Shift Upwards is still extremely young, but already some common threads have been established. A general overarching theme for what I write about on this blog is rebellion: rebelling against a prescribed lifestyle, and using this rebellion as a platform to define and implement the constructs of your own happiness.
One of my primary goals is to write about what I have learned and implemented, and how these things have improved my life. But it is equally important to write about what I am struggling to implement. There is a significant opportunity to document my journey in overcoming these struggles.
Today, I’m going to write about one particular struggle that I’ve been dealing with lately. I have acknowledged that I must overcome it in order to meet the ambitious goals I have set for myself. This struggle is aligning the structures of my life to enable success on a deeper, more personal level.
Defining Your Happiness
As already stated on this blog, defining your own happiness requires a significant amount of work. You must look inwards and ask the difficult questions in order to understand what happiness and fulfillment means to you.
Achieving that happiness and fulfillment may require some significant changes in your life. It might be easy to have an energetic and optimistic mentality regarding change. But it can be just as easy to ultimately fall short when it comes to implementing the practices required to sustain such change.
Change is not easy; the predefined structures of our lives generally don’t do much to enable it. I would argue that the typical structures in place enable us to actively avoid change.
Feeling stuck, trapped, or generally unhappy might mean you are aware of the changes you would like to make, but you are not yet at a place where you have started to take action on them. There are many reasons why you might not take action.
Maybe there’s so much going on in other parts of your life that you push off doing the work on yourself. Maybe you feel like you don’t even know where to start when it comes to taking action, so you remain in a holding pattern.
The bottom line is that change is not easy, and the ability to avoid it, well, is. Confronting this realization is a required precursor to making changes.
Building Awareness of the Structures
The structures that define our lives are ubiquitous. They are put in place at an early age, and reinforced all throughout childhood. By the time we are adults, the notion of having such structures is engrained to the point that it’s very difficult to resist them.
Let’s take a look at the trajectory of my life. I showed up to school on time, I completed my homework assignments, I studied for tests. I got decent enough grades to get into college. By the time I got to college, I was well-versed in what I needed to do to get through it.
I had been conditioned quite well, so just like in grade school, I received strong grades and obtained my degree. I was offered a job out of college.
These days, I show up to work on time. I complete my projects and assignments, and I get strong performance reviews which warrant promotions and raises. I’ve achieved success to this point through a strict adherence to the structures put in place. I know where I’m supposed to be, I know when I’m supposed to be there, and I know what I’m supposed to do while I’m there.
The steps necessary to maintain success are very clear cut. Just keep doing what I’ve been doing, it’s worked out so far.
It’s simple, from a bird’s eye view. I know what is expected of me, and there are external forces motivating me to meet those expectations. The checks and balances have ensured the structures that make up my life are very sound. They have allowed me to build a strong resistance to any changes which conflict with these underlying structures.
Acknowledging the Resistance
There is one particular memory I have that is a few years old already. I was walking to dinner with my now-finance’s father. We were talking about business and entrepreneurship, and he was aware of my general interest in this topic based on prior conversations. He asked me if I would ever want to start my own business or be an entrepreneur. I immediately scoffed, the idea sounded so silly to me.
“I really love the idea of blazing my own trail, but I’m just not entrepreneurial!”, I passionately stated. I remember having a tinge of anger and frustration in my response. “I’m just not cut out to do that kind of work.”
The resistance was kicking in as a pre-programmed reaction, and I had yet to grant it a healthy acknowledgement. The structures that were deeply integrated into my life directly conflicted with the idea of doing something on my own.
The idea of even putting myself out to the world through writing on this website was a drawn-out process to come to terms with. There were a lot of dissenting internal voices keeping me from starting. But here I am today, and it might not seem like much went into this.
Reading this finished product on your screen (thanks for reading!) doesn’t do justice to the process of getting here. Consistently putting my words into a form that I’m satisfied to release into the world takes a lot of energy and discipline. I’m still trying to master this energy and discipline.
It’s not always so easy to maintain motivation and discipline when that motivation is primarily intrinsic. There are no external consequences, nothing threatening the stability of my life if I choose to neglect my writing. There will still be food on the table, there will still be a direct deposit to my bank account every two weeks. There won’t be anyone wondering where I am or why I haven’t finished something.
It’s tempting to just fire up Netflix and forget about it.
This exact pattern applies to any sort of work that must be done to grow personally and tackle internal issues. And it’s why such work so often goes neglected and ignored. It’s so easy to check someone else’s boxes off your list instead of working on your own, and to be so used to it that you forget to take care of yourself entirely.
Maintaining discipline when accountable to yourself is challenging. This is why building functioning, sustainable structures into your life is so important.
Building Structures to Enable Success
In order to build a framework for success, you must first acknowledge what success means to you. This in and of itself is a time-consuming journey, which requires discipline to achieve. How meta! But the answer is not just going to appear out of thin air.
Imagine you have decided to take on a new challenge and climb one of the largest mountains in the world. The initial idea is very exciting, but you’ve never climbed a mountain before. You are completely new to this kind of adventure. There’s so much to do!
You must research and purchase the necessary apparel. You must know what to pack. You must physically and mentally prepare for the difficult journey and the unforeseen hurdles that will present themselves along the way. If you aren’t adequately prepared or willing to tackle these preparation tasks, you may decide that the idea was exciting but ultimately not worth the effort.
It is important to understand everything that a seemingly good idea entails before setting out to work on it. Simply having a general awareness of the discipline and structure needed to move forward is a productive step in its own right.
This acknowledgement will allow you to overcome the challenging periods where you just feel like throwing your hands up in surrender. It will enable the strength needed to press forward.
I know that continuing to write and grow this blog will be challenging at times. Already I’ve had a few false stops. But I also knew going into it that this would be a very real struggle, and knowing that has made the struggle itself something that I can draw strength from.
If you are satisfied to stay right where you are and keep doing the same thing for the rest of your life, perhaps this article wasn’t for you. In that case, I would challenge you to ask yourself if you are mistaking resistance for satisfaction. The voice of the resistance is loud, and it won’t go away unless you learn how to recognize it and belittle it when necessary. It is a strong biological force (in the form of a lizard) deeply entrenched into your brain, armed with trickery. It is like a well-seasoned lawyer, ready to provide compelling arguments to any errant thoughts that might take power away from it.
What are some challenges you have overcome in your life to improve yourself? How did you overcome those challenges?
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