• Josh

Let Yourself Be Changed

(Inspiration can come from anywhere, if you let it)


(Cross-posted at Substack)


There are things we would all like to change about ourselves. But it’s hard, even when we accept fully that a particular change would be unequivocally good. I know that I would be happier and healthier if I make the gym part of my weekly routine, yet can barely convince myself to go once a week, and only after a lot of prodding and explicit willpower. We’re torn against ourselves; no matter how convinced of the virtue of our explicit goals, it can feel like an uphill battle.

But sometimes, things really do turn on a dime, and changes that felt unachievable (if only because of apparent “lack of willpower”) can suddenly feel natural and effortless. You may have heard stories like this. “I was a drunk for 20 years, but when I looked into my daughter’s eyes that day I knew I’d never drink again.” Yes, sometimes the spell wears off and the bottle comes calling again, but sometimes not, and it’s surprising that this could work at all. This wasn’t the first time you looked into your daughter’s eyes, so what gives?

And that line of questioning, which seems so natural and innocent, might be your undoing. What could you hope to find? Yes, of course, at the bottom of the proverbial well you will find some connection of stimuli coupled to some brain states that happeend to feel like a life-changing insight. But more likely you’ll find nothing, or you’ll give up before you do, and you’ll give yourself an excuse to ignore what might have been an important moment in your life.

Don’t worry about the story you’ll tell later. Someone will ask you, “why now? why this time looking into your daughter’s eyes?” and you’ll have to say “I don’t know, but it worked and I’m grateful for it.” Nothing wrong with that at all.

I had a moment like this recently, and since I feel embarassed about it I think I should make myself write it down. I was watching the Walking Dead (old episodes), and there’s a character named Bob who is endlessly optimistic. Everyone tells him he’s not seeing clearly, that he should accept the reality of the zombie horrors around them, and he just says “yep I accept it for now, but things will get better and I’m going to be happy in spite of it.” He doesn’t block out or ignore anything—he still kills zombies and scavenges for food and all that—but he refuses to let the genuine smile leave his face.

And I thought, wow, that’s an awesome dude that I’d like to be more like. And I started to think of ways I could be more like Bob. And then I thought, what the hell, this is a minor character from a stupid TV show, you’re going to let him change your life? And I almost talked myself out of the insight that I myself wanted. But in the end, I’m going to let myself be changed by inspiration, from wherever it may come.

Don’t think so hard, lest you talk yourself out of the insight you so desparately need. You are opaque to yourself in so many ways that are bad for you, so there’s no reason not to leave one alone when it comes along to help you by whatever standard you yourself want to be helped. If there were guardian angels, this is what they would be doing. Let the actual world do that for you, if it can.

Last thing: if you’re worried that something you’re doing is only working because of a placebo-effect-type-thing, then just maybe you should tread lightly there as well. Best case, you’re wrong and it keeps working by whatever the deeper mechanism was. But you might discover that it doesn’t “really” work, and then it won’t. Might be better to look away and be grateful for whatever is happening.

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