Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Feeling is Believing

I've been thinking about Mind Over Mood ever since I've read it, and have kept applying its methodology consistently in my written introspection. To my pleasure it has been resulting in positive mental health benefits, including making a habit of objective evaluations, coping with stress, controlling my behavior during intense emotions, and more, so I wish I would have gotten my hands on it a lot sooner. It's probably one of these best resources of our time on how to properly introspect, a skill that is horrifically deficient in our world. Most importantly, I've noticed that some of the its identifications of introspection gave me an epiphany on the means to my self-improvement, and could considerably change my efforts.

As you might know, since I've moved to Texas I've been rather lonely. My friends from my last restaurant are still in Michigan, and my craving for companionship has been for those similar in spirit to me, not just any old physical body. I've been running into some obstacles in meeting that need, such as my night-based job preventing me from attending an Objectivist Society club, so these past weeks I've been largely contemplating what I can do with my resources. What I haven't realized is that part of my venture in seeking valuable friendships was actually implicitly a self-improvement venture, and Mind Over Mood has helped me realize how.

The most important thing I've gained from reading the book is the knowledge that one's mental make-up is not solely a matter of one's thinking; in addition, one's behavior, environment, and social dealings also contribute elements to one's character, and while benefits can be distributed amongst the whole by making changes to a few isolated realms, ultimately the entire context needs to be taken in consideration in order to obtain optimal emotional health. For instance, I could have the best thinking habits, behavior, and have an enriching environment, but if I were a small kid getting beaten up after school everyday I'd still probably wouldn't be able to obtain full happiness, despite my rationality in the other areas. Likewise, I could be surrounded by perfect people, but still be unhappy given irrational behavior or flawed thinking habits. The whole has to be integrated. This explains to me why I often went nowhere in my introspection: I thought it was purely a matter of thinking habits, so I neglected the other realms, such as my social and general environment, thus holding myself back.

Aside from trying to add more value to my life, I think my desire to quench my loneliness is so that I myself can become a better person through dealing with better people. Noted many times before on this blog is that I'm often concerned with my lack of boldness and resistance to openness with other people, which I view as incompatible with my ideal self. Here I think the problem is that while I'm being rational in the introspection and general environment realm, I haven't taken proper steps to make for a gainful social environment, and that consequently is affecting my performance in the behavioral realm.

My difficult past with certain people is well-documented around here, so I'll leave that as a given. As such, I think the fact that I've dealt with so many difficult people throughout my life, and worse yet couldn't voluntarily get away from them for some time, has made me adopt some rather bad emotional premises about the nature of people despite my contrary intellectual conclusions. I know the risk for irrational, out of proportion hostility is unlikely in the dealings I'm engaging in today, but since I've dealt with people who so often got hysterical and upset at unpredictable things I tend to freeze up on sharing the content of my character since I "feel" everyone is somehow an emotional bomb waiting to go off. The things that have upset people in the past and caused strife were absurd and unpredictable, such as someone blowing up at being asked why they thought the sun faded colors, so on almost all points of discussion I tend to desire to keep to myself, making me quieter and more reserved a person than I'd prefer to be.

Concisely, the subconscious premises I experience emotionally differ from that of my intellectual and consciously held conclusions because my actual concrete experiences differ than that of my true beliefs. I've been persuaded by logic and reason to adopt a certain view of ideal people, but in actual reality I've been dealing with people who are markedly irrational, immoral, and even evil, so my emotions have been strongly influenced by the actual experiences I had and have.

So while I think it's ideal of myself to be philosophically open with others, I'm hesitant in practice since my experiences were those with people who became irrationally unhinged at such topics. In these matters I haven't be unreasonable or rude in the least: I was once threatened to be kicked out of person's house because my opinion didn't align with theirs on a pot roast, and scolded sharply when I stated I didn't like potatoes that much. These are just minor matters: philosophical and personal discussions have resulted in much more intense irrationality.

I want to be a bolder and more expressive person, so to self-improve in this area I think my search for companionship should head towards people who value open ideology and civil discussion, and defend their principles openly (like many Objectivists I know). Ideal people, in whatever degree, do exist and I intellectually believe in them, but I don't think I can derive the full emotional impact of that belief until I have the concrete experiences to base it upon, meaning I need to actually meet and deal with those people. The experiences you have will certainly not determine what kind of person you'll ultimately become, but they are a heavy influence that can determine at least some things, like how you emotionally respond to certain things and situations. I believe in being bold, but my character has developed into something quiet and reserved because that was the optimal way to deal with the irrational people I was forced to deal with for years and couldn't get away from, so it'll take some new, better experiences to uproot traits that are essentially defense mechanisms for dealing with irrational people.

My big mistake in my self-improvement ventures before is that I thought I could alter my character entirely though the will and practice of introspection alone, but now I see that it's slightly more complex than that. There are other areas that influence one's mental contents, so by neglecting those areas and concentrating entirely on my thoughts I have been stagnating in my growth.

And now that I think about it, the kinds of person I've been in the past seem to prove the importance of experience. The ideal time I have in my memory is when I was so philosophically open and conversational with other people, and I see now that that was during a time I spent a good deal of time with friends who enjoyed such conversations, conducted them civilly (including disagreements), and never resorted to hostility. When I transitioned to the current self I am dissatisfied with I was then at a point in my life where I was primarily dealing with irrational and emotionally unstable people, so my character changed in order to cope with what was a significantly unreasonable atmosphere. Even the wrong opinion on a pair of shoes, no matter how proper the manners in speaking them, were a potential cause of strife, so for the past years I've had to keep the majority of my thoughts to myself.

In summary, then, I think my pursuit of companionship is not only to fulfill a psychological need, but to also help me change as a person by being exposed to healthier and happier social environments. I can't feel, so to speak, the existence of rational and ideal people until I actually meet them and start dealing with them on a regular basis, so if I'm to move forward with my character improvement I should work to gain those friends.

To sum the argument up, introspection plays a huge role in one's character formation, but it isn't definitive. There are other, external factors to take into account, and neglecting them can lead to stagnation or even retrogression. The whole context must be considered. In order to fully feel the brevity of a healthier belief, then one should and must pursue concrete evidence and experiences that confirm that belief(s), otherwise one's conclusions and emotional responses won't fully align.

On a side-note, I think my desire for companionship shows I've finally established the confidence of my lovability. (I have been pursuing lovability goals here and there, but they're so scattered I don't think I could link to any one post.) I'll say it out loud: I think I deserve to be loved for the person I am. I've been long in the pursuit of virtue, so having done well to obtain it makes to yearn for my justice. Ah, but I'll have to wait longer. This point has also been making me angrier in conjunction, as I'm aware of some people who appreciate me and yet keep silent and distant in their treatment, making my loneliness even stronger knowing all the potential values there are.

Once again I must thoroughly recommend Mind Over Mood. Introspection is a very necessary skill that every person needs to practice, and this so far is the best resource I've ever perused on the subject. I've been aware of the importance of introspection for years now, and still this book has helped me make major identifications I haven't been able to on my own. Pursuing valuable people is a self-improvement venture in both making me live a more full live and become a better person. As I do successfully nurture these relationships, I'll be sure to cite what changes I have undergone.

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