“Who are you?” I believe it’s a question we should ask ourselves regularly.
Importantly, we should follow it up with “Who were you yesterday?”
I like this little exercise because it impresses on the mind the fact that if you are the same person today that you were yesterday, you’re doing it wrong.
So, to begin this article, ask yourself . . .
Who Are You?
Because our identity determines in large part our destiny, if you answer this question incorrectly or limitedly, not only might you find after years of climbing life’s rungs that your ladder is leaning against the wrong wall, but your destination will be markedly diminished.
After quoting the Fourth Century bishop Athanasius of Alexandria who wrote: “Jesus Christ was incarnate so we could be made God,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb observed: “It is the very human character of Jesus that can allow us mortals to access God and merge with him, become part of him, in order to partake of the divine. That fusion is called theosis. The human nature of Christ makes the divine possible to all of us.”
In other words, in terms of who we are, to inspire us to become the best possible versions of ourselves Judeo-Christianity packs a punch.
We read in the Old Testament, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6).
In the New Testament, after certain Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy and considered stoning him to death, he reminded them, “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods (John 10:34)?
Interestingly, it would appear as if Jesus is not merely suggesting that we be God-like, but is commanding it: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Perhaps it was these verses, among many others, that inspired the Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis to write, “[We are] possible gods and goddesses.”
So although we remain stubbornly resistant to this eternal truth, the point remains: the divine spark is within us.
We are potential.
The power to change—to reinvent ourselves—is real.
Next to life, our greatest gift is our power to choose.
Once we understand that behavior is a product of thinking, and that results are a product of behavior, we’ll understand that to change our behavior (and therefore the results), we must change the way we think—our paradigms.
Specifically, we must change the way we think about ourselves—to include the way we think about ourselves in relation to others and, most importantly, God.
The problem for most people is that when they try to affect change they fundamentally fail to understand the process. And because we have a tendency (thanks in large part to our human nature) of believing the only things in life worth having are those things that can be had easily and instantly, it doesn’t take much resistance for us to give up on ourselves. In fact, with that mindset, we tend to give up on ourselves early and often. To add insult to injury, we then mercilessly beat ourselves up for a) giving up on ourselves, and b) our inability to change.
It’s a vicious cycle, to be sure.
But the truth is that personal development doesn’t mean being perfect any more than it means doing things perfectly. If it did, it wouldn’t be personal “development”, but rather personal “perfection”. But anyone requiring absolute perfection of either themselves or others should consider the wisdom in checking their egos at the door. Personal development simply means making personal progress. And, yes, even incremental progress counts!
Who Were You Yesterday?
Let’s say Susy smokes 50 cigarettes a day. She wants to quit but she can’t yet make the decision to quit outright. What should she do? Should she just give up on the endeavor altogether because she can’t do it perfectly immediately? I don’t think so.
She should start from where she is, not from where she wants to be.
In other words, for the first day of her new life, she should smoke only 49 cigarettes. And then she should give herself a pat on the back, because that’s real progress. That’s a win. She’s not the same person today that she was yesterday. Yesterday she was a person that smoked 50 cigarettes. Today she is a person that smokes only 49.
You may be tempted to laugh at such progress, but be careful: you’re treading on sacred ground. Besides, if Susy continues to make incremental progress, I promise you, sooner or later, she’ll have the last laugh.
For the second day of her new life, she should smoke only 48 cigarettes. That’s another win. Again, she is not the same person today that she was yesterday. For the third day of her new life, she should smoke only 47 cigarettes, and so on and so forth. If she keeps this pace, she will be cigarette free in less than two months!
“Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.” ~Anonymous
Moreover, because of the momentum and confidence Susy is developing, most likely, she will be able to quit much sooner than 50 days’ time. Perhaps once she is smoking only 30 cigarettes a day, she’ll be confident enough the next day to smoke only 25. But the pace doesn’t matter as much as making progress in the direction of her goals.
As John Newton once said, “I am not what I ought to be, [and] I am not what I hope to be; but still, I am not what I once used to be.”
That is what matters.
As long as you’re doing your best, don’t get tripped up by the speed with which you are journeying toward the attainment of your goals. You shouldn’t run faster than you have strength, obviously—but you should run.
And if you can’t run, walk.
If you can’t walk, crawl.
If you can’t crawl, ask for help and become inventive.
But no matter what you do, keep moving forward.
Because your future self will be forced to live with the consequences of your present choices, it makes sense to consider the consequences in advance. Remember: your future self is counting on you. To not disappoint him or her requires not only that we make decisions with our future selves in mind, but also that we continually reinvent ourselves toward the realization of our limitless potential.