Evolving Personality

You and I are shaped by our environment: the family we have, where we grew up, the people we hang around with, the job we chose or fell into. All of these things work, sometimes very subtly, to mold us into the persons we are today. The environment helped to shape our experiences and those experiences our helped to form our personality. And so here we are, very unique personalities. And there’s not much I can do to change that is there?

“If your environment is disorganized, so is your mind. Everything is energy. Your environment is constantly influencing you whether you’re aware of it or not.” Benjamin Hardy

In his book Willpower Doesn’t Work, Benjamin Hardy posits that if we change our environment, we can change our personality. While the current self-help trend focuses on changing our personalities to become more of who we want to be, Hardy tells us to focus on what in our immediate environment is preventing us from changing. If I want to become an organized person then I need organize my environment.  I want to become a student of life, then I have to organize my space so that it is conducive to that study. If I want to be a successful person then I need to hang out with successful people.

I’m don’t know who first said it, but the idea is that if you want to know who you really are, look carefully at the five people you are closest to. Change your friends and change your personality. It’s not a far stretch for me to see the results for this suggestion. When I first came into recovery I had few friends and the ones I did have were those who were as in need of recovery as I was. I had to get new friends. I needed to change my environment to find success in this new way of living.

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If you don’t want a hair cut, stop hanging around the barbershop. Will power alone will eventually weaken. Strength will fade with time until it seems like a good idea to get into the chair and under the clippers. I had to change my environment: where I was hanging out, who I was hanging out with and what I was doing in order to have any success with sobriety. I am grateful that early on I learned that I didn’t have to be a martyr. I didn’t have to make it more difficult for myself. I didn’t have to test my new found way of life.

“Surround yourself with people who remind you more of your future than your past.” Dan Sullivan

When I first came into recovery I was told five things: Don’t consume. Go to meetings. Get a home group. Get a sponsor. Work the Twelve Steps of Recovery. All of these five things were instrumental in changing my environment. I was hanging around with people who were living what my future could be. The bar stool philosopher had to give way to the meeting room student if I was going to have any chance at this thing called sobriety.

I had some misgivings about leaving friends behind but I soon discovered that those who really were friends were glad that I was making this change. The backroom buddies only missed me when they saw me on the street and they suddenly realized that they hadn’t seen me for a while.

I am still working on changing my environment. For the most part right now it is the mental environment. I am changing how I think by focusing on what I am thinking about. I am reading and studying quality material rather than simply passing time with social media or the endless task of finding the perfect thing to watch on Netflix. With time the changes to the environment and therefore the changes to me are happening. I am a work in progress taking the next right step for the evolving me.

Tough Times; Times of Growth

I brought a friend home from the hospital yesterday. She had the fourth operation on her back to replace a spinal disc with one made of titanium. It’s part of a series of replaced discs that will allow her to continue to live independently and pain free–once it heals. Until then she will have to go through a lot of pain and three months of recuperation. However, had she not had the operation, she would go through many more months of pain and suffering with no guarantee that the spinal column might be completely severed by the shifting vertebrae. Kind of a hard spot to be in, especially having gone through it three times previously.

A few things come to mind. First, sometimes we have to endure a great deal in order to make it through the present challenge. It may be physical, mental or spiritual pain that we are enduring. And like any change, it brings discomfort and few of us relish being uncomfortable. But we must keep our eyes on the end result to help us keep our sanity. If all goes well, in three months, or however long this challenge should last, life will establish a new normal. We’ll find a new comfort zone and hopefully the pain we experienced will be a memory and we can be grateful to have lived through the experience.

Second, I am struck by the difficulty in accepting help when we are so used to being independent. I was thinking this morning that we all know that infants and elderly need our assistance. But I think that we must remember that all of us are dependent on everyone else. I can’t do it all, and I never could. I rely on the ‘kindness of strangers,’ as well as that of my family and friends. I needed people when I was going through difficult times in my life and I need them to share the wonderful times as well. When we share our interdependence, we help to balance out the good times with the challenging ones. I willingly assist you and later you assist me.

Third, no one likes to give up control. Placing ourselves into the power of another is very difficult for many people. I want to control what is happening to me. Yet, there are times, such as going under the scalpel of a surgeon, or getting strapped into the seat of a jet that we do give up complete control of our lives. But we usually don’t do this on a whim. The people upon whom we rely are trained professionals. There still are risks, but they are minimized by their experience.

All of these three: passing through an ordeal, relying on others and giving up control all are part of trust: trusting others, trusting the process and trusting life. And they have to do with taming our egos as well. ‘I can’t do it all and I never could,’ is a good lesson to practice once in a while. It is also a lesson that we survive everything that comes our way. It may not be the manner in the which we had envisioned or in the time frame that we were hoping for, but we get through it. I am reminded of the character in the movie ‘The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel’ in which the young entrepreneur says “It will all work out in the end. If it’s not working out, it’s not the end.” Whatever it is, you will make it through.

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Self Sabotage

Somehow addicts and alcoholics have a way of doing something very well, until a certain point. Then, just when they are about to have a great success, they go on a party spree that completely ruins their chances at success. In the movie “Flight” with Denzel Washington, just when his character was about to be free and clear of any charges, he has that fateful drink and drinks the complete mini bar in his hotel room. This is very typical of an addict before recovery and once in recovery as well.

Why is it that when I am about to make changes in my life that are going to be beneficial to it I suddenly stop doing those very things that will help to improve me or my life? Why do I give up just when it seems that most of the work has been done? Why do I sabotage my success?

It comes down to feelings of self esteem and self worth. I don’t feel that I deserve to reap the benefits of what I do. I don’t think I am good enough to be doing whatever I am wanting to do. I feel that I should accept my lot in life and not ‘tempt the gods’ or make notice of myself. These feelings of self esteem were planted in my in my early years by family, friends, community, religion, school and self. I do not blame anyone for how I feel today because I also know that I have the ability to make changes in how I think and feel.

Also wrapped up in this is a fear of success as well as fear of failure. If I fail I am sure I will feel depressed about it. And if it’s successful? Then that implies changes in my life and I’m not sure about what the changes will be and how that will affect me. I might have to step out of my comfort zone. I let myself focus on all of the negative aspects and fall into the vicious circle of lots of thought and no action.

I can change how I relate to the world and how I allow it to affect me. I have done that through my recovery and working the Twelve Steps. I know how to recognize when I am in my ‘moods’ and when I can change them. I can recognize when I am acting in a manner that is not in keeping with how I want to be acting. I can focus on the positive and stay away from the negative. Do I always do these things?

I wish the answer was yes, always.  But that’s not so. I fail to live up to my standards, too often. I know from listening at meetings that I am not alone in this spiral of negative thinking. So I focus on one thing a day. I don’t have to accomplish everything right now. Just one thing. Ask someone a question. Do the investigation. Write part of the report. Once I get down to the task I feel better about myself and realize that the fears I had really are unfounded. One small step today. Another small step tomorrow and in a week I can look back and measure how far I have come. I know there is still more to be done but I look at the gains I have made and those can help me to take today’s step forward.

It all starts with just a small action: mine.

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