dr.K's tiips

Success and the taunting choir of the soul

February 16 2015 by Dr. Kaminski

Being disposed to the others’ perceptions of oneself is natural for social beings. When people speak to me about peace of mind they usually mean freedom from imaginary onlookers – the taunting choir of the soul. Never is this torment as difficult as during adolescence. Teenage years, when all aspects of life are experienced under the magnifying glass of one’s peers, leave us exhausted and determined to stop caring about what the others are thinking. Luckily, except in some specific conditions, we are mostly able to ignore this internal reproach. However, the natural yearning for others’ perceived approval continues to flicker inside. Living with mock tribunal is a price we pay for our consciousness. But life is strewn with insecurity landmines. Trigger one, and you are instantly mired with teenage- like angst, all over again. The demons are not gone, just dormant.

“Success” is an explosive trigger, which instantly awakens the subterranean insecurities. The thought about “success” – or lack thereof- is irresistibly attractive to ones secret tormentors. And it is obvious why: We cannot nail success down. Like beauty and power success is a slippery, unreliable concept. It is not absolute but relative to our expectations and fantasies regarding our life. But even worse, it is also relative in our mind to the success of the others. Being naturally competitive, we learn at the outset of our life that if everyone succeeds, no one truly does. If everyone flew first class and drove an expensive sports car and have a wonderful position and great life it would not have been as enjoyable as being the one who has it when the others don’t. We cannot help but measure success comparatively to the others’.

Consequently when we think of our success we instinctively present it to the inner tribunal’s approval. Approval brings a sense of excited gratification. But should thinking of success morph into thoughts of failure and lowliness, a sneering cacophony drowns any attempt at dispute. We feel publicly shamed, even though it is only a thought, our most private possession. Ridiculed by our imaginary tormentors our inner world becomes very dark, and sad. Much like happiness, power, and other elusive objects of human desire, holding to success is a slippery business.

What interferes with our ownership over our success?

People asked to describe their private concept of success invariably deviate to the public notions. Sophisticated people, non-traditional cynics, those who abhor customs and communal norms are trapped in the most mundane interpretation of success. If you are a 2 star general, you are more successful than a one star general and less than a three stars one. We secretly envy those who choose not to join the race, who seem happy to assume an unassuming role, who are satisfied leading perks-free life. Many fables, folklore and inspirational teaching extoll the virtue of simplicity, of being satisfied with less. And yet we do not have a good sense of how those idealized imaginary people live their inner life. Are they really content? Is absence of competitive impulse a pre- condition for inner peace? It probably is.

But realizing the virtues of modesty does not really help us. Competitiveness, wanting to have something at the expense of the other, the wish to be at the top of the heap, is part of human nature. It shows itself in so many permutations, it thwarts social philosophical and political attempts at equality, even when those are universally accepted as a good thing. Be it a country, a society, a segment of the population or an individual we all want more than the others. And since we do not know all of the others, whatever we have kindles a wish for more. Out and about, we can convince ourselves we have enough. But pondering success at night, alone in our thoughts, results in covetous desires rather than noble meditations

Once you accept this innate yearning, it becomes obvious that you should better develop your own notions of success. The communal, general concepts would never allow you to feel a sense of satisfaction. After all you usually navigate with an idea of a destination. Fame! Love! Fortune! Power! Those nebulous, universal destinations promise to steer you into the most congested roads. Competing neck to neck with the misguided others, you find yourself in a crawling traffic jam at each twist of your life plot. Every summit once surmounted, presents a new one, and then other peaks surround you, tauntingly unreachable. What is love? What is fame? What is fortune? What is power? You must have a clear destination to know whether you have arrived

Suddenly you are unsure: what is the next station? Are you at all on the right track?

But of course! You always are on the right track; in fact you have only one track, your lifespan. The problem is that some of the turns ahead are mysterious and scary. And the destination is unannounced. In fact we mostly stumble blindly through our life, frequently improvising, clutching a delusional sense of control for comfort. You have no idea whether your life is predestined or a train of random twists. But one thing is certain: you do not posses the script. In other words, planning for the future is a gamble fueled by wishful thoughts.

Can such predicament be translated into sweet, and predictably satisfying life?

It can for sure! But first you need to refocus your outlook and bring it closer to you. You deserve to be closer to yourself. You deserve to see life through your own eyes: Do not be an extra in another person’s life.

The closer the focus the more you will notice the countless joyful opportunities strewn on your way. Instead many of us fly over our own life like shooting stars – rushing blindly through the sky.

Nothing can guarantee bitter disappointments, as the following common mistakes:

  1. Defining your success in generalized and vague terms,
  2. Establishing your success on a rigid script, and
  3. Subjugating your struggles to a distant, lofty destination.

 

The misapplication of your desires, constrains your ability to recognize and enjoy your genuine, unscripted successes. Feeling unfulfilled, you increasingly idealize and envy the others, and may feel you are a relative “failure”.

The remedy to the above is to use a microscope rather than a telescope. Don’t pursue an enormous and distant picture; better train a microscope on the details of your life. Suddenly, many hitherto unnoticed accomplishments, come into sharp focus. Your little victories, the sensation of your skin after a luxurious steam shower, the taste of a good meal. Every attainable innocent pleasure can easily trigger contentment. Under the microscope, your lifespan is full of countless opportunities to make it as pleasant as possible.

Decisions guided by impersonal goals, should better be left unpursued (except when altruism or sacrifice are eliciting your sense of satisfaction.) That is a simple principle: Your life should flow from you, and be designed to accommodate you. If you subjugate your needs to another person, or a situation, or a group – resentment, bitterness, and self-pity will inexorably mar your life.

Don’t aim for a successful life!

Aim for successful minutes!

Aim for successful minutes to outnumber unsuccessful ones.

Attach your success to what makes sense to your world, best suited to your abilities, most likely to fulfill your needs.

Adjust your notion of success; let it yield to the changing circumstances of your life.

Claim and own your life and your goals and your notions. They are yours after all.

Don’t invite or accept unnecessary hardship into your life.

Do not submit your life to your success. Submit your success to your life.

Use every opportunity to congratulate yourself for something well done.

A continuous string of daily mini -successes is independent of the “Big one”. The Big Success may cost you too much and deliver too little and too late, if at all.

Your little personal successes are consonant with a big universal one. Just remember not to sacrifice the former for the latter.

Pay close attention. Collect moments of pleasure. Give your self a chance to enjoy your own life. Pay close attention.

 

2015 The Institute of Integrative Psychiatry. All Rights Reserved.