John was pushing on the gas as he didn’t want to be late for this meeting. If he can crack this deal, it would be a game changer for his company, and he had worked hard for it. But just as he was visualising what he would say in the meeting, his car engine fell silent and it came to a stop soon after.
After struggling for a few seconds, he shouted ‘fuck!’ as his eyes went towards the fuel meter. “This can’t be true”, he uttered in complete shock as he looked at the needle towards the E in his car’s dashboard. He got down and started kicking his car in frustration when a passer by stopped and asked – “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t believe I just ran out of fuel. And I am already running late for this very important meeting.”
“Why didn’t you stop on the way to refuel your car?”, asked the bystander.
“Didn’t I just tell you?? I have to make it to the meeting. I am already late.”
If you are laughing or smiling at the above story, don’t. Because we (Yes! Including you and me) aren’t very different either. In our day to day lives, we are also too often focussed on what is urgent or what seems important today that we end up ignoring what is really important for us in the long run. If we use the “filling the gas” metaphor which I used in the story, then it is evident that it was a case of bad prioritization, but it is not so simple to see the same in our daily lives.
If you really want to not run out of gas, you need to invest in the person you are, because that will determine how far you will go. Investing in Yourself is the equivalent of “filling up the gas”. Below I am listing down the four steps we all can follow to do so.
1. Understanding Yourself
We are all shaped by our surroundings – our parents, our peers at school and work, our friends, our culture, and our experiences as we grow up. It is very rare that we spend time exploring who we are on a deeper level. What are our values? What makes us really happy or angry? What do we want our life to be about?
Questions like these can help you uncover your personality and understand how you came to be the way you are. By exploring these questions you also get the freedom to choose the kind of person you want to be, or if there is something you want to re-invent or change about yourselves.
2. Awareness of How You Act
We all have certain beliefs that explain to us the way things should be or should not be. Almost all of our decisions are based on these beliefs about people and situations in life. It is our mind’s job to ensure our safety and survival in this fast-paced world and it does that by making decisions for us, many times which are even unaware of our conscious self. It is like we are running on auto-pilot.
Making efforts to uncover your blind spots and to be more conscious requires being more mindful of your daily decisions – both big and small. It is only through focusing attention on your mind that you can be present with the robotic nature of your life. By being present with this routine will lead you to the next step – of making your own conscious choices.
3. Making our Own Choices
Once we are aware of how our unconscious mind drives most of our actions, we can be more deliberate about our choices. Each and every choice we make has the potential to change the direction of where we are going, and each choice will have its own consequences.
By being conscious about your own choices based on your values and beliefs, you can take control of the steering wheel of your life and stop being just a passenger in life.
For example – Rita believes her boss is rude and has a bias against her, based on past experiences. Now every time she gets into a meeting with him, her mind acts overtime to sense any hint of a bias towards her, and as soon as that happens, she start to defend or prove herself right. Often it develops into a behaviour pattern which she can’t help. She feels trapped and not having any other option. Now suppose Rita wants to invest in herself and has taken time to think about her life and understand the events that shaped her personality. She realises that being respected and treating others fairly while working towards common goals are amongst her deepest values.
Now when she hears something from her boss which sounds biased against her, she gives her boss the option to explain his point or rephrases it to make sure she understands correctly, but doesn’t assume anything. After that, she acts based on her values and makes her point to her boss to find common ground rather than to prove him wrong. If her boss is still unreasonable and rude towards her, she respectfully informs him that his behaviour bothers her and look for ways forward. In this case – either her boss ends up changing his behaviour, or she decides to change her team or job, but either way she feels in control and empowered about her choices.
4. Mastery via Practice
Once you have made your own choices, the next step is to practice doing daily whatever is required to stay on course. It takes a great amount of discipline and practice to unlearn old habits and learn new ones. You will obviously fail many times when trying to form new habits, but eventually, these new habits will feel like second nature. Only by being aware (or mindful) of the decisions, you take each day you can be deliberate about them to move your life in the direction you want to go. The challenge is to reflect and learn from your experiences and re-invent yourself if need be.