Self-Generating vs. Others-Generated
How would you feel if everyone on earth disappeared?
Of course we’d mourn the loss of our loved ones, but then what? You might ask:
What happens to me?
Where do I fit in the world if there’s no world to interact with?
When asking the question, “Who is the real me?” we usually define ourselves by what we do (I’m a businessman; I’m a student) or by our surroundings (I’m a Canadian; I’m a devoted family man). Perhaps we’re more in-tune with character traits (either positive: I’m sweet, caring, sensitive, devoted, etc.; or negative: I’m slow, dumb, not good enough, a loser, etc.).
Where do all these definitions come from? From our interactions and the reactions of others, for the most part. Why am I sweet and caring? Because I’m told so by the people I care about. Why am I devoted? Because I’m committed to my family that I love. I’m still defining myself by others.
When I self-generate, I act, feel, or think based on my own self—without external influences.
When I’m others-generated, I act, feel, or think based on my surroundings. Take away the externals, and I’m left with nothing.
So how do I discover who I really am?
Step 1: Remove distractions in order to reveal your thoughts and feelings.
I once received a phone call from someone who always felt the need to keep busy—sometimes with positive things, at times with not-so-productive behaviors. He asked me to help him define why he’d never be alone and what he was running away from. I suggested, “Sit in a room, close the door, turn off your phone—with nothing to do. I bet you’ll discover pretty quickly where this need to escape is coming from.” He called me less than five minutes later (!) and said, “I feel like a failure.”
The more time we think without distractions, the more we’ll come to a deeper understanding of ourselves. When we’re alone with our thoughts, we can begin to discover what really drives us. What our inherent inner voice is telling us about our beliefs, values, and personality. For better or worse, taking into account the good and the bad that’s who we are today.
Only through true knowledge of ourselves can we genuinely self-generate. We have to be honest and real. By acknowledging what our good and bad character traits are, we can reflect our true inner being.
Here are some examples of questions you can ask yourself when starting to be mindful of your thoughts. (It’s helpful to write down the answers.)
· What are my biggest fears in life? What’s holding me back?
· What kind of person do I think I am? What kind of person do I want to be?
· What are my dreams and goals? What am I willing to do to get them?
Step 2: In all interactions: (a) Be real; (b) Respond—don’t react.
In order to self-generate, your outward appearance must be a reflection of your inner self.
Nobody likes a phony. In general, we feel safest around people we trust. If I get the feeling that you’re hiding something, I’m reluctant to open up and get close. Healthy, lasting relationships are built on a foundation of authenticity, honesty, and being real.
Being real means fully expressing who we are. For that to be possible, we have to make ourselves vulnerable. This can be scary, and can open us up to negative feelings, such as rejection or anger.
This is not necessarily a bad thing.
Bringing up those emotions or thoughts can benefit us. It helps us gain better insights into ourselves and what we need to work on; it can also bring to light the true nature of our relationship with another person.
A general principle that’s helped me when I’m nervous about being real with people—I remind myself that every person on this planet is going through their own “stuff.” Even if, in the moment, I get a strong reaction from someone I’m interacting with, in five minutes they’re going to forget about our interaction and go back to thinking about themselves.
Let’s break down the word “react.” The prefix “re” means “back.” So “react” means “back act.” That means I’m acting in the same way or in direct opposition to the influences around me.
“Respond” means “back answer” (spondere from old French). This is where we allow ourselves to respond in a real way—based on who I am and on my beliefs—not upon what Ithink someone wants to hear or in a way that’s caused by others.
When a friend on the street casually says, “Good morning! How are you?”, instead of the automatic response, “Fine. How are you?”, try being honest. I’m not saying to start spurting out that you’re frazzled because you had a fight with your spouse, or that you’ve been neglecting your job so you’re nervous to go to work—but to simply say, “Thanks for asking. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed right now,” or “I’m a little distracted.” Try it. You’ll be surprised how people will appreciate it.
In the same example as above, when a friend greets us, we’ll often have an internal dialogue based on the conversation: He doesn’t like me. I’m not as good as him; or maybe: Her kids are better behaved than mine. What am I doing wrong? During and immediately following an interaction, we’re too caught up in the conversation to step back and properly explore that interaction—what it means and what we can do about it.
Instead, during the conversation, be present and focused on the other person. Allow yourself to let go of analyzing anything until you’re in a place to work it through.