Use Both Sides of Your Brain
“The important thing is not what one is born with, but what use one makes of that equipment.”Alfred Adler
Being yourself is easy. Stay the way you are and do whatever you want to do. Just “keep doing you” as the kids say.
Any idiot can do it.
Becoming your best self—the potential Super You who makes the most of what you’re capable of to take life on a wild and meaningful ride—is more complicated. It’s an art and a science.
- Like a scientist, you have to experiment with the genetic frame you’ve been born with to figure out what it can do.
- And like an artist, you have to exhibit whatever you come up with so the rest of society benefits.
Even so, any idiot can do it. You don’t actually need to be a scientist or an artist to be your best self. You just need to use your left brain and your right brain rather than no brain.
Might as well start now.
Experiment Like a Scientist
Figure out what you’re made of and what your best self could be capable of by making hypotheses, testing them through unbiased trial and error, interpreting results without emotion, and continuing to experiment.
By “experiment like a scientist,” I’m talking about hard sciences. Philosophy doesn’t count.
Staring at your genetic frame like it’s a Magic Eye painting and hoping the answer will materialize is worse than a waste of time. As self-awareness sensei Tasha Eurich has written about extensively, it swamps us in unproductive emotions and whatever gunk we pull out of our navel-gazing is probably not our best possible self.
Learn About Yourself Through Trial and Error
Instead of using an introspective microscope to find what your best self is made of, use trial and error. If you fail, fine. It’s called trial and error, not trial and perfection. At the very least, you learned what you can’t do (yet). As Thomas Edison famously put it on his way to inventing the lightbulb, “I haven’t failed—I’ve just found 10,000 that won’t work.”
Like swipes with a Swiss Army Knife blade, those ten thousand errors whittle your overgrown ego down to its essential core. But it doesn’t scratch your genetic frame. Your genetic frame isn’t a physical structure that crumbles when it fails. It’s the opposite; it becomes more resilient. So continuously stress test it like an engineer.
“To aim at results that cannot be achieved—or that can be only under the most unlikely circumstances—is not being ambitious; it is being foolish.”Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself
Despite what best-selling self-help books on positive affirmations say, repeating, “I can do it” to yourself doesn’t mean you can. And it doesn’t mean you ever will be able to. All it does is bring about a superiority complex, give you a deluded sense of self, and blind you from reality. You’ll never be your best self that way.
To know if “you can do it” or not, stop talking to yourself and try doing it. Start small:
- If you think your best self is a nicer person, see if you can’t start by remembering to simply tell one person something nice every day.
- If you think your best self has a six-pack, see if you can stop drinking six-packs of beer or soda, first.
- If you think your best self has influential ideas, try blogging or even tweeting to see if you can find anyone who cares to listen.
Anything too hard to start today is a dream, not an experiment.
Keep Your Cool
Don’t trust your emotions when analyzing your self-study experiments’ results. Emotions are short-living drugs—uppers and downers—that our brains try to deal to us to help us deal with situations. Just say no. Stay sober. Choose to be cool and calculated rather than sad, happy, or angry.
The trick: Less why, more what.
Focus on what to do about your situation to continue becoming your best self rather than worrying (or celebrating) why something turned out the way it did.
Less, “Why did that babe on Bumble unmatch me after I made that hilarious joke about Trump?” More, “What could have led her to no longer be interested in meeting me, and what could I do differently next time?”
Beware of Biases
No matter how hard you try to be rational while scientifically self-experimenting to become your best self, your brain will never fully comply. It’s too biased.
- Self-serving bias. Viewing mistakes as easily-excused accidents and successes as signs of your greatness. “I’m a Buffett-level investor. I bought Bitcoin at $200. Enron and Pets.com? I forgot to sell those at their peaks because I was on vacation.”
- Negativity bias. Dwelling on negative feedback four to five times more heavily than positive. “When she was telling me how smart, funny, and attractive I am, she off-handedly mentioned that sometimes I get too competitive. Obviously, she hates me.”
- Confirmation bias. Seeking out information that confirms what it wants to think and ignore anything that contradicts it. “This Reddit thread is full of alien abduction survivors like me. Obviously, it happens all the time and the government is keeping it from going mainstream.”
You can’t turn these biases off. All you can do is beware of them to keep them from getting too much in your way.
Sometimes exciting hypotheses about who you are blow up in your face when you put them to the test. You think you’re hilarious, step on stage for your first open mic at a comedy club, and bomb so badly the emcee stops you halfway through your set. Or you think you’re a visionary, invest years of time and oodles of money into a game-changing new app, but nobody rides your unicorn.
It sucks when it happens. But it only becomes a failure if you ignore those results, make excuses for them, or keep trying the same experiments over and over again, hoping for different results.
So, even if it hurts your ego, don’t file away your failed experiments never to look at them again. Keep them right beside your successes out in your open consciousness. You can only improve upon what you acknowledge the existence of.
Exhibit Like An Artist
Your scientific self-discoveries don’t do anybody much good unless you put them out into the world. Exhibit like an artist. Differentiate, evolve, and be complicated, fake it till you make it, and worry about your legacy, not what others think.
Fake It Till You Make It
“No one can tell you’re acting. Guess what else? Eventually, you won’t be.”Ellen Hendriksen, How to Be Yourself
Your actions define who you are, not your thoughts. So exhibit yourself in the way you want to be, and that’s who you’ll become.
Keep your self-doubts and anxiety to yourself and act confidently and people will assume you’re decisive. Or ask people how they’re doing and what they’re up to even when you don’t really care and they’ll assume you’re a nice person. They’ll interact with “fake” you accordingly, which will encourage you to continue your act. Then your act becomes a habit and that habit becomes your nature.
Don’t Accept Labels
“The human personality invariably contains myriad personality dispositions, emotional tendencies, values, attitudes, beliefs, and motives that are often contradictory and incompatible even though they are genuine aspects of the person’s psychological make-up.”Jongman-Sereno, K. P., & Leary, M. R, The Enigma of Being Yourself
There is no “true” self, so forget being authentic. Be un-label-able. Allow yourself to be many selves, picking the self that suits your current situation like a golfer choosing a club for their next shot.
This helps you avoid falling into the consistency trap where you say or behave in one way, double-down on it in the future to not accept being wishy-washy, weak, or wrong, then keep doing so until you’re in so deep there’s no way out.
“You are only unable to change because you are making the decision not to.”Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga, The Courage to Be Disliked
“Yourself” is always changing. You’re not the same person at 20 years old as at 30, 40, or 50. At least hopefully not. The goal of every extraordinary life story should be transformation. And you get to choose what that transformation will be.
Accelerate your evolution by keeping a small and adaptable identity. Don’t “be” a belief or anything that can be measured relative to others (the coolest, smartest, or best at anything). “Be” un-label-able, open-minded, curious, and oriented toward self-actualizing values like truth, justice, and playfulness. That way, your identity can shape-shift into whatever your best possible future self may be.
And “be” a risk-taker. The devil you know feels safer than the devil you don’t know, but you can’t be your best self by staying the same.
Don’t compete. Differentiate. When you’re one-of-a-kind, you’re unbeatable and can win at life.
Rather than compete, collaborate to help one another become your best selves. There are more prizes to be won in life than there are people to win them, so battling over one is a waste of energy. And doing so almost certainly leads you away from the direction of becoming your best self.
Don’t Think About What Others Think About You
“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.”Lao Tzu
I won’t belabor this point because your grandma has already told it to you and Wait But Why has way better blog post than I could ever write on the topic.
In short, everyone else is too worried about their own shit to give two shits about you. And on the rare occasions that other people truly are thinking about you, what you think they’re thinking usually isn’t what they’re actually thinking, anyway.
The only person worth sucking up to and worrying about pleasing is your future self.
Think About Your Legacy
What legacy do you want to leave behind when you die? What would you want your grandchildren to tell their grandchildren about you?
Use this to guide your actions and remind you of what’s important. And let it push you to be your best self so you leave behind a masterpiece of a life.
Spread the Be Yourselfish-ness
“Society has deeply underestimated those who, just by being who they are, bring joy and light to everyone they meet.”Scott Barry Kaufman, Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization
Being your best self is selfish and selfless. It makes the most of what you’ve been given so you can enjoy an extraordinary ride through life. And it allows you to make your maximum possible contribution to making humanity be its best self, too.
Plus, it’s contagious. It’s like being the unselfconscious kid who hits the empty dance floor at a wedding and starts busting out wild moves. A circle starts to form, with everyone smiling and clapping. Then a few intoxicated adults jump in. Then a few more. Soon enough, everyone’s letting loose on a conga line.
Society needs more kids on the dance floor. So experiment like a scientist and exhibit like an artist to be your best self.