honesty | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

On Sincerity and Survival

For the last few months, I’ve been holding back from writing on this blog, and one reason has been a fear that people who would otherwise pay me money would read what I’ve written and decide not to do so.  But today, I decided I’m going to keep writing anyway.

Okay, what I just said could probably use a little context.

Recently, I’ve been doing legal work to pay some bills (although I’ve ended up doing a lot more than necessary to survive).  One assumption I’ve been making is that people won’t want to work with someone who talks about himself in a public forum like a blog.  Although I’m skilled at what I do, I thought, potential clients will just find something vaguely distasteful about someone who shares deeply about his experience of life.

How Honest Can You Be And Still Pay The Bills?

In other words, the assumption I’ve been operating on is that being who I am will kill me.  If I honestly tell the world about myself, no one will pay me and I won’t survive.  The only way to stay alive is to hide the truth.

But after spending some time pondering this way of thinking, I’ve come to a stark, inescapable conclusion:  if this is really a world where being who I am will kill me, I don’t want to exist in it.  I’d rather “risk my life” by telling people what’s going on for me than spend my life walled off from the rest of humanity.

I Just Might Survive Being Myself

Thankfully, I don’t think I’m so radically unique or strange that the world can’t tolerate who I truly am.  In fact, what I’ve found is that, the more I’ve been willing to share my heartfelt experience with the world, in my writings and elsewhere, the more others find themselves relaxing around me.

And that’s a wonderful thing, because, I’ve decided, my purpose in life is to help people relax — to experience a deep-seated, physical feeling of release.  When people interact with me or read my writings, I want the tension in their bodies to melt away, and the rigid beliefs they may have held about the world softening.

Not only that — I want to help myself relax too, and in my experience, the best way to do that is to tell the truth, especially if it’s something that feels risky to say.

I’ve got a lot more writing, and hopefully a lot more opportunities to help people relax, coming up soon.  Oh, and more Steve’s Quest.

Why I’ve Been Talking About Myself

I recently noticed that, over the years (and it has been years) that I’ve been blogging, I’ve become less interested in giving advice to other people about what they should do, and more interested in just sharing my own experience of living.

I thought it would be interesting to take a moment and ask why I’ve moved in this direction.  I mean, let’s face it — the most popular posts in the blogosphere seem to be lists of the best ways to pitch your business, the best iPhone apps to buy, and so on.  Why would I shy away from this “prescriptive” approach people seem to like and just start talking about myself?

“Prescription” Ignites My Inner Two-Year-Old

The most obvious reason is that I simply don’t like being told what to do.  When someone tells me something like “here’s how you should introduce yourself to people,” my first instinct is to resist and perhaps even do the exact opposite of what I’m being told.

I may be unique in this sense — maybe, for some reason, I never fully grew out of the “Terrible Twos” stage of psychological development.  But my sense is that a lot of other people also instinctively dislike being told what to do, whether by their mothers or some random dude on the internet.

My Rejection of Projection

At a deeper level, though, what I’ve come to realize is that, when I’m writing about what someone else “should do,” I’m usually, in reality, talking to myself.  If I’m telling someone how to organize their living space, for example, my own (physical or emotional) space is probably somewhat of a wreck, and I can likely stand to take my own advice.

Psychologists call what’s happening here “projection.”  Because we don’t want to acknowledge what we’re feeling and what’s going on in our lives, we pretend as if someone else is having the experience we’re having.  If I say “you sound really angry,” it’s likely that I’m projecting my own anger onto you because I don’t want to admit that I feel it.

It feels riskier, but more honest, to drop the façade of telling you what to do, and acknowledge what’s going on for me and what I want to do.  If I tell you that I want to be more organized, I take a risk, because I admit that I’m disorganized and therefore imperfect.  Still, it feels liberating to be able to simply speak my truth, without trying to look good or avoid criticism.

It also feels great to me when someone else tells me what’s going on for them, and what they want and need.  It gives me a sense of permission to let down my own guard, and helps me to feel a connection with the person I’m talking to.

So that, in a nutshell, is why I’ve taken to navel-gazing lately, and why you should do it too (just kidding).

Why Do I Like Honesty?

Over the years (and it has now been years) this blog has been around, the focus of my writing has shifted from making recommendations about what you should do in order to be happy, to honestly sharing about my experience.

I don’t think I’ve ever explored with you all why my writing has evolved this way, and it’s an issue I think is worth exploring.

After all, it can be scary to share honestly, and it certainly isn’t a surefire strategy for getting blog traffic.  When I talk about my own “uncomfortable stuff,” it has a tendency to bring up others’ “stuff” too.  People who read blogs to get a break from their stuff, rather than see it plastered across their monitor, might not be cool with that.

I Don’t Tell The Truth Because It’s “Right”

Here’s another interesting fact I’ve noticed in my self-exploration:  my honesty doesn’t come from a desire to be “right” or “moral” either.  What morality demands when it comes to honesty is a tricky issue — some people would say it’s wrong to be “too honest” because it might “hurt somebody’s feelings,” while others would say honesty is required at any cost because “lying is always wrong.”

No, I don’t share vulnerably because it’s “the right thing to do” — I do it for the sake of my own growth.  If others grow along with me because they read my writing, that’s wonderful.  (And from my mystical, Northern California point of view, we all grow together whenever one of us does.)  But if I told you I share solely out of a selfless desire to improve your life, I’d be lying.

Honesty Is Like A Massage

Why does authentically talking about myself improve my life?  For me, it’s pretty simple — my body releases tension and relaxes when I’m genuine about what I’m feeling and thinking.

Whenever I’m pretending I have feelings, wants or thoughts other than the ones actually arising in me, my body tightens up.  The easiest example of this is a fake smile — forcing my lips to curl upward, when it’s not what my body would naturally and unconsciously do, creates tension in my face.

I have the same experience when it comes to everyday “small talk.”  If someone asks me “how are you?” and I respond “fine” even though that isn’t how I’m feeling, I feel a tightness and sourness in my stomach.  By contrast, when I tell someone what’s actually going on for me, even if it isn’t all sweetness and light, the sensation can be almost like getting a massage.

I used to be more willing to compromise — to tell people I felt “fine,” laugh at jokes I didn’t find funny, and so on — thinking the tension that built up in my body when I acted inauthentically was a small price to pay for keeping people happy.

What I eventually realized, from talking to a number of people about what it felt like to be with me, was that, when I compromised and held back what was really going on, their bodies tensed up as well.  Every time I withheld the truth, or at least “my” truth, I was bringing more uptightness into the world.

My hope is that my writing can function kind of like a good shoulder rub to help me — and others — release the tension that builds up from living in a world where we too often silence how we feel and what we want.

Self-Honesty and Self-Love

Evelyn graciously asked me to share some thoughts about self-love for a compilation of posts she’s putting together.  I thought I’d start by sharing a story about a moment just a few days ago when I showed myself some love.

I must have looked a little mopey, because my friend asked me whether I was all right.  At first, I decided I didn’t want to “burden” her with my problems, and I told her I was fine.

But my friend, thankfully, wouldn’t let me off the hook.  “No, really, what’s going on?” she said.

Finally, I dropped the façade and told her what was up.  “I haven’t been getting enough done,” I said.  “I’ve been sitting around watching boxing matches instead of focusing on my projects, and I feel really embarrassed about it.”

The Truth Will Make You Laugh

Suddenly, I found myself laughing, and my body felt lighter.  There was something about telling my friend how I was actually feeling, without making any effort to look “okay,” tough or reasonable, that felt so liberating.  The grim story I’d been telling myself about how irresponsible and bad I was started melting away.

This is a good example of what I think self-love is all about, because — for me — it’s about letting go of my resistance to what I’m feeling.  I’m most loving to myself when I fully accept my experience, without demanding or pretending that I feel differently — even if what I happen to be feeling is embarrassment and shame.

Self-Love Isn’t Easy

What this story also illustrates is how difficult and vulnerable self-love can be.  It can feel risky to admit to ourselves, or to someone else, what’s actually in our hearts, rather than pushing away our anger, hurt, and sadness, and acting like everything’s all right — like I did when my friend first asked me how I was.

After all, many of us worry that, if we told someone we were feeling grief, fear, or some other “negative emotion,” they might criticize or reject us.  Many of us also fear that, if we just let ourselves feel the hurt that’s present, rather than running from it, the pain might go on forever.

But I’ve found that, when I’m willing to fully accept how I feel in this moment, no matter what it might be, that’s when I get access to the joy and lightness I want in my life.  Any energy I was using to avoid what I’m feeling gets freed up and becomes vitality.

Loving Our Unloving Moments

It’s funny — this is even true in moments when I’m being hard on myself.  By acknowledging that “I’m not being very compassionate to myself right now,” without pretending to be happy or confident or anything else, I honor myself, and open the way back to wellbeing.

I think real self-love, at the core, is about caring for ourselves deeply enough to be honest — with ourselves and others — about what’s going on inside us.

How Looking In The Mirror Can Change Your Life

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I want to share a powerful exercise that’s been a key part of my personal growth journey.  The exercise is very simple—just sit in front of a mirror and look into your own eyes for ten minutes.  No matter what thoughts and sensations come up for you, see if you can hold your gaze on your reflection.  See if you can breathe, keep in mind that just looking into a mirror can’t really hurt or destroy you, and ride out any intensity that arises.

I’ve had many different experiences doing this exercise.  On some days, I feel a warmth in my heart and a desire to appreciate myself, and this exercise gives me a chance to show myself gratitude.  At other times, I feel anger or sadness welling up inside, and I get the opportunity to become aware of and release those emotions.  But no matter what I experience, it ultimately leads me to more peace and self-understanding, and I’ve seen the same effects in others I’ve recommended this to.

Here are some wonderful benefits of doing this exercise regularly:

1.  Dispel Your Negative Body Image. Many of us carry around an unconscious (and often unflattering) picture of what our bodies look like as we walk through the world, and that picture affects how we behave and relate to others.  If we have a mental picture of ourselves as ugly and frightening, for example, we’ll probably shy away from people, assume it would be useless to approach someone we’re attracted to, and so on.

Looking in a mirror for a while gives us a chance to see our bodies as they actually are, and let go of our often exaggerated and unrealistic mental images of ourselves.  I’ve seen people break into tears while doing this exercise, as they saw how revolting they’d been making their bodies out to be, and how radically incorrect their image of themselves was.

2.  Acknowledge Yourself. This exercise is a great setting for appreciating yourself and acknowledging the wonderful contributions you’re making to the world.  As I think you’ll find, there’s something particularly powerful about staring yourself in the face and expressing gratitude for who you are and what you do.

Of course, for many of us, there’s also something painful about acknowledging ourselves like this, because it forces us to confront how uncomfortable we are with praising ourselves.  Many of us are accustomed to belittling ourselves, making sure we don’t hog the spotlight, trying not to brag, and so on.  So naturally, we often judge ourselves as “rude,” “selfish,” and so on while doing this exercise.

But if you keep doing this over time, I think you’ll find, the discomfort fades away.  Jack Canfield puts it well in writing about this exercise in The Success Principles:  “as you begin to act more positive and nurturing toward yourself, it is natural to have physical and emotional reactions as you release the old negative parental wounds, unrealistic expectations, and self-judgments,” but “they are only temporary and will pass after a few days of doing the exercise.”

3.  Be Honest With Yourself. One thing this exercise takes away from you is the ability to hide from yourself and what you’re feeling.  Many of us live our lives in constant self-distraction mode, trying to tune out our thoughts and feelings with our work, relationships, TV-watching, and so on.  The last thing we want to do is be with ourselves in silence, because we’re afraid of the intense emotions that may come up.

There’s no escaping what’s going on for you, however, when you’re staring yourself in the face.  If you’re feeling dissatisfied with some aspect of your life, this exercise makes you fully experience that dissatisfaction—there’s no TV, Internet or iPod to help you get away.  If you’re angry at someone, and you’ve been diverting your attention from the anger most of the time, you have no choice but to be with how you’re feeling.

The upside is that, by forcing you to confront what’s really going on for you, looking in the mirror helps you consider what you can change in your life, and how you can treat yourself more kindly, to create a healthier relationship with yourself.

As you can probably tell from what I’ve written, this isn’t exactly a “Feel Good Now!” exercise that’s guaranteed to immediately perk you up.  In the beginning, staring at yourself for ten minutes may be a surprisingly uncomfortable experience.  It’s very different from briefly glancing at your reflection in the morning as you comb your hair.  But if you stick with it, I think you’ll find it’s a powerful way to get more comfortable with and accepting of yourself.

My Recent Interview on What We Need To Know

I also want to share with you a more in-depth radio interview I did recently on What We Need to Know with Ed Morler.  We explore issues like meditation techniques, finding your true calling in your career, how conscious breathing can help you stay grounded in the face of stress, and so on, more thoroughly than I have on the air before.  I hope you enjoy it!

Listen to the Show (link to Contact Talk Radio site)