Part #1. Knowing What Annoys You
Over the next few posts I want to do a series on the basics of self development.
The starting point for self development is some kind of dissatisfaction or annoyance: this may be positive (wanting more of something) or negative (wanting less of something – or none at all of something). We may want to be:
- more content or less fretful,
- more joyous or less depressed.
I think our annoyance is probably the best starting point, because:
- It gives us a way to measure what we are doing. If we want to to be less depressed but don’t feel better in say three months then it is time to reassess what we are doing.
- It can help avoid the trap of perfectionism. In self development this is a constant problem. We can always improve our performance, take on a new challenge, investigate a different area . . . – the universe is bigger than what we can fit into one lifetime.
- It gives us focus. The self development universe is probably bigger than we can fit into one lifetime too. Our annoyance gives us a good way to filter out what we don’t need to bother with.
- It keeps us grounded. Some self development can get awfully heady. We can feel that we have grown so much in understanding the meaning of life the universe and everything – but we still have digestive problems, or cry for no reason.
- It encourages self awareness. Usually self development means finding our own path (even though it may fall within a particular tradition – we pick and choose what is of more use and interest to us within the tradition). So paying attention to our discontent is part of self awareness. And this will be necessary for any sustainable part of self development.
- Pain can be motivating. Or, better, relief of pain can be motivating. If we find a way to lessen our annoyance we will be likely to want to do this more. We will be more likely to take the next step. And so, step by step, create a more satisfying life.
Finding what annoys us.
Which means that we need to know what the discontent or annoyance is. Because sometimes we aren’t. I have a couple of suggestions to help you zero in on what is annoying you.
Check out the different dimensions of life. For me there are five dimensions to our lives: the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social. With a big issue for us all five or any one can be involved.
For instance depression may involve:
- The physical: a brain chemical imbalance that can be treated with drugs (perhaps);
- The emotional: perhaps not expressing anger and holding it in;
- The mental: habitually focusing on bad news and shortcomings;
- The spiritual: no sense of meaning to your life
- The social: no friends you can talk to with deep emotion.
It could be that any one of these dimensions that could be causing your discontent.
- The physical: poor diet may contribute to poor digestion and excess caffeine can contribute to feeling anxious.
- The emotional: blocking one or more emotions can lead to tight and tired muscles and affect how satisfying our relationships are.
- The mental: the reason we aren’t doing well in a particular area of life may be a lack of information or education. Many of us rely on what we learned in childhood as the way to conduct our relationships (this can lead to problems).
- The spiritual: lacking a sense of individual purpose may lead to lack of energy, feeling blah, not thinking clearly and losing interest in previously satisfying relationships.
- The social: a crisis in a relationship can lead to poor sleep or digestion, intense feelings that we don’t want, obsessive or scatty thinking, or even doubting our reason for being alive or doing what we do.
Scanning through the different dimensions of our lives is one way of getting clear about what is bothering us.
Another way is to use our imagination.
- It could be your ideal holiday. Imagine yourself packing and leaving; then arriving; and getting to know as clearly as you can with all your senses.
- It could be an ideal place – your perfect home, or a retreat on an inaccessibly mountain top, or a carnival, or . . . whatever feels best to you.
- It could be a perfect time period: year, month, day or even just a moment.
- You could imagine yourself sitting in a rocking chair in your old age telling your grandchildren about what was deeply satisfying in your life, or how you overcame this discontent or annoyance.
Another way is, if you can do it safely, let the discontent take you over. What is it that your discontent move you to do? If you don’t feel safe doing this you can just imagine it. (You may be surprised by the intensity of the feeling. If you are shocked then stop immediately and do something nice for yourself.)
And let’s not forget talking to friends. What is hard for us to see is often obvious to others. If you know someone who you trust to listen well it can be very worth talking things over with them.
This is where self development starts. Being clear on what is upsetting us. However far along the self development path we travel, however mature we become, this is bedrock – in some ways we never get beyond this beginning.
The next post in this series will be about getting clear on why we are annoyed or discontent.
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