Do you feel like sometimes you are your own worst enemy? Have you ever stopped yourself from grabbing an opportunity because you don’t feel ready? – only to watch as someone even less suitable than you are takes it? Do you ever find yourself being guilted into doing things you don’t want to do by the very people responsible for carrying out those tasks? Do you give your all at work only to be left feeling like you’re slacking off? Are you sick of being ground down by people who seem so sure of themselves despite being totally incompetent? Well, you’re not alone and help has arrived.
In “Yikes! I’m Doing It Wrong” satirist Jason Keyes gets serious for a change to identify 14 different ways in which we screw ourselves over, and how to avoid that fate. Since this is about helping you and not an ego trip for Jason, you won’t find it cluttered with the author’s life story as is the case with many so-called ‘self-help’ books. Nor is it a recruiting tool for this or that religion or philosophy. You also won’t find overly detailed scientific theories that of little use in dealing with your personal situation, though there is the occasional speculation on the marvel of our existence for inspiration.
You can learn the 14 reasons right now or sign up for the mailing list to stay in the loop:
NEED MORE BEFORE TAKING THE PLUNGE?
Smart cookie! Here’s a sneak peak at YIKES! I’M DOING IT WRONG just for you…
You’re here. Great! This means you are already interested in changing things for the better. It’s actually very hard to get human beings (or any creature for that matter) to do something they don’t want to do. In truth it’s practically impossible. There has to be a ‘want’ on some level, though there are many kinds of wants.
The fact that you are reading this book means that you want something, even if you aren’t sure what that thing is, or how to get it. Maybe you are demoralized because what you want seems so simple, and yet remains forever out of reach. Fixing your life should be easy, right? Want to lose weight? Just eat less. Want your family to butt out of your affairs? Tell them to mind their own business. Need a raise? Ask for one. Want to live a different life? Then do!
So why isn’t it happening? The simple answer is that these ‘foolproof prescriptions’ are based on the ridiculous assumption that we are linear rational entities that proceed according to clearly understood rules and motivations – that we are essentially just high-functioning machines. It’s the answer that poorly thought-out science and even good-old common sense often gives.
But the reality is that we are not mere high-functioning machines – far from it! We are inscrutable biological marvels, developed over an unimaginable period of time according to the brutal rules and unknowing forces of nature. Our basic blueprint evolved without any input from the modern age, and the cultural and environmental lessons we rely on are steeped in the experience and mythology of thousands of generations of our ancestors.
It’s an exciting time!
The idea that human beings are instinctively attuned to the strategies needed to succeed in this day and age is preposterous. There is every reason for us to be wary of our instincts, what feels right, and what comes easiest to us. What worked when our predecessors needed to evade fearsome predators in the open savanna is unlikely to serve us well now.
But all is not lost as we possess one crucial skill that can help – the ability to observe ourselves. We can step to one side and coolly evaluate our quirks, our bad tempers, our determination to shoot ourselves in the foot at every opportunity. By doing so we open ourselves to the possibility that we can course correct. Of course that is too ambitious much of the time, so powerful are the forces that drive us. Often the best that can be done if we are reacting poorly to a situation is to recognize our inability to control it and ourselves as we wish, and remove ourselves instead.
Think about all the things we do despite knowing that they are futile, or not good for us, or will make us profoundly unhappy? We desperately try to change people who resist us at every turn. We stick with bad habits knowing they are harmful, even to the point where they may kill us! We expend enormous amounts of energy trying to please people who don’t respect us and never will. None of these are rational behaviors yet the person who isn’t susceptible to them is the exception not the rule. But we can see all too clearly when someone else is making the same mistakes and can even explain it calmly to them together with the changes they should make. Why is that?
It’s because you are able to detach yourself and coolly evaluate the situation – even while it’s happening.
You are free from the rage, the feelings of injustice, the crushing sense of regret that comes with being the person actually in the situation. It’s why we can be very good at giving advice to others despite being a train wreck in our own life. You are detached even if you are close to the situation because you are still another person giving advice to the one directly experiencing it. Giving advice comes easy to us, and we’re often good at it. We also enjoy it because it gives us an egotistical boost, which is fine as long as our intentions – and the advice we come up with – are good.
Applying that same critical technique to ourselves is much more difficult, though it can be done. It requires practice and discipline, as do all difficult activities. This important skill underpins many formal and informal techniques for bettering oneself, from cognitive behavioral therapy in psychology to thought leadership in business to the very book you are reading now.
The approach we will take focuses on calling ourselves out on our own poor judgments, and not calling out other people – sometimes terrible people – on theirs. Fixing things that way would require others to change at our behest, which they might not do. Even if they are so inclined, it hands them power over your well-being. It puts other people – sometimes terrible people – in control of your life. That is not what we want and it is not what we are going to do.
Instead we are going to work on your ability to critically evaluate your own moods and motivations in order to save you from your own worst enemy – yourself! Our ability to regard ourselves from a distance is one of our most remarkable features as conscious beings, if not the defining feature. Our self-awareness means we can literally observe ourselves like we are starring in our own movie – one we can comment on, criticize, wince at when it’s painful to watch, and root for the main character to ultimately pull through in the end. Despite being possessed of this amazing capacity, most humans nevertheless behave as unknowing beasts enslaved by their impulsive reactions to the triggers in their lives. But you don’t have to be one of them!
But why am I like this I hear you scream? I’ve explained it already but I’ll happily do so again, since – just like you – I’m a stubborn illogical homo sapiens that needs to have things repeatedly drummed into me for them to stick. It’s because we have very old brains crammed with ingrained tendencies that we barely comprehend. We are impossible to describe with something so simple as logic and what makes sense – whatever that means? That’s why we have to focus on what works and what doesn’t work, and develop our skills accordingly. This an empirical approach which means that it is based on observation and experience instead of following a governing dogmatic thesis. (You’ve probably noticed that many “self-help” approaches are dogma heavy.) If a simple ‘logical’ approach to a human problem works in the field then, sure, we’ll take it! But those simple logical approaches often don’t. You know they don’t – that’s why you’re here.
We are nothing like high-functioning machines and that’s a good thing because life would be very boring if we were. We are most certainly not unbiased all-seeing and all-knowing observers of the objective world around us. Instead we are infinitely-more-interesting conjurers of a wildly inventive and seemingly complete (but greatly inferred) representation of that objective world based on the minuscule amount of data we have about it through our senses.
This is where we begin – with the recognition that how we consciously perceive the world around us has as much to do with what’s going on inside our head as the reality outside:
© Jason Keyes 2021, all rights reserved.