I am currently reading a Mark Manson bestseller, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Full disclosure – I’m not done reading it, but I couldn’t wait to finish it to write about it because I got too excited about one of the chapters. I don’t actively follow his blog, but the book was recommended on some Minimalism forum out there and I thought it’d be an educational read for me, especially as someone who is interested in letting go of mental and physical clutter. I’m 75% through the book and so far I am not disappointed.
“Certainty” is touted as a good thing in society. We hear nice things like “Believe in Yourself,” “Trust your Gut,” “Be Yourself,” “Be Unique,” “Be You,” “Find Yourself,” and so on. I make these kinds of statements on my blog all the time, because I really do believe in the benefits of personal development and self-confidence, and personal development starts with self-awareness, so I encourage people to create mission statements or celebrate their own uniqueness. Certainty helps people feel secure and grounded and gives them purpose. Not to mention in a lot of situations, standing up for yourself can be critically important. Hashtag, Rosa Parks.
Truth be told, Manson’s ideas have come into conflict with some of my views. He argues that putting our identity and values on a pedestal breeds narcissism and entitlement, even going so far as to call the assumption that our values are “perfect and complete” a “dangerously dogmatic mindset.” The fact is, when it comes to lofty things like values and personalities and behaviors and tendencies – all those things that make you, you and me, me – well, there is really no “certainty” about them, except that they are entirely subjective and taken to the extreme. Terrorist groups really, truly think that their values are the right thing for society, yet they will do everything, including hurting others, to stick to their values and make their point. They don’t doubt themselves. And that is the problem.
The firmer we hold ourselves to our values and beliefs, the more we are at risk of not allowing ourselves to change them. And we desperately need to allowed to change them, because as humans we are frequently wrong and subject to cognitive biases.
Manson made up “Manson’s Law of Avoidance,” which is:
“The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.”
That is to say that anything that threatens to change or challenge what you believe in, what values you hold, what you want to represent, how you fit into this world, how you perceive yourself, how you want to be perceived – is scary and uncomfortable. The more protective we are of our identities, the less open we are to the necessary change required for learning and growth. Almost everything we do, say, own, and treat others is in an effort to fit into a our very own, carefully crafted mold. We want to be known to our peers and closest companions as someone who believes this, or does that, or stands up for this, or won’t take that. When we confront a situation where what we want to be is challenged, we fight back with what we are, or what we supposedly are.
Why is letting go of things hard? Why is it so hard to let go of trinkets from failed relationships? Because we consciously or subconsciously incorporate them into our identities and that is how we get stuck with sentimental clutter. Why do we have trouble with falling in love, with big decisions like going back to school, with buying houses, and changing jobs? Besides the magnitude of the consequences and effects on those around us, they are all events that will significantly reshape our identities. Similarly, we’ll have equal or more trouble with falling out of love via breakup or divorce, selling our houses, and so on. It’s even harder to let go of something that has been so ingrained in our identities than something that has the potential to reshape it. So naturally, we put them off or never get around to them.
I’m not trying to say that we should go and pummel ourselves with life-changing events without being thoughtful about them. I am trying to say that we need to understand and adapt to those situations while leaving room for doubt. Nobody on this earth is always right. I am also not trying to say that you should doubt others and have no self-confidence – there has to be a balance, right? Otherwise, what would be the purpose of reading this blog post or having conversations with other people if we’re just going to doubt everyone?
Have the conversations, read the books, and acknowledge that you suck. We are imperfect beings, and we must acknowledge that our thoughts and beliefs are imperfect too.