Having a self has its perks and one of the main ones is…Sleeping? No. Although it’s in the top five. One of the main wonders of this imaginary constellation of traits, thoughts, and features is its endless possibility to escape its own shackles. As humans, we have the ability to change ourselves.
It has never been easy. Count Monte Christo, betrayed by his friends and bride, spent years in prison and many more years after release trying to create himself anew. January gym enthusiasts overdose on cookie dough around February. Piercings heal. Makeup washes off like hair color. A cigarette after three years turns into a relapse. Changes change like the weather, but human essence remains. Or does it?
As an avid new-life-starter, I’ve learnt a few things about making life changes over the years. Let’s paint over our Mona Lisas.
Step 1: Which Changes
When a self becomes tiresome, it’s because you’re tired. Our whole lives revolve around fascinating findings at the membrane of our inner and outer lives. Selves surprise their masters all the time. They evolve infinitely. You are not boring – you’re probably just bored. When routine makes you restive, it’s probably time for a change.
But which one? It is easy to ask society what you should change about your life, but society will probably tell you something it tells everyone. “Get organized and tidy, hydrated and fit, rich and famous.” Some of the advice may appeal to you. I, for one, am very keen on the “famous” one, but don’t care for the others. For years I used to write in my to-do list that I wanted to keep my room tidy, but always failed, because I was secretly fine with the rapidly increasing entropy on my desk.
When deciding on life changes, you need to know yourself and be brutally honest. Maybe you care about social status and want to seduce that gorgeous man with no soul. Maybe you want to be rich and sip Chardonnay in the magical realism of the Caribbean or to be considered cool because... actually, the “because” doesn’t matter. You're allowed to want things for yourself for any reason or none at all.
Now you know which changes you want to make because you always sort of knew but didn’t want to fess up. You probably also know what you need to do to make them happen. Write it down. (If nothing can be done about what you want to change, accept it. And if you don’t know what to do, ask your friend Kate, whose advice you always ignore, because you want to rant and not solve anything.)
Step 2: Avoid the Perils of Perfectionism
Plan to fail. Leave lots of room for failure. It’s better to start out learning 5 new French words instead of the planned 189 every day than learn 189 the first days, skip one, and quit, declaring “C’est la vie.” Perfectionism has ruined many moods and plans; don’t fall into that trap.
Instead, imagine you’re in “The Big Lebowski:” life’s a mess and you’re broke and someone stole your rug. And you have to work with it. You’re not even trying for 100%, because you’re just idly spending time on the vast planet Earth. If you don’t want to start an essay, tell yourself it’s gonna be the worst possible essay draft in the world. And be fine with that. It's better to start a horrible draft than not start a would-be-perfect draft.
Some days you’re gonna be a turtle on the elliptical or go to bed when you were supposed to wake up. Be psychologically ready not to let this ruin the trend you’re trying to establish.
Step 3a. Discipline
The discipline method is a myth. Well, it is for me. It may work for you. If you’re a cyborg, I mean. Or a ballerina. I'll detail the discipline method below in case it'll work for you, but see step 3a for my personal method.
The advocates for this method could work for Nike or Friedrich Nietzsche. They don’t believe in motivation: “Just do it. Just will to power.” Indeed, everyone who has finished a project they really didn’t feel like starting knows that those essential emotions are immediately replaced by joy after Doing the Thing Despite Yourself. Disciplined people are just better at making changes. They’re after the reward more than they are after the pleasures of the process.
Discipline, proponents say, can be learned and ingrained into character through repetition. After all, according to Aristotle:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Step 3b. “I do what I want. Nothing else.”
If discipline meets the challenge heads on, some dreamers (like me) prefer to find shortcuts, lifehacks, and tricks for making changes. For example, many girls I know say they are more productive when they get dressed up and do their makeup, so they use that to get themselves into a certain state. Others leave credit cards at home when they’re trying to quit coffee and have to pass near many coffee shops to get to class.
These methods may not be the bravest, but they come from close and intimate observant relationships with selves. If you truly know yourself, you know how to work with your strengths and weaknesses. The greatest secret to changing a self is being non-judgmental about its mechanism: our intelligence has gone so far that our bodies can’t quite keep up. Whatever works. There probably is some constant part to every self that one cannot work against and has to work around. Unless you’re a cyborg. Or a ballerina.
Changes They Don’t Tell You to Make
With all the above being said, you should still prescribe yourself a dosage of fun for “a positive influence on your mental health.”
Why not... Stay up all night writing free verse when you don’t have to. Battle the guilt over the statistical analysis that shows that life causes death in 89% of college females. Eat more of what makes you feel nice afterwards. Drink only as much water as you want. Invent one alternative future from your dream path that you’re still happy with every other day. Stop trying to better yourself for a month. Use your time not trying to prolong it. Make memories with your friend Kate, instead of talking about feelings. Sing in the shower more. Listen to how you respond to the changes made. Watch more weird movies. Look at the sky more frequently. Don’t go to the predictable parties. Embarrass yourself more…
Of course, you should make up your own weird changes, because mine are mostly about going nowhere. Good thing nowhere’s one of my acceptable destinations.
Do you have any advice on making changes? What’s your track record? Which weird changes would you want to make? Tell me in a comment.