This is an exercise in finding one thing explicitly and one thing implicitly.  First, measure yourself against a fairly conservative and responsible checklist of things that should increase your personal freedom.  Second, find your hidden personal biases against certain seemingly responsible behaviors.

According to the Better Me website the Clean Sweep Program is:

A checklist of 100 items which, when completed, give one complete personal freedom. These 100 items are grouped in 4 areas of life with 25 in each group: Physical Environment, Well-being, Money and Relationships. These 4 areas are the cornerstone for a strong and healthy life and the program helps a person to clean up, restore and polish virtually every aspect of his/her life. The program takes between 6 – 24 months to complete.

It’s a bold claim.  At first I was curious about which authority they were claiming that these 100 things are actually worth achieving.  The creator of this site, Michael Cooper, is a graduate of Coach University and I think these 100 things are something from their program… and prospective new coaches are encouraged to get their own lives in order before coaching others.

The 100 things are split up into four categories: Physical Environment, Well-being, Money, and Relationships.  Each category has 25 things that, together, imply health and personal freedom.  The idea is that the best way to solve problems and improve yourself is to create the space and mental state that best accommodates problem solving and self-improvement.

I took it and got a 77 out of 100.  I think I cheated on a few though.  I have strong personal preferences against a couple of them (mostly drinking caffeine and alcohol).  However an interesting comment from them is:

Those last 5 or 10 are the ones which are most worth taking care of, given our egos are well entrenched among these incompletions.

That seems true to me.  We all have personal behaviors or habits that we believe our personality is permanently intertwined with.  For that reason alone I suggest that you take this test and pay particular attention to the things on the list that you say to yourself either “Not only do I not want to do that, but I think it’s wrong” or “It’s not that I don’t want to do that, it’s that I can’t”.  Both of these responses indicate a strong emotional conflict between your behaviors and your actual self.  Take a look at WHY you think something is wrong or impossible and you may find some deeply rooted hidden biases in yourself.

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There’s a hidden cost in the things we don’t like about ourselves.  In addition to the fact that the things are usually undesirable traits in the first place, what is usually neglected is the cost of thinking about the undesirable trait over and over again.  In most cases, we are slowly changing creatures and things we don’t like will stick around for years, sometimes decades.  It’s a good idea to check in occassionally with a few of the most costly of these traits and make sure we’re not letting them use up more of our energy, time, and self-esteem than it would take to fix them.

Make a list of the top 3 things you don’t like about yourself.

The important thing here is to find the things that bother us the most.  Sure, you might like to be a foot taller, to have the bone structure of a hummingbird, and have a turtle shell to allow easy sleeping on sidewalks, but does it truly bother you to your core that you don’t have these qualities?  In my experience, the things that bother me most, the things that most encourage the slow and steady buildup of self hate, are the things that I know I could change about myself, but only lack the energy and motivation to do so.  It’s the ability to blame yourself for the undesirable trait that stabs deepest.  So, think hard… what do you really dislike about yourself, name two or three.

How long have you disliked each thing?

Sometimes we rationalize undesirable traits by thinking one of two things: either they are not really THAT nagging, or they are too difficult to change.  Losing 20 pounds, or improving conversational skills, or reinventing your career path are not simple tasks.  However, if you can think back to the first time you considered this trait it becomes more clear how costly keeping them around can be.  Thinking about something once or twice a week, each time with self-criticism and disgust, for years or even decades can really bring you down.  It also brings home the point that it’s possible that this trait is going to stick around for as long as it wants to… sometimes they magically disappear but most of the time they only go away with concerted effort.  When framed like that, imagining yourself having this same conversation with yourself 10 years from now, it becomes easier to motivate yourself to make changes now so that you can save yourself all of those years.

Imagine life without the trait.

Imagine that through some miracle the thing you hated most about yourself was gone.  You would wake up each morning and not have that same thought.  You would be in other situations and not have that insecurity.  How much relief would it bring?  It might help to think about other traits you have had in the past (maybe something like childhood awkwardness or acne or harmful relationships) and how liberating the day was when you found that that particular burden had come to an end.

Write out steps for removing each undesired trait.

What would it take to get fix the thing you hated most about yourself.  Exactly how much effort would it take, how much money, how much of a lifestyle change?  What is the cost of reaching that point?  Compare this cost to the real cost of keeping it around.

Strongly consider changing the top-most undesirable trait.

Really think about it.  Why not do it?  Why not double down on fixing one major source of unhappiness… and give it everything it takes until it’s resolved?  Not only would it remove a self-sabotaging source of self-hate, but it would build up confidence in your ability to make positive changes in your life and give you momentum for more changes.  In my case, the appeal is also to simply have a new project… one that has a real benefit.  You can research the problem, consult friends, and make it a thing.  As a thing, you can rise to the challenge and keep yourself interested in a subject for the duration of its resolution.  Good luck!

Steve Pavlina has a ridiculously organized mind.  He must not have killed all of his brain cells like I have.  I don't know how he does it but he takes very vague and ambiguous ideas and turns them into steps and sub-steps until something as confusing and potentially frustrating as thinking about your purpose becomes as easy as making popcorn.

The quest for purpose is broken down into four components, and an ideal purpose would satisfy each component equally.  The pieces are related to body, mind, heart, and spirit.   

  1. Body.  What do you need to survive? Your purpose should satisfy your survival needs… this includes not only food, water, air, and shelter, but also financial needs.  How much money do you need?
  2. Mind.  What can you do?  Your purpose should be within your abilities.  What skills do you have?  What skills do you have the ability to acquire? 
  3. Heart.  What do you want to do?  Your purpose should be something you're passionate about.  What do you absolutely love to do?  What kinds of things do you love to do?
  4. Spirit.  What should you do?  What does your conscience make you feel like you should do, as a member of your family, your friend circle, your country, and the world?

Each of these components needs to be satisfied in a purpose.  Fill out each of these circles and see if there are any things that fit into all four circles?  If nothing immediately pops out (if it were that easy, most likely you would have solved this problem long ago) you can begin working on the circles themselves.  Maybe you can explore surviving on less, or learning something new, or experimenting with new activities and projects to see if they strike a passionate nerve, or exploring your conscience and trying to get to the bottom of what you feel your contribution to this world really should be.

I went through these steps and think that my purpose is to invent new ways to improve the lives of friends, neighbors, and acquaintences.  Invention includes creating new businesses, events, games, and ideas, each of which exist in markets that reward invention.  I feel like I'm on a good roll with increasing the boundaries of creativity that I exist within.  I love rallying myself and the people near me to new adventures, experiments, and realizations about the world we live in.  And just recently I think I've come to terms with the true value of mutual-improvement… by engaging in a non-zero sum game of collaboration, participation, and edification, everyone can win and grow together.

Steve Pavlina's podcast goes into a lot more detail and organized articulation of the subtleties of this exercise.  Listen to it here:

Pavlina-015-What-Is-Your-Purpose.mp3
(Time = 30:10, Size = 13.8MB)

And, to follow up, read up on more of his purpose-related blog posts here.  Nice work, Steve.

The exercises for lost souls are an attempt at articulating a spirit to self-improvement that I believe to be missing from the world at the moment.  For me, that spirit is mostly one of play, and one that is built on an already good life.  Self-improvement isn't only for people with problems.  Landlords only pay attention to their tenants' apartments when they break, but people that own a house might continue to improve the house even as they live in it, and even if nothing is broken.  We are obviously living in this life ourselves, but then why do we too wait for things to break before we  consider improving them?  I think it has to do with overload… there are too many things to consider, so we back up and just make sure nothing terrible happens.  The spirit of these exercises is to take ground back and gain positive momentum rather than simply prevent negative momentum.  Getting back to the front is tricky, and that's what I'm experimenting with here.  Some exercises might work better for you than others.  I'd love to hear from anyone that has novel or counter-intuitive tricks for gaining this momentum, and also of anyone who's currently implementing these exercises.  The other day, I discovered a few posts from MSC related to a few of the exercises (numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 so far), and I've been really interested in seeing his take on this.

An article in the May/June issue of Utne titled "Saffron Robes and Lab Coats" talked about how some neuroscientists are beginning to see parallels with Buddhism in their investigations of the brain. One interesting overlap is in the investigation of suffering.

"While their approaches to suffering may sound different, Mobley said, neuroscience and Buddhism both acknowledge the Four Noble Truths regarding suffering: There is the fact of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering and the path to end suffering.

"'The traditional Western approach to end suffering is to block the inputs that cause it,' said Spiegel. 'But that's not the whole answer.' Spiegel noted that there are more neuronal connections in one person's brain than there are stars in the universe, and that focusing on compassion, for instance, makes it possible for those connections to 'reset' the brain. 'Reverberating circuits can amplify or dismiss pain and depression,' he said."

I think this convergence between science and religion is only going to start happening more and more. Our brains are good at mixing things together, the lines will begin to blur between psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, religion, superstition, self-help, and popular culture. I want to help that convergence along. One of the areas that I see emerging as a possible container for these similar thoughts in a variety of fields is in life-coaching. It's a brand new field that is still figuring itself out, and admittedly is right now a bit confused about whether or not its a big marketing pyramid scheme, but its goal is simple and relevant to all of these fields… using your knowledge about yourself to improve your life.