Overcoming the Self

I looked at the scale, and I knew intuitively that my weight was going to kill me. I had been having problems sleeping because I couldn’t get comfortable. I was dealing with minor, but persistent, pains that were impacting my life choices. I wasn’t happy with how I looked.

I knew something had to change.

Of course, I’d try changing before, so what made this time different?

Well, for starters I was reaping the full consequences of my actions. Homer Simpson-esque jokes about pitying my future self were less amusing when I found myself as the butt of the experience.

At the other hand, I discovered audiobooks, and I’d been listening to the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People while also slowly crawling through Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. In the past, many of my attempts at self improvement and controlling my weight were confounded by the simple fact that I didn’t have an orderly system to do so.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not an astonishing success story. I’m closer to financial insolvency if a big emergency happened than I’d like (the side-effect of being a teacher and having a 401k). I still have moments where I indulge and don’t get stuff done (all my personal projects are currently at the point of being late or being queued for inevitable delays).

But I’ve realized some things about myself.

First, I had to overcome self-approbation. I had to trust myself, and believe that I could do good work when I set my mind to it.

Now, there’s a certain limit to this: obviously I will miss deadlines and have the occasional setback–but I create limitations to that and reward myself for success.

It was Jordan Peterson who said something interesting in his book: you should promise a reward for yourself, and keep that promise.

Some of my original promises were perhaps too grandiose for their own good: an emergency required me to scratch financial incentives for March and April, so all the shiny toys I was going to give myself for being good no longer counted.

But what I’m finding about this process is that it’s not about being perfect. I’ve been re-reading C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and I was struck by a scene in one of the novels where a (talking) horse abandons one of his fellows and an innocent girl to an attack by a lion.

The lesson that Lewis was going for is this:

Nobody’s perfect.

You’ll mess up.

It’s how you move on that counts.

That’s not just a message for self-love or self-endorsement, it’s the word of Scripture and Truth (picture Peter or Paul, both of whom have fairly weighty sins on their heads).

One of the things that has been motivating to me is the notion that I’m becoming stronger every day. I’m not aiming for perfection: my goal weight is still on the heavy side (but on the healthy side of heavy), my projects still miss their deadlines, and I really don’t sleep enough.

But just knowing that I’m improving is a major boost to my mind and my relationship with myself.

And when I started trusting myself, it made it easier to trust others. My total lack of self-trust had become an issue in itself, one that I had yearnings to fix.

One of the elements of my faith life that always concerned me was my anxiety. I’m not like clinically anxious or anything, but I worry as my number-one pastime. I find that it’s something that takes me away from the pursuit of holiness, since I’m too focused on the generally material objects of my worry and prone to doubting in the Lord when I do so.

Peterson (who is not an atheist, but doesn’t talk much about his faith) and Covey (who was religious and a practicing Mormon) speak of a sort of conscience, but I had always equated the conscience with a strictly moral alignment. However, I had long heard subtle callings to change elements of my life, and since they were strictly practical I figured that they couldn’t have been aligned with that.

Ironically, I now feel that these twinges of conscience that I was suppressing was to give me a tool to overcome that anxiety that had served as a block to my faith. God wasn’t trying to have me improve myself so that I could have power, rather He was telling me that I had to sort some things out if I really wanted to be all I could be instead of just leaning on my own understanding.

However, having a little bit of confidence in myself has fixed that–if my car breaks down, I’ll handle it. If I’m hungry and I forgot to go grocery shopping, I can now cook well enough to get by with scraps in my fridge and still maintain my diet. I don’t have to worry about these things, because I’ve stopped living in reaction and started living in action.

And that freed up an incredible amount of my time, which with the help of organization has led me to spend more time in prayer and more time in Scripture. It also helped me kill my ego: I found that when I failed in one area I felt the need to compensate in another, despite knowing that human nature is inherently flawed and I would never be perfect.

But part of this process has been God showing me that I don’t have to master everything, and coming to an improved notion of how to appreciate the gifts I have been given.

I’m not the most eloquent, and I’m not terribly comfortable talking about my faith (I’m used to staying pretty closed off with regards to public discussion of religion and politics), but I hope that what I have said will help you. Go in God’s peace.

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