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I’m not interested, I can’t, I don’t want to, I’ve never done that before, what if I don’t like it? I’m sure I’m going to hate it, It’s just not me. Do any of these sentiments sound familiar to you? Perhaps they’re something you’ve thought or said out loud at various points in your life? If you’re thinking “yes” then I’d venture a guess that you’re telling yourself the truth. Rest assured you’re not alone in having expressed these sentiments at some point, and if you haven’t yet, most likely you will eventually. We all do, and mostly for the wrong reasons.
Most of us have experienced the feeling of sheer terror following the moment we’ve convinced ourselves that a choice we’ve made will have dire and potentially irreversible consequences. These imagined outcomes often involve some form of feeling that our choice will forever influence how others will perceive us after the fact. We get light headed and weak knee’d at the mere thought of the, well, “thought” of doing something we’ve convinced ourselves we’re destined to find discomforting at best or, at worst, fail miserably at. Just thinking about such moments can send some of us into a near panic.
A common list of such terror inducing moments would include missing a flight, making an extremely embarrassing comment in the presence of respected peers or speaking in public to a group of people we don’t know. The less common might be being cajoled into eating something that you would normally find repulsive or disgusting, engaging in an activity with questionable safety precautions and pretty much anything that participants were coerced into doing on the NBC TV Series “Fear Factor” that appeared from 2001 to 2012. If you haven’t seen it I recommend it highly for it’s blatant cringe worthy content. Whatever you think of the show it seems to have worked out pretty well for it’s now famous host Joe Rogan.
If you’re one of those souls who can relate to this then keep reading. If you’re not and find such feelings to be irrational and uncalled for in most situations then I invite you to keep reading as well as this may help you understand those who do relate to these feelings.
Allow me to start off by offering a little unsolicited advice. Don’t judge someone unless you’ve walked in their shoes. By nature some are more or less adventuresome than others and therefore don’t have the same reasons and motivations for reacting in what some may consider either a logical or unreasonable way. This isn’t the easiest thing to do regardless of which side of the try - don’t try equation that you happen to previously, currently, or most often, dwell on. Being empathetic is a virtue in my book, and has a way of helping everyone involved come away with a better understanding and awareness of why some are one way and others follow a different path.
The fact is our environment is fraught with perils, perceived and real. The problem is this is sort of a self fulfilling prophecy where the perceived perils often become just as real emotionally as the ones considered by the majority in society as being physically real. We make our own reality through our thoughts and actions. I consider this a double edged sword in that it acts as a physical and psychological protection but also a barrier towards adventure and exploration into things that may bring us greater understanding and even joy to our life. To put it simply; If you believe something will be good or bad, you’re right!
Our perceptions are influenced and formed by so many factors these days it’s mind boggling. Our upbringing, in the home, our culture, country and social influences all serve to shape the way we feel about the world around us which in turn shape our opinion and understanding about what is safe, acceptable, prudent, expected and accepted. When we begin to approach that imagined line we’ve emotionally and psychologically drawn in the dusty sand of our mind, we begin to feel an uneasiness. This isn’t by mistake. It’s a survival instinct that we’ve inherited from our ancestors from long before written records were kept about such stuff. It’s even referred to as part of what psychologists call the lizard brain and involves the three things most of us do when we’re confronted with a traumatic or dangerous situation. In these terrifying moments we either freeze, run like hell, or turn and fight whatever it is that we fear. It’s the brains way of protecting the rest of the body it’s attached to so we can survive to have fun or be fearful for another day.
The having fun part is instinctual too and pretty much the reason why there are so many of us around to have fun with, or be frightened of, depending upon which side of the equation one chooses or is coerced into residing on. We often have a good idea of what we like as our personalities and proclivities develop through our formative years. These are considered traditionally to be those years between birth and the age of eight. However as some studies have indicated these formative years can stretch well into our twenties for some of us and even beyond. It really depends upon which theories one subscribes to as to how long this formative period persists.
Formative is defined as a period of rapid intellectual, social, emotional and physical development. It’s pretty apparent that a lot of development continues way past the age most of us are in 3rd grade. But in psychological theory there are 8 stages of human development spanning our whole lifetime. These are:
Stage 1: Trust Vs. Mistrust
Ages up to 1 year or so are marked by trust vs. mistrust. Total dependence on a care giver requires an infant to either learn to trust or mistrust the world and people around them
Stage 2: Autonomy Vs. Shame and Doubt
Ages 1 to 3 is when an infant develops their sense of autonomy vs. shame and doubt. This is the age where we gaining a sense of our personal control and independence through things like potty training, food selection and choice in toys.
Stage 3: Initiative Vs. Guilt
Ages 3 to 5 are marked by the development of a sense of initiative. This age is critical to the emergence of interest in the world around us and our self awareness of how we fit in to it. It’s often characterized by an increase in imaginative play. If we’re allowed and encouraged to engage in self-directed play we will develop a sense of stronger initiative. If not, and if our natural tendency to exercise our imagination and self directed play is discouraged we begin to develop a sense of guilt about being an autonomous person with initiative.
Stage 4: Industry Vs. Inferiority
Ages 6 to 11 is the time in our life when we develop our sense of pride and accomplishment. This feeling often comes as a result of the praise and recognition received from our peers, family and teachers. As our abilities are recognized by others, and we discover what we are naturally good at excelling at, we begin to experience the dopamine hits of our brain’s natural reward and pleasure system. It feels good to do good and we gravitate towards doing good things because we like feeling good. It’s fun!
On the flip side, those of us who don’t receive this reward stimulus, but instead experience negative comments or a lack of constructive support, become discouraged and, according to some in the psychology field, begin to develop a sense of inferiority. It’s just at this point where our development begins to reach critical mass. When we combine either a positive reinforcement through rewards or negative reinforcement with its accompanying feeling of inferiority and at the same time enter stage 5 we’re in serious trouble. Stage five is also known as our teen years.
Stage 5: Identity Vs. Confusion
Our teens are where we begin to build our persona. We take a little or a lot from our role models, heroes, inspirations and shun those things that are not to our liking or don’t fit who we wish to be. Unfortunately this often happens to be our parents, guardians and figures of authority who have long forgotten what this age of heavy hormones and hedonistic endeavors was all about. It may not be pretty which is what many want to be or calm which is anything but the reality being experienced. What it definitely becomes is either the highlight or the downfall of the memories from our youth.
In some cultures they learned to deal with this by sending a young person, mostly males with their heightened feelings of testosterone laden inspiration and no clue as to how to control it on a vision quest. Actaully most of these were drug or starvation induced journeys into the wilderness where a young boy would hopefully survive and come back with a better sense of what it meant to be humbled by an empty stomach, lack of sleep and the ensuing hallucinations that were then articulated as spiritual awakening by the tribal shaman. Sort of like “hey kid welcome back now tell me about your dreams and let me tell you what they mean.” The authority structure was once again respected and the young man, no longer a boy, would be given responsibilities within the traditional social confines of the tribe.
Now days the wilderness has been replaced by either working at a blue collar job or a trek through the wilderness of higher education. The drug induced, sleep deprived and starvation induced journey is still pretty much the same. What isn’t is that the shaman has been replaced in modern society by a system of economic forces only too eager to take over the lives of the individual and make them a slave to someone else’s idea of conformity. Either way most of the imagination and life that made up the party of one has been beaten out of them. The young creative individual who walked into the wilderness feeling they had the world by the proverbial tail, walks out being ready to accept whatever the shamanic oracles, of economic influence dole out to them. The interests of these priest of productivity are not aligned in any way with those of the fresh societal inductee from the wilderness. The modern day shaman class still works its magic though and interpret the dreams and expectations of the new young adult only in as much as it fits within its own cult of currency and cultural image.
All of this serves to shape a person’s ideas of what is good, what is bad and what one should or shouldn’t consider on their pursuit of a life with meaningful purpose. Those dopamine hits we experienced as a kid have given way to the age old sex, drugs and rock and roll, all one and the same really, that every culture throughout history has relied upon to keep most of society in line and a steady workforce of compliant citizens right where the decision makers want them to be when they want them to be there. Not much has changed over the millennia as you will notice if you begin to brush up on your grade school classes or college history courses, again one and the same.
There are three more stages in the saga of human development according to this psychological theory.
Stage 6: Intimacy Vs. Isolation
From roughly the age of 19 until 40 we are said to enter a time of focus on forming intimate, loving relationships with others besides ourselves. According to this theory those of us who form successful, loving relationships with other people can, well, experience love and enjoy intimacy, which often seems to go right out the proverbial window for the majority of marriages these days when they reach stage 7.
Stage 7: Generativity Vs. Stagnation
Middle adulthood is marked by a need to either create or nurture things that will outlast us. This is often accomplished by raising a family, through meaningful work, or contributing in some way to the community and society in which we live. These things give our life meaning and help us develop a sense of purpose that goes beyond ourselves. There’s no mystery behind why I began The Davis Arts Legacy as a tool for reaching people who are at this stage in their life. It’s a sad and even depressing fact that those who fail to find meaningful ways to contribute will often begin to instead feel a deep sense of being disconnected and even useless.
Stage 8: Integrity Vs. Despair
The final stage in our psychological development is marked by a time of reflection. We look back on our accomplishments, our failures, our high and low points and give ourselves a score. This is like the scores we received while in stage 4 of our development. This is when a teacher, a peer or a parent reinforced our developing belief that we were either industrious and successful in our endeavors or inferior to others in regards to our accomplishments. We ask ourselves at this stage, “Did I lead a meaningful life?” I believe your answer to this question, once you reach this stage in life, is dependent upon two things; What you believe about how or if you met your own goals and if you believe those goals were your own and not the product or the desire and will of someone else.
It’s so tempting at this stage to begin playing the “What If” game. What if I’d gone to a better school, gotten better grades, taken another job or career path, married someone else, had kids, not had kids, stayed married, not stayed married. followed my own dreams or perhaps changed my dreams based upon what I felt was best for me and not someone else. This is really as sad game and there is no winner because there’s only one player , and the game is rigged by that player. If you play the game you are the loser. And don’t kid yourself. Status and wealth are no protection from playing the game. Wealth may purchase comfort, but living a safe, comfortable life is often the problem and not the solution.
We play life safely not because we have to but because we’ve either convinced ourselves that this is how it should be played or someone else has provided us with the excuses we needed or were looking for to play life that way. Playing life safely is based on that natural instinct of fear I mentioned earlier. It’s often more of reaction to playing the game of “what if” early on than it is to any reality. We are being controlled by our perceptions rather than actual facts. There is no sure thing when it comes to predicting the outcome of your life. It’s all chance, but calculated chance by those who believe in following the chance and outcome they personally desire.
There are only three reasons I can think of at the moment which should be taken into consideration when deciding what chances one should take in life. I’ll pose them in the form of three questions to ask yourself at any stage you are in where your cognitive skills are developed enough to comprehend the answer to the questions.
- Is the chance I am contemplating taking unreasonably dangerous or reckless to myself or others in regards to negatively affecting health and well being?
- Does this chance I’m contemplating taking contradict my moral compass in any way or point it in a direction that will negatively affect my personal relationship to it?
- If this chance I take fails or succeeds will I become a better person for undertaking it?
Ask yourself these three questions. Write down the answers and but don’t proceed to the action your considering taking until or unless you can answer all three to your complete satisfaction.
Whichever direction you choose, let it go at that and be comforted in the fact that you made the right decision for yourself.
Stretching our limits isn’t a bad thing as long as we understand what the effect will be on ourselves and others. If the possibility is learning or experiencing something new, unique, informative and perhaps even inspirational, then these are good limits to test. We often act and react to new opportunities the way we do because of our conditioning throughout life. We either look for opportunities to stretch us in new directions or, more often than not, avoid these opportunities only to end up at some point, playing the “What If” game. I’m Michael from the Davis Arts Legacy. I create for living and help others create a life worth living. So can you. Let’s Talk! The truth is You won’t know unless you try. Until Next time
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