How to Not Be Anti-You

Do you like bullets in your foot?

It really hurts when you shoot yourself in the foot. Especially when you keep doing it over and over.

And over.

I see this happen all the time with people with a rebel, nonconformist kind of mindset. It’s typical for these types of people to sabotage their own efforts and start rebelling against themselves. (I’m one of these types of people, in case you haven’t guessed yet.)

Here’s an example of the way this typically works:

You start something you’ve really wanted to do for a long time. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to draw. So you sign up for a class, and you’re really digging it. You’re getting better and drawing all kinds of awesome stuff. Maybe you even come up with a tattoo design for yourself. Sweet.

Then a few weeks later the class ends and you’re still going. But since you’re the type of person that wants to really master something, you start this mental arithmetic of requiring yourself to practice drawing. You want to get better, right? So you practice, and you’re excited.

Then something not-so-good happens. You don’t practice one day and you feel like shit. You beat yourself up over it and now you’re not so sure you’re “disciplined enough” to practice mastering your craft. (You don’t realize that you can establish new habits without discipline.)

But you keep going anyway; you keep practicing. And then you start judging yourself, not when you miss a day of practice or play, but when you don’t practice long enough. You think you could do more. You think an hour’s not enough, because that one guy from your class draws all-the-time. And look at you, you’re not doing it all-the-time so you must not be dedicated, right? Or so you think.

What used to be something you pursued because it was fun and enjoyable, is now a chore. It’s now something you must do.

Your inner rebel is awakened, and it’s pissed. Those of us with nonconformist tendencies typically don’t like doing things we must do. So we rebel. We disobey. We can’t help it, this is just the way we’ve always been.

The problem

There’s some great benefits to rebelling against the status quo and questioning authority. You learn to think for yourself and form your own opinions. You learn to explore, research and investigate; and this helps you to develop your consciousness.

But there also tends to be something not so good about rebellious tendencies… Sometimes you rebel against yourself.

Kind of counter-productive, don’t you think?

But how does this happen? How does being anti-mainstream lead to being anti-you? It has to do with one word:

Must.

When you must do something, it’s not fun anymore. Your level of passion completely flat lines. When you must do something, you naturally want to rebel because you’ve backed yourself into a corner. You resist because you feel that you no longer have a choice.

Restoring the choice

I’ve been dealing with this very problem for quite some time. I’ll commit to doing something, but I’ll feel like I’m letting myself down if I don’t commit to Olympic level ascension. I obviously see that this is kind of silly, but I hold myself to high standards. Sometimes too high.

But what’s more than that, we often think that there are less options than there are. You don’t have to do anything. That’s your ego spiraling out of control.

What I’ve found helpful is not just to realize that my standards are absurd, but to realize that there are always more options than you think there are. So here are a couple of good questions to ask yourself when you think you must do something:

  1. What would happen if I did?
  2. What would happen if I didn’t?

Sometimes it’s better to ask “What would happen?” instead of “Why do I want this?” When you ask why, you have a tendency to feel like you have to justify yourself, and it’s too easy to let your emotions cloud your judgment. By asking what would happen, you’re allowing yourself to explore the possibilities of the many possibilities that are available to you. Then you can choose one of those options, instead of feeling like you only have one choice: that you must do this.

Whenever you think you must, ask yourself those two questions. And ask yourself if there are any other possibilities that you might not have considered. Ask yourself if you missed something. Go past your Herculean ego-driven desire to be record-breaking best, and ask yourself what else is there.

Where you previously saw a cage, you may now see a hidden door or an alternative path.

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64 Comments on "How to Not Be Anti-You"

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Arsalan
Guest

Okay, I have to be honest, I was skeptic at various times while going through your blog, now, I know what the F* you are talking about, and I love it, I F*ing rebel against myself, but I subconsciouly used to imagine the do’s and don’ts situations on my own, that kinda gave me the initial drive later on, now I know how to awaken it… simple article straight into your face. good work mate!

Arsalan

Steve
Guest
this is a really wonderful post & a wonderful blog.. i found you from zen habits but have grown to appreciate these posts more than most of the content on zen habits. like you, i am a nonconformist (vegan avant-garde poet/activist), and this summer i got really involved in personal development (thru babauta), so these issues really coincide with what i’ve been facing. specifically this topic, which you cover in many posts, of forcing yourself to achieve/change, and then feeling oppressed/limited by your own program because you have an aversion to force. your posts are very spot-on for me at… Read more »
jah
Guest

very stricking post, thank you for this, truely an eye opener

Mark
Guest

Struck a chord

Stephane
Guest

Thanks Jonathan for this inspirational post.
I honestly admit that I sometimes shoot myself in the foot too. I believe that committing to our passions can be renewed by asking the right questions and paying attention to our feelings. Fun, joy and enthusiasm are good indicators that we are enjoying the ride whatever the destination. Thanks for this insightful reminder.

Stephane

Dana
Guest
This is a great post! And I can see by the comments I’m not so alone as I thought. The advice is sound for things we start that we love but somehow get to hate but there are ‘chores’ in life we MUST ABSOLUTELY DO, whether we like the word must or not. When it comes to these every day must do’s, the only thing that gets you to get through these is Love. Think about dishes, cooking a meal, washing the clothes and all the other drudge work that fills our lives and can keep us from doing the… Read more »
Arti
Guest

I feel at peace after reading this post knowing now that I am not the only one.Learning how to defeat the self defeating tendencies is another plus.Thanks.

Andreea M.
Guest

Man, you’re so right!!! I have a huge problem with stuff I must do. Sometimes I start a new activity, which seems very interesting and fun, because it’s NEW, and after a while, I get bored because it seems to be compulsory.
I’ll try to do what you suggest and see if it works :)

gooey prickle
Guest

Dude…this is so spot on its creepy. This blog is sick, I just stumbled across it tonight. Cheers.

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Jr.
Guest

I like the advice about asking yourself the 2 ‘what ifs’ questions instead of the ‘why’ questions. This would help promote positive energy towards the things we are doing. Love the new look and the new name.

Jessica
Guest

This fits me so perfectly and is so well written! Thank you for bringing light to something I hadn’t consciousness realized yet!! :)

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