I began writing months ago with the intention of trying to find ways to share (at first with my friends, and then with anyone who might be interested in reading this stuff) my newfound excitement about life.
What goes into it, how I make it sustainable – as I continue to figure it out, myself.
I have been doing this blindly.
Sharing stories or ideas, as I think of them, that are part of how I got here, or how I work to stay here.
This whole time, I have had a much clearer idea of how I got to where I am, than of how to describe where I am.
More and more over the past few weeks, I’ve begun leaning towards energy as the foundational component to, well….everything.
I’ve talked about energy already quite a bit throughout this server, and a fair amount in the blog.
#i-am-fire is one that was pretty explicit, but I know bits of my thoughts on energy are woven through many others.
I’ve already talked about reframing productivity, somewhere. That’s a part of it, but only part.
I already view productivity in a very broad way; taking time for self-care is productive to me, because it imparts value.
“Well, hold on, now, Brooke. What value? Value seems like the kind of thing that would be defined pretty differently from person to person, and situation to situation…”
“Precisely, Brooke! That’s why none of this works without critical thinking, without self-awareness. What imparts the most value to me, what I even define as valuable -“
Maybe that’s it!
My thought train just switched onto an unexpected track and I need to figure out where it is now. Where my brain is going is not where it was going.
I think the basis of my entire worldview just sharply transitioned to something different than it has been for many years, in that moment.
Hahaha! This is probably not going on the blog, because this is totally me just talking myself through stuff, but HOLY SHIT was that a fun feeling.
I keep giggling.
I can do this. Gotta pretty much start this whole thing over!
Alright. This is going to take some backstory; backstory that I’ve already related in another channel but I don’t want to risk losing momentum by looking it up, so I’ma just retell it.
One of the most crucial moments in my journey thus far in life came in high school.
There was a specific moment in time where I remember struggling with the feeling of not knowing who I was, or where I wanted to go with my life.
I felt directionless, adrift.
So I thought about that.
I kept going back to two questions:
“If I don’t know who I am, who is going to be able to tell me?”
I realized that the answer had to come from within. That no one else was going to be able to tell me who I was, ever.
We are all so different, so unique! I believe that the ways that we become such unique individuals, the forces that act to create us, are similar.
But the outcomes will never be identical between one person and any other person.
The second question, then, was:
“If I don’t know who I am now, when am I going to know?”
I felt reasonably mature for my age. I even felt reasonably mature compared to many of the adults I knew at the time.
What reason had I to think that at some magical age, something would click and I’d just suddenly know who I was?
Of course, something similar to that did end up happening to me. But it would not have had I not had that conversation with myself, so many years ago.
After asking myself those questions, it became simply a matter of looking around me, and deciding what kinds of interactions made me feel the best.
I decided, back then, that making the people around me happy was the thing that I found most fulfilling in life, and I made that my baseline.
It is no longer that, but I’ll come back to the ways it’s evolved over time in a moment.
Having a baseline, any baseline- opens up entire realms of possibility in life.
When we make decisions, our brains… calculate. We do risk assessment, likelihood of gain. Largely subconsciously, but sometimes very consciously.
And I believe this is a thing we can train our brains to do consciously, over time.
We do something like what this doctor describes in her TED talk:
I believe that part of the reason we are so bad at this is because most of us do not have a clear baseline to use in these kinds of calculations.
When I decided that the thing that was most important to me in life was making others happy, I was able to make decisions both more quickly and more confidently, and I also had an incredibly powerful tool with which I could rate my behavior in past experiences — and with which I could come up with potential actions I could have taken that might have led to more desirable results.
The key was that I had a clear idea of what desirable even was. What value meant, to me.
I still was not happy, though. Was not my best self.
Was not satisfied with who I was, overall, and frequently moment to moment.
This was because when I held the happiness of others as paramount to my own, I created artificial differences between myself and others that had catastrophic results for everyone involved.
I saw myself as a teacher- but not a student. As a giver, only.
This was ego. Pure ego.
I realized, eventually and through hard experience, that it felt good to be a martyr.
To be needed. To be seen as strong.
That kind of strength, it’s the strength of iron.
That kind of strength, it shatters when it’s subjected to great enough pressure.
And when I put myself in the role of teacher, of protector- and then shattered…
I did far more harm to the people I was trying to help than I would have if I had just left well enough alone.
This also had the effect of fostering a sense of dependency in others. Reinforcing the same mental habits that had led them to viewing themselves as lesser in the first place. If one is teacher only, then the other is student. Only.
Life is never so black and white as that, and if we think it is….
We are operating within blind spots that we ourselves have created.
That all happened during college. I very grudgingly and very slowly realized I simply could not achieve my goal of making other people happier if I was ignoring my own needs, if I was sacrificing for others.
So I adjusted my baseline. Broadened it, to, simply – happiness.
Only intellectually, though.
I only truly believed in that, emotionally- when I was on cocaine, when I was having the kinds of conversations I now have with myself whenever there aren’t others to talk to – with my friends.
When I moved from Santa Cruz, I stopped doing cocaine. Stopped having those kinds of conversations, those kinds of thoughts- and eventually everything faded. I essentially turned my brain off for the next decade.
But those thoughts, these thoughts – they were still there, somewhere. Percolatin’.
My experiences on the street were the additional ingredients and pressure necessary for my brain to transform once again.
Closer to where I was before, but….
I’ve told this story elsewhere as well, but for the sake of anyone who hasn’t heard it, I’ll summarize a bit:
At the lowest of a pretty extremely low rock bottom, I met a young man. Handsome, charming. A student, an immigrant, who worked long hours. He was the kind of person I never even would have been friends with, before- but I was aware that my choices had not led to the kinds of results I’d expected them to, and was not aware of really where I’d gone wrong.
I was willing, at that point, to accept that even my most deeply held beliefs could have been wrong. So I gave it a shot with him, put my all into making things work.
He was mean to me.
He criticized the way I looked, the way I acted, my past choices.
So within days I sobered up. Decided to deal with the trauma I’d experienced on the street…
For him, I became cheerful. Kind. Hard working. Got several jobs. Of course, this did not solve our problems. He was not mean to me because of who I was, no matter what he told himself.
He was just mean.
When I ran out of ideas to try, ways I might be able to change, to fix things- I stopped having feelings for him. Immediately.
When I tried leaving, he almost killed me. That’s a story for another day, however.
I spent a couple days in a fugue, then-
My happiness switch flipped.
I realized that if I could change myself that drastically, that rapidly- for him, that I could do that for myself.
I also realized that if I could manufacture real feelings for someone that I would not have even been friends with before- and then stop them just as quickly when I ran out of things to try…. I could do that for anyone and anything in my life.
It took a while longer for me to overcome the last of the pride that had been holding me back from asking for help, but since that moment in time I have felt fundamentally okay in a way that I never had before.
I have felt like things might happen that are unfortunate, but I will be able to handle them.
I have felt comfortable in my own skin.
That was when I internalized the broader happiness baseline.
In January, when I came back home, I began fully embodying that belief. This whole process has been a result of actively experimenting with the kinds of things I can achieve, moment to moment and long term- by approaching life with happiness as the foundational element guiding my calculations/decision-making.
Which brings us to today.
As I’ve been writing, working towards finding the words to communicate what’s in my head- happiness has never felt quite right to me.
I knew my thoughts (and therefore my writing) would take a new turn at some point, but I wasn’t sure how, or when, that would happen.
I think it happened today.
It’s early to say; this will take some time for me to flesh out even in my own head.
This feels… right, though.
Instead of happiness as my input for the ‘value’ part of the equations Dan Gilbert spoke of, I’ma experiment with using energy, instead.
When I am high energy- I have so much more time.
When I am high energy, I can juggle everything; I can remember the tasks I want to accomplish in a given day much better.
I have also come to realize that, for me personally, at least- I never go from feeling high (positive) energy straight to feeling angry, irritated, frustrated, anxious, sad, grumpy, or any other negative emotional state.
I always experience a drop in energy first.
As I’ve been developing my self-awareness, I’ve become much more skilled at identifying low energy as a precursor to experiencing negative emotions, and doing what I need to do to address my low energy, before it turns into something negative.
So, now- my decision making process will look something more like:
“Which action is most likely to give me the greatest increase in energy?”
Sometimes, that’ll be eating, staying hydrated, staying physically active, practicing self-care.
Those are times when I need to do basic system maintenance.
Other times, it’ll be working, so I can keep feeling like I’m not falling behind in a financial sense.
Or it will be writing, or interacting on Twitter, or finding ways to bring joy to people around me, or spending time with my family/cats.
All of these things (and more) give me energy, and make me more capable of continuing to do all of those things (and more).
I’d be super curious to hear what y’all think about this! I will continue to report on the success (or evolution) of this idea as I begin to put it into active practice.