The more I learn in life, the more questions I have.
I’m inherently curious (and sceptical), but it doesn’t help that my journalist training has reinforced my desire to question everything.
Sometimes this trait can be a real pain in the arse. I feel like life would be so much easier if I just accepted things at face value and felt perfectly happy living a simple, if not narrow, existence.
But most of the time I’m grateful for it. My questions have opened doors to interesting people and experiences. Conversations sparked from my curiosity have formed friendships, relationships and even aspects of my career. Fact: lines of questioning have definitely led me down pointless rabbit holes and wasted hours/days/weeks that I’ll never get back. But it’s been a small price to pay.
The hardest line of inquiry I’ve come up against so far is of my belief system. Turns out, so many of the thoughts and beliefs that’ve shaped me are mostly bullshit. Sure, some of them served me at one point or another – they formed to protect me or help me when I was younger. But now they’re not only unhealthy, but, to be completely honest, sometimes paralysing.
For a professional questioner, I can’t believe it has taken me so long to get here. But, finally, I’ve started asking questions like, ‘How many of my beliefs actually belong to me?’ Belief systems are formed in childhood when we have no choice but to accept what’s handed to us from our parents, friends, religion and society.
Narky comments from un-thinking parents living out their own unhelpful belief systems plant seeds into tiny brains. Insecure bullies at school shit-talking you knock confidence at critical development points. Education structures that don’t allow lateral thinking squash creativity and put kids in boxes. This is the stuff that goes on to shape us for life, unless we develop the awareness to let it go.
Questioning why a specific thought or belief exists is how we grow our emotional intelligence. But where most of us fall down is not actually recognising them in the first place. For a long time, these ideas were so hard-wired that I didn’t even realise they existed. They were filed into my hard drive like some kind of virus and I acted on them unconsciously. I allowed them to leak into all corners of my life, leaving me anxious, directionless and struggling to accept love.
I now liken my belief system to some ineffective government department that nobody wants but can’t figure out how to dismantle. So, it just sat there like deadweight, costing me, the taxpayer, emotionally.
Right now, I’m in the process of streamlining, of cutting out the deadweight. It’s requiring a lot of time sitting in my own shit. For years I’ve let the bureaucratic nightmare in my head rule my heart. My modus is to push at any cost. My type-A personality, so celebrated in today’s world, strives and achieves and works until I fall apart. I now realise it’s all just a manifestation of my deepest core belief: I’m not good enough. The more lost and unworthy I feel, the harder the push.
Far out, when I think about this I feel so sad for myself. But I’m grateful that I can now recognise the pattern. Nevertheless, it’s still really hard to let these parts of me go. No matter how gross the processes and completely untrue the thoughts, who am I without them?
So, I’m just sitting with it all. Recently, I cut my life-load back to give me no other choice. For the first time in my adult existence my biggest focus is myself – and figuring out who that actually is right now. Every day is an all-out battle against hard-wired urges to operate straight out of my bureaucrat’s handbook. Instead of filling my life with work and obligation and “achievement”, I’m now figuring out what brings me joy and how I’ll foster the creative side of me that I buried ages ago. This is excruciatingly hard. Ridiculous, I know.
It’s also really scary. What if the person underneath all this exhaustion and anxiety is completely different? What does that say about my life until this point and the relationships within it?
Or what if I continue to spin my wheels forever? Living with the awareness of my shitty beliefs, but still not being able to change them. ‘She had potential’, they’ll engrave on my headstone. That’s the most terrifying option.
See what I mean by life being much easier without all these questions?
There’s a great quote by philosopher and psychologist William James that says:
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
This has been super helpful to me. It reminds me that I’m not a slave to my thoughts and beliefs. I’m a big girl now and I can choose what I want to accept. No-one wants to believe they’re not good enough, or they suck at life or [insert your neurotic thoughts here]. These days when thoughts rear their foul little heads (which they’re doing a lot), it’s getting easier to step back and decide to choose door B instead.
Buddhism and meditation have kept me honest. They cracked open door B – the one that leads to awareness and change. When I’m practising them I’m able to recognise, and keep my distance from, the useless contents of my head. And if I’m not practising, then why not? Now I understand that it’s because I’m choosing to not to the work. It’s easier to be anxious and overloaded and operating from a place of lack. It may not be good place, but it’s a familiar one.
The simple truth is, I’m worthy and so are you.
But we live in a world where we’ve all gotta be someone. And that’s whoever you aren’t right now. You don’t need me to tell you that stuff like social media and society’s expectations and ideas of ‘success’ don’t help. I’ll take a punt that you’re aware enough to know these things can be toxic.
And if you are, then please keep growing your awareness by questioning everything in your head. Chances are, you already have a sense that something’s not quite right when you act from these hard-wired beliefs. Dig a bit deeper, pick at that scab and see what oozes out. Warning: It’s going to friggin’ hurt, but there’s a reason for that. The pain is sending you a message.
There’s this terrible cliché quote that goes ‘no good things come from comfort zones’. It’s every Instagram fitness model’s call to arms, to spur you to sign up to their 12-week program. As a writer I try to avoid clichés, but they’re clichés for a reason – they’re true. In this instance, it’s imperative you get out of your comfort zone, your unconscious belief system, to reach a place that’s real.
I’m not on the other side yet, but I know people who are. They tell me that it’s an awesome place to be.
Hopefully I’ll see you there.
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