“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”
I was speaking to a friend the other day who is undergoing an intensive 90-day inpatient rehabilitation for substance abuse. We became friends through work and I have always found
him to be extraordinarily emotionally available and honest. I don’t witness his level of self reflection in many other men his age, so I have been proud to see him take such a bold step. He
realized that, although he wasn't at rock bottom quite yet, he could see it from there. He decided to be proactive in such a brave and inspiring way.
In our conversation, he told me of the lack of privacy and the emphasis on structure and how it facilitates this constant, open exchange of support, influence, and ideas, even outside of the
group therapy schedule. This rang a bell with me, and not because of any experience I have with rehab.
No, this sounds just like my life.
It turns out, my friends and I have inadvertently established a therapy and support group for ourselves. Allow me to explain. I have surrounded myself with people who are honest, direct,
helpful, available, and intelligent. More accurately, we have surrounded ourselves with each other. We have so immersed ourselves in each others’ lives that subterfuge and obfuscation
become impossible. By being completely open and insisting on reciprocal transparency, we have unintentionally constructed what I consider a very successful therapeutic community of
support and constructive criticism.
The ease with which we established this makes me wonder, “Why doesn’t everyone do this?”
Is it out of fear of judgment or rejection? Is it an innate sense of personal privacy or protection of personal identity? Do we shrink before the notion of such raw exposure? Do we withhold in
order to avoid the obligation to improve implied by self-aware acknowledgment?
I believe the answer is, “All of the above.”
And I believe we all know it.
Self-awareness and mindfulness are the buzzwords of the day and some people are genuinely following that path and improving their lives. According to this study (1), however, the act of
sharing your goals publicly and receiving positive feedback on those intended goals psychologically assigns some of the rewards to the goal-maker. For instance, you tell your friends
you are going to start meditating. They praise your mindfulness and commitment. In their minds, you become someone who meditates, and in your mind, you reap some of the identity-behavior
rewards you sought from meditation. Without one “Om” or one second of additional mental clarity, you’ve received a portion of the reward you sought.
In the above scenario, people know what self-improvement is supposed to look like (mainly through social media), but have no idea how to achieve it or implement it, and they just move
forward without creating the very real change that meditation can bring to one’s life.
The changes I am suggesting are sort of the self-improvement opposite of meditation. Rather than clear one’s mind, I am advocating getting to the bottom of it with deep, introspective
thought and discussion. I’m aware that the advice I am about to give is often easier said than done, but a true commitment to these things is what has led me far deeper into the realm of self-knowledge than I expected. Also, I didn’t necessarily set out to create my own personal therapy group, but that is where the path took me.
1. Make a personal commitment to honesty. I mean about everything. This may be difficult to understand at first, but I mean even the white lies and the half-truths. For inspiration, I
suggest Sam Harris’s “Lying.” Be prepared, it can be a little shaky at first. Pro tip: just because you’re now giving your honest opinion doesn’t mean everyone wants your
unsolicited honest opinion.
2. Surround yourself with kind, open people and be open yourself. You don’t have to share every little detail of your sex life or BM’s, but give information and give it HONESTLY.
Try to suss out why you are so upset about something and be honest about those possibilities. You’ll be shocked how liberating it is to say how you could be misjudging a
situation and get feedback. The kindness is important because you want constructive feedback, not abuse.
3. Reach out. Call your friends. Use your friends to work through things. Bounce ideas both personal and professional off of them. This doesn’t have to be every friend. Some are better
at matters of the heart, some are better at workplace issues. Know your audience and know their strengths.
4. Have fun. This is so important. Have fun working through things (because it can be shockingly fun) and then have fun doing other things. The people you laugh with are the
people you spend your time with, and the more time you spend the closer you get and the more you know about each other.
5. If you were wrong and you’re sorry, say it. This creates the trust you will all need to move forward and really start to make the big gains tackling the big problems.
6. Be aware- this is not a cure-all. You may think your friend needs a new partner or a new job, but you don’t get to decide that. Instead, talk about the relationships rather than give
advice. No one follows advice. Like, NO ONE. Don’t give it unless asked, and then be wise about it. Don’t tell people what they “should” do.
These are just some beginning ideas to open up the friendships you have and maybe move forward to the friendships you want. While I wish I had the step-by-step procedures to explain
how to get here, we have to concede a level of organic development in such relationships. All I can tell you is that, if you can create this kind of group dynamic, you won’t be sorry.