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.

men having their haircut

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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.

Best Laid Plans

There´s a Chinese saying that goes something like: “Man plans and God laughs.” We all can think of times when everything that we planned went so far from the direction that we had planned that even we had to laugh at the disparity between our intentions and the results. I’m learning that my circle of control extends, if I’m lucky, to the end of my reach. After that? Well, it’s up to my Higher Power.

Monday, a couple of weeks ago I was going to pick up a friend at the airport, a two and a half hour drive away. I got a call from him a several hours before I was to leave saying that he had been bumped from his flight and wouldn’t be arriving until Tuesday at the same time. Could I pick him up then? Yes, of course.

For a moment I thought I had a free morning. Then my neighbour Amy came over. Her dog was very ill. She was to fly out the next day to visit her mother and she was worried about her dog and that she’d have to cancel her flight. Fortunately I had my friend’s car so I told her I would drive her to the vet with her dog: a happy circumstance. On the way to the vet, we discovered that her flight time the next day would allow me to drive her to the airport when I was picking up my friend whose flight was changed. Perfect.

While Amy and her dog were with the vet I received a message from another friend Nick. A mutual friend of all three of us had passed away in the US. He was from Nick’s hometown and Nick decided to fly up to go to the funeral and visit family at the same time. He was flying out very early Wednesday morning so he had booked a hotel near the airport. Would he like a ride up on Tuesday?  Sure thing.  The vet was able to diagnose the dog’s ailment, gave him a couple of shots, prescribed some other medications and he would be fine. Amy was very relieved.

Tuesday morning we all loaded into my friend’s car and headed up to the airport. Along the way we were able to discuss how we were feeling about our friend who had passed. Amy was able to talk about her visit with her mother whom she hadn’t seen in seven years. It was one of those impromptu recovery meetings.

I dropped them off, did a bit of shopping, swung back around to the airport to pick up my friend who had been bumped the day before and headed back home. The lesson of the past two days rattled around in my head  as I drove. I could not have put together a more perfect plan for drop offs and pick ups. It was so obvious to me that I wasn’t the one who had executed such a perfect plan.

I’d like to alter the saying that I started with: “Man trusts and God provides.” This was a powerful lesson to me in letting go of the joystick and letting my Higher Power take the lead in arranging things. Yes, I make plans, I recently commented to a friend, but I don’t live in them. I awaken in the morning these days with a sense of “here I am, ready for what is put before me.” Slowly I’m learning that if I keep myself out of the way, doors open and incredible things unfold.

I am grateful.

ancient arch architecture artwork

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Who Are Your Friends?

There’s the old say: you are what you eat.  It makes sense, if you eat garbage you can’t expect to have the body of an olympic athlete.  The movie “Supersize Me” demonstrated just how quickly that change can take place.  There’s also another truism:

“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”  -Dan Pena

Hanging around with the same five or six people will keep all of you at the lowest common denominator in terms of interests, pursuits and goals. If I try to improve myself, those friends of mine will often, unconsciously and without malice, hold me back from reaching new goals. I do it to myself as well: I wonder what the ‘group’ will think if I do this? By the time I hit bottom in my addiction, I was mostly hanging out with others who used the way I used. If I was going to survive and recover, I needed to get away from that environment.

There was a study done years ago on fleas.  A bunch of fleas were put into a jar and the lid was put on.  After a few days of bumping their heads, the fleas learned to jump only as high as just below the lid of the jar. When the lid was removed, these fleas didn’t jump out of the jar.  They stayed at their level because the believed they couldn’t jump higher than they were jumping. Even subsequent generations of fleas only jumped as high as their parents because well, that’s only as high as fleas jump.  However, if you took one of the fleas from this jar and put it into another jar where the fleas were jumping twice as high, it didn’t take long before the flea learned to go far beyond its former limit.

day242The message for us is very similar. If we stay in an environment where limits are put upon us by social pressures and our own beliefs then making permanent changes in our lives is very difficult. For those of us in recovery, making the choice to be clean and sober is often regarded with skepticism by those we hung around with. It’s important in the beginning to seek out others in recovery to help us and encourage us to move forward. We don’t necessarily drop our old friend, but we spend less time with them. Our common interests are changing. As we move forward in our recovery, they may see the results and want the same, or not. Ours is a program of attraction; it can’t be sold.

I have little in common with those who are still in their disease. I hope someday they will receive their own gift of desperation and find recovery.  I will gladly help in whatever way I can but it’s up to them. I am grateful for my friends in recovery. It’s a very different group of people from my old group. And they continue to assist and challenge me in my recovery. They help me soar in my recovery, showing me that I can not only jump, I can fly, higher than I ever thought was possible.