Observing myself by watching
Yogi Berra said it. “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
And you can learn a lot about yourself just by observing.
I’ve been watching and observing and learning some things about myself recently. Some have been pleasing. Some have been embarrassing. But overall, I’m pleased even to discover the ones I’ve found embarrassing. Knowledge is the goal.
That’s a useful thing to know about myself, and one that’s pleasing to know.
This mash-up embedded below of Jordan Peterson’s talks (full transcript) has inspired me.
There’s a lot of stuff here, but let me give you a taste.
You don’t know yourself
You know, one of the things I often told my students and my clinical clients as well, I guess I probably told my family members this, as well, some of the many ways that one of the first ways to come to know yourself is to understand that you don’t.
Point 1: You don’t know yourself. And if you think you do, you’re fooling yourself. Just as the self is a kind of illusion, so is the notion that you know yourself.
…you have to understand that you don’t know who you are. And that’s not easy to understand. Because you think you know, but then you know, you remember, you can’t control yourself very well; you’re not very disciplined, you’re full of flaws. Maybe you don’t know yourself as well as you think. But it’s hard to get low enough to understand how deeply it is the case that you are ignorant about who you are.
Point 2: It’s hard to “get low enough to understand how deeply is the case that you are ignorant about who you are.
The idea that I know myself is a kind of illusion easily pierced by watching myself and seeing how many things I see myself do that are inconsistent with my self-image.
I did that?
I woke up last night and wandered around eating things when I wasn’t hungry?
That’s not me?
Who is that person, anyway?
You can learn to kind of watch yourself like you’re watching a stranger. But you have to adopt a position is a position of radical humility.
If you’re serious about learning anything, humility is an essential prerequisite. If you’re serious about learning who you are, you have to start by acknowledging your ignorance.
Meditation teaches me that. Ideas arise in my mind. Where do they come from? I don’t know. I do things. How do I decide? I don’t know.
I can come up with explanations, but are they the right ones? I don’t know.
The more I acknowledge my ignorance, the more I feel open to new knowledge. If I’m not ignorant, what could I possibly learn?
I know a lot, but my ignorance—about anything—is much greater than my knowledge.
So I want to learn to focus on what I don’t know. If I don’t, then what I do know—some of which is false—will get in the way of learning new things.
And I do want to learn. At least I believe I do.
I’m better at learning new things than most. But I fall far short of my ideal.
If I compared myself to other people, I might feel pride—and that would not help me.
So I choose to compare myself to my ideal and look for ways to approach my ideal — one small step at a time.
You don’t know how incompetent you are
Peterson recommends that you acknowledge how incompetent you are at making the changes that you want to make. That’s a mistake I’ve repeatedly made. I see the changes I want to make. I decide to change. And I think I can just do it.
But I can’t.
…there’s things you could do to improve and you know what they are.
And so, I think does everyone, if they observed themselves carefully.
And there’s small steps that you could take that you might take that would put you in that direction? And then the question is, are you big enough to take those small steps
That’s been my repeated error. I don’t want to take small steps. I want to take big ones. And I’ve tried. Because I haven’t been big enough to take small steps.
Why small steps?
…are you capable of grappling with the fact that you’re fundamentally flawed to the point where you have to break things down into almost childlike steps in order to manage them? And the answer to that is, yeah, you are.
That’s what I’ve been discovering this week. I’ve been working on my software project and improving my blogging practice.
I’m finally facing the fact that I have to break things down and take “almost childlike steps” to make progress.
But you have to be humble and wise enough to understand that you might have to aim pretty damn low…
It’s because you don’t know what you’re doing. You have to admit that, and there’s going to be a loss of ego, destruction of ego, arrogant ego that necessarily accompanies that. But you need the loss of that arrogant ego because it’s precisely what’s interfering with your movement forward.
That’s what I’ve learned from observing myself this week.
It’s easy to focus my attention on the things that I do well and congratulate myself for them.
It’s easy. But it’s a mistake.
It distracts me from clearly observing the things that I do poorly. And unless I see what I do poorly, how can I expect do what it takes to change?
Some good things I learned
I saw myself doing some things well.
I focused on the things that I did poorly and decided that I was not going to be satisfied with the level of performance that I’ve accepted for years.
“Better than other people” has been good enough for me in the past.
“Not the best I can do” is the new standard.
This week I’ve looked at small inefficiencies as problems deserving respect and attention. And one by one I’ve solved them.
I wasn’t a perfectionist, but I tried to hold myself to a higher standard than I’ve done in the past.
I have some grand aspirations, and I hope to make progress.
I realize that the way to get there is by taking those “almost childlike steps.”
This is one.