Tuesday, May 6, 2014

You are more than the sum of your parts, and no one part can singularly define you.

Seven years ago, when my father finally quit smoking after 40-something years, I asked him how he hadn't been able to quit sooner (and there were attempts).  His answer fascinated me, due to its simultaneous revelation and also its simplicity.  He said that he had never quit before because he was a smoker.  As in, it was part of his identity, being a smoker.  So how could a smoker not smoke?

This is huge, if you think about it.  My dad spent 40 years of his life sucking on cancer sticks because he thought it was who he was.  So then you stop and think, is there something I do because I think it is who I am, and therefore "out of my control to change"?  Like, whoa.

Don't get me wrong, sometimes there are things you can't change.  Like, for instance, I'm short.  That's never going to change.  I'm always going to need a step stool to reach the top shelf.  I'm best off making peace with this trait and moving on.  Harboring a deep-seeded need to not be short is just causing me pain.  (See more on attachment and suffering.)  But when it comes to my personality, there may be things that I think about myself that are actually just concoctions of my brain, and not hard-wired traits.  Moreover, anything about me is also just a part of me, and not all of me, and therefore I should not let any one part of me dictate who all of me is.

So my personal revelation on this is that I think I own my procrastination tendencies too much.  What I mean by this is that when there's something to be done, I'll easily say to myself, "Oh, I don't feel like doing that right now BECAUSE I'm a procrastinator, so therefore I'll procrastinate doing it."  I'm not saying I'll never procrastinate ever again (I might be procrastinating right now by writing this post...), but it's one thing to procrastinate because you really just don't feel like doing something, and another to embrace the personality type of "I'll never do things on time because I'm a procrastinator."

This becomes almost ironic when you then add in the context of you also saying things to yourself like, "Why can't I just do this thing [that is in direct opposition to the personality trait I'm owning out of my own volition]??"  For example, my dad would have used the language, "Why can't I just quit smoking, even though I'm a smoker?"  And I know I've had the conversation with myself, "Why can't I just stop procrastinating?  I need to get this thing done, but since I'm a procrastinator, I guess I'll just get to it eventually when I really feel like doing it."  I have built in self-sabotage.

So how do you figure out if you're doing a similar thing?  Well, it took me a while to figure this out.  Literally about seven years.  But the trigger that actually helped me put my finger on the hot button was to start listening to my excuses.  We all have things that for some reason seem really difficult to overcome, where other people seem to have no issue (as well as things that are super easy for us, but others seem to struggle with).  So stop and listen to yourself the next time you're having one of these conversations, about why you are struggling with some issue.  What are the excuses you tell yourself for why you continue to struggle?  Why is this one thing so difficult for you overcome?  My guess is that the answer is right there in your own words.  (And BTW, I totally recommend having this conversation out loud, so you can actually hear yourself saying the words; they're harder to ignore that way.)

We are all comprised of many parts, and generally it's safer to say things like, "I like this part of me," or "I don't like this part of me," rather than encompassing statements about your whole person being "good" or "bad". I say this because:
  1. No one part can singularly define who you are.  I am not just a procrastinator, nor just a short person, nor just an environmentalist, nor just a gymnast, nor just a kind person.  I am all of these things, positive or negative, for better or for worse.  Some parts are bigger than others, and some parts are newer than others (also realize here that we are ever-changing beings, with constantly evolving parts of ourselves).
  2. I am also more than the sum of my parts. When you put together all of my parts, they make something so much more, something more I can't even begin to describe.
(I invite you here to make a list of your parts, the ones you like, the ones you don't like, and the ones you didn't even know you had.)

So if you're focusing on one part, and letting that part define you, realize that you are the only person doing that to yourself.  No one else sees you that way.  We see all of your parts (actually, we see the sum of your parts), and know that even though there might be some not-so-great parts, there are also some completely amazing parts too.  And the sooner you can recognize that you are not just one part of yourself, and actually see all of your parts and the sum of your parts, the sooner you'll be able to love and respect each of your parts individually, all of your parts together, and the sum of your parts too.