Almost all of the suffering we put ourselves through in life is because there’s a difference between what we want to be true and what’s actually true.
During my early professional years, I watched as the gap between the financially successful person I wanted to be and the financially unsound person that I was became wider and wider. As that gap widened, I became miserable. I saw the life I always believed I was going to build for myself slowly slipping away.
Whenever I try to get into shape, I almost always drastically overdo it, often injuring myself in some way. The image I have in my head of the physical shape I should be in is out of alignment with the physical shape that I’m actually in. I wind up like I was a week or so ago, stretched out on the floor of the basement, dreading my next move because of a pulled muscle and loathing myself.
I have friends with various disabilities who constantly struggle with this phenomenon. They dream of some element of a normal life, then drown themselves in a deep depression when they find it to be out of reach.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with phrasing “I want to be…” statements about your life. They can be incredibly powerful guides toward a better life. The challenge comes when you’re creating “I want to be…” statements or “I want the world to be…” statements that require things out of your control to occur.
Let me explain what I mean in the context of me laying on the floor last week with a back muscle pull.
I’d been trying very hard to get myself into better shape. I’d adopted a vegan diet and I’d started exercising more and more. One day, I did a significant amount of exercising, to the point that I was worried I had pushed myself a little bit too much. A few hours later, I remembered that I had to coach my son’s soccer game, so I went to the field and spent more than an hour jogging up and down the field coaching the team.
That night, I had an incredibly painful muscle cramp in my back, one that left me laying on the floor in the basement, almost unable to move. It took me almost thirty minutes to make it up a single stair.
I was angry with myself. I was disappointed in myself. The next day, as I sat there in my work chair, I just felt like a failure.
My goal with exercise had always been a vision of the shape I had been in while in college, when I played intramural basketball and was even involved in some pick-up games. At one point in my life, I stepped onto a basketball court with a player destined to play in the NBA – and I wasn’t an absolute joke.
I would tell myself those dreaded words: I want to be… in that kind of shape again. I want to be… some kind of paragon of physical fitness for my kids.
Those “I want to be…” statements are widely separated from where I’m at, though, and whenever I would see how wide that gap was, I would, quite simply, get very down in the dumps.
The solution, though, is a pretty simple one. It’s one I’ve known for a long time, but it’s one that I sometimes don’t apply to myself when I’m too busy looking at the forest and not seeing the trees.
Simply use the power of “I want to be…” statements, but end those statements with something simple that’s actually within the realm of something you can accomplish.
Instead of saying I want to be an incredibly physically fit person, I should focus on saying I want to be a person who goes on a walk every day. By becoming that person, better physical shape is a positive side effect.
Instead of saying I want to be a person who can play the piano breathtakingly well, I should focus on saying that I want to be a person who can piece through a song and make it sound passable. By simply working on a song, I’m creating a side effect of being a better all-around piano player.
Through these statements, not only does something become tangible and reachable, that gap between where you’re at now and the person you want to be becomes smaller. There’s much less room for you to fall into depression when the person you want to be is at hand.
The big outcome you dream of is just a side effect of consistently achieving those little steps along the way.