt my wellbeing, I try to empathize and cooperate with it instead. It’s certainly easier said than done.

This hasn’t been an easy, quick, or painless process. Despite all of my progress, I can’t claim to know myself completely or to have healed all (or even most) of my wounds. There is still plenty of work I need to do on myself. It’s an extremely slowgoing process that requires constant effort. We as human beings are constantly changing, which means it’s an ongoing effort to know ourselves. After having practiced this for a while, I can say that I’m in a much brighter place than I’ve been in years past.

“Once you face and understand your limitations, you can work with them, instead of having them work against you and get in your way, which is what they do when you ignore them, whether you realize it or not. And then you will find that, in many cases, your limitations can be your strengths.” - From The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff