My Owner’s Manual

I bought a new car last year, well, new to me anyway. One of the first things I did with it was look online for an owner’s manual. Yes, it is 2002 model and way past any warranties. But it’s helpful to know what all the buttons do and where to locate things like interior air filters, which would have been impossible to find or even know about, or discovering what that white button on the side of the gear shift does. I have better knowledge of how to maintain and service the car because of this manual. And yes, I am one of those folks who usually does read the manual when I buy a new vehicle, appliance or gadget because, well, there are so many features on things these days that it’s hard to know all the things they can do.

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I discovered some years ago that it would have been very nice if I had been born with an owner’s manual. It would have been so much easier when I was 10 or 11 to read something like: “Tim is a gay male model and will feel an attraction to men.” Or later when I was in my 20’s: “Tim has a tendency toward addiction so it would be best to keep his consumption of mind altering substances completely controlled.” As well it would include some of the basic things about life I never learned in school and had to pick up as I went along. It would have made life much easier to read, “You must learn to live life on life’s terms, not your own.” That would have saved me a lot of heartache, self recrimination and resentments. How about something that said, “You are free to do whatever you want in life as long as you are willing to pay the consequences.” Or, “You can only control things that are within your circle of control which does not extend to other persons, places or things.” Had I read these things somewhere in my Owner’s Manual, how different my life would have been.

My Owner’s Manual would have told me that anger would not solve anything, regrets and resentments cannot change the past. Ninety-nine percent of my fears would not be realized. And that I would survive the other 1%, whatever they were. It would have been nice to know that just because a thought popped into my head I didn’t have to act upon it. That while there would be lots of bad days, they would be tempered by many, many more great days. As well, that whole days aren’t really all that bad; they’re just a few moments that don’t go as expected and I need not label the whole day, sometimes weeks, as a ‘bad’ time.

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And like a vehicle or appliance, I might have found a maintenance schedule that would have included regular rest, proper nutrition, exercise of the body as well as rest, nourishment and exercise of the mind and the soul. It might suggest that every couple of years I go on a retreat, take a course or create an incredible experience for myself to help rejuvenate and restore me to an acceptable level of sanity.

I’m sure that near the front of the manual I would find the words that I have the ability to change. Perspectives can be changed, new skills learned and great people can be invited into my life. It might have included a list of classics that I could read and movies I could watch, classes that I could take that would help me understand the things in life that were happening around me.

The manual would have been several pages under the title: CAUTION. Things like, “This model is equipped with a introvert personality that tends toward aloofness.” And another caution might read, “This model has a self destructive mode which once activated is not guaranteed to turn off.”

Finally, my Owner’s Manual would end with some notes that might say there is no reset button or a factory restore option anywhere on my body. It only continue in a forward direction regardless of how much I might wish to start over. And that it has a variable life expectancy based upon how it is used and maintained over the course of said life.

No. I didn’t arrive with an owner’s manual. I had to find my own way with the guidance of parents, family, friends and teachers who did their best to show me how I and life might function. For those things not covered, it was up to me to discover them; sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I am still figuring thing out and I suspect that it will be so until my final breath. Actually, I am enjoying this journey of discovery. Everyday heralds new possibilities that are full of promise, as long as I look for them.

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What’s written in your Owner’s Manual?

Who Do I Want To Be?

Recently I read or heard that until the 1930’s, most self development dealt with the development desirable character traits such as honesty, friendliness, generosity, discipline and integrity. Then the tone of this literature changed from working on one’s self to working with other types of people to meet your ends, such as what we read in Dale Carnegie’s, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. Later, new branches of psychology emerged dealing with reading people’s actions and noticing how they moved, perhaps their facial tics, to reveal what they are really thinking and feeling. This proved to be, as poker players already knew, a great insight into the human psyche as well as an excellent sales technique. Instead of achieving success and happiness by developing positive character traits, success could also come from learning what to say and how to say it in order to soar up the ladder of success.

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For many years, this became the dominant strategy of personal success. Books that dealt with how to dress, how to speak, how to manage people, and how to get people to like you, were popular. They dealt with being the person the other person wanted you to be; ‘looking good’ on the outside, and not worrying too much about the inside. The maxim ‘Know thyself’, became ‘Know the other guy’; one achieved success in life by figuring out the other person. Initially this strategy worked well because ‘being of good character’ was part of a person’s education and upbringing. However, the rise of the ‘individual’ and ‘egocentric thinking’ has resulted less emphasis on character traits and in some people using the new psychology to manipulate and abuse people. I can be a knave with no principles but do very well in life because I understand how to get people to do what I want them to do, and give them what they want.

And while these principles of success lead to money, real estate and big toys for some, for others, all the wealth, prestige and trappings of success that were generated were hollow; a circle of paper with a flashlight shining upon it is not the moon. Many saw that they had no substance.

The substance that they were lacking is character.

I believe that if something is to ‘look’ good, it must ‘be’ good as well. Here in earthquake country, you learn the difference between looking good and being good very quickly after a tremor. The building of a ‘good’ house requires reinforced construction and exact strengthening of all its systems for a house to stand up to Richter’s logarithmic scale. A poorly built home might look good but it will only stand up to one or two shakes. Eventually it will collapse. Character development is the unseen foundation, the re-bar, the cross bracing and the engineered trusses of a soundly constructed person.

From the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin carried a small notebook with him at all times. In it he had his list of thirteen character traits or ‘virtues’ that were part of his system of character development and at the end of the day he would evaluate just how well he had done with respect to each of these traits. He has always been regarded at a model of high moral character.

Franklin was unencumbered by cell phones and emails. The amount of information in the 18th century was a small percentage of what we have available to us at the speed of light in our pocket or purse. However, we can still choose to be ‘virtuous’ or of ‘good character’ today by building a solid foundation on these same principles. I can change from the person I am now into the person I want to be, or at least into the guy my dog thinks I am.

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” B. Franklin

I have picked out a dozen character traits that I would like to infuse into myself: self-responsibility, self-discipline, generosity, honesty, humility, integrity, courage, compassion, resilience, open-mindedness, spiritual awareness, and gratefulness. Your list will be different I am sure. And a periodic review of my own list will probably change as well as I review my progress in these areas.

Take for example self-responsibility. I am responsible for me; my parents and family, my friends, the community or the government should not have to take care of me. That’s my job. I am responsible for the state of my health and fitness, for my continuing education, for my career, for my finances, for my relationships, my emotions, and my decisions. I remember hearing years and years ago the saying: “If it is to be it’s up to me!” There will always be people, places and things that are outside of my control. However, I control my perspective. I control what I learn. I control who I let into my life. You get the picture? I must stop pointing the finger of blame around me. It’s up to me! It’s my responsibility! Me! Mine!

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What does this do for me? It gives me options. I am an active participant in my own life and the direction that it takes. I am active in my health, learning, finances, career, emotions, and relationships. The passive lifestyle tells me “there’s nothing ‘I‘ can do; ‘he‘ has to fix it.” The active one gives me choices for changing what I can.

I don’t have to become the person of high moral character today. Like Franklin, it is something that I aspire to and I know I will have setbacks along the way. Like the child that is learning to walk, falling on my ass the first few times is part of the process. It means that I wasn’t successful this time and I can learn from my errors and work at taking that first step again. It takes time to evaluate deeply who and how you want to be in life, but I believe the effort will result in greater happiness and contentment. The examined life will result in a strong character and that’s one of my aspirations.

Changing Your Perspective

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While I have never reviewed a book before, this one, Personality Isn’t Permanent, by Benjamin Hardy is a gem that belongs in everyone’s library. Too many times I hear statements like, ‘I’d like that, but this is just how I am,’ and ‘I’m too old to change.’ We tend to think that we are stuck in our path because of our past, who we think we are, and now, we’re unwilling to make changes to create the life we really would like to have. Pressure from friends, family and society herds us into believing that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear because, well, you are how you are! Right?

When I first came across Ben Hardy about four years ago in an online article that he published, I knew that I had found a fellow traveler with similar beliefs, ideas and approaches to living. At the time he was a PhD student in psychology, was the most read contributor on Medium and had just published a book Slipstream; Time Hacking. I was impressed that he used solid science as well as his own experience to support the idea that a change in perspective can change how we view and use the same 1440 minutes that everyone gets each day. I later read Willpower Doesn’t Work, 2018, in which he writes about the need to pull one’s environment and practices into play to create the life one chooses. Willpower alone is not enough to create sustained change in our lives.

Last month, his newest book, Personality Isn’t Permanent was released to immediate best seller status. This book doesn’t disappoint. This book’s 271 pages is jamb-packed with insights and examples of how we can change the limited views we have of ourselves and open up to creating the life we want to live. Examples of include a man who became a Harvard fellow after being in prison for 14 years, another who quit smoking by changing his environment and even Hardy’s own wife who suffered abuse during her first marriage, yet managed to use past trauma to help her to grow and become the woman she always wished to be. If these people were able to overcome the odds and change how they relate to themselves and the world around them, then it must be possible for others to do so as well. We can overcome the tragedies and traumas in our past. We can seek out the self limiting beliefs that keep us trapped. We can make major changes in our lives by changing our perspectives on how we see our world.

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At the core of the book is the belief that many of us maintain that by the time we are twenty, our personality is fixed and can no longer be altered. It goes along with the belief that at the same age, our bodies can produce no more brain cells than what we have then. Fry your brain cells, and they won’t be replaced. Take a personality test at 21 and you know what you will be like for the rest of your life. None of these beliefs is true. Your brain will continue to produce new neurons and develop new pathways for as long as we live.

It’s my belief that if one person can make radical changes in her life, then others can do the same. I know from my own struggles with alcoholism that it is possible. While at one time I couldn’t see my life without alcohol, I now can’t imagine every wanting it as part of my life ever again. If I could do that in one part of my life, why not in other parts?

Ben’s book is easy to read and, he gives practical suggestions on how to apply the solutions that he puts forward to change you and your personality. Each chapter offers questions and exercises to assist the reader in taking the next step forward Indeed, the book merits at least a second read and could be used as a personal development course text.

You are not stuck. You are not your past. Change your perspective and you will see how your history can become the inspiration for a brighter future. You don’t need to be known as that ‘moody’ person, or the ‘jerk who’s got a chip on his shoulder’. I am not ‘stuck’ with who I am. I can make changes and create the life experience that I have always wanted. My personality is not permanent.

Buy any of Ben’s books through Amazon

Check out his blog on Medium.com

(This is an unsolicited, and unremunerated review.)