Several weeks ago I was sent for a few days on a business trip to Colorado. The details of the trip aren’t important – I was called to do some on-site software development for my company. I’ve done the on-site thing before (albeit not in Colorado), and this trip wasn’t unusual in the work sense. What was unusual, however, is that somehow, I think this trip woke me up. I really can’t put my finger on why – maybe I did too much staring out the window during the plane rides – but I began to really examine my life, and to examine my place – in family, in work, in the humanist movement, in the wider world, and especially in the universe at large.
What I discovered about myself in the weeks since I returned home has started to unravel me: I really don’t like who I’ve become.
The person who I have been for most of my life is no longer the person I want to be. Past Erik is a selfish, lazy, childish, jealous, entitled, self-defeating loner. The person I want to be has none of these attributes – Future Erik is giving, hard-working, mature, accepting, humble, confident, successful, and out-going. Past Erik isn’t much fun to be around in long durations – Future Erik may not be the life of the party, but he won’t drag it down like Past Erik does.
The problem is, I don’t know how to get from Past Erik to Future Erik.
Cognitive dissonance has become a popular term in some of the blog circles I read in. Simply put, cognitive dissonance is the feeling that you’re holding onto conflicting ideas that your mind is having trouble making mesh. This is a subtle unpleasant feeling, in that you know something is wrong, and maybe you know what that something is, but you are for whatever reason unwilling to let go of part of the conflict. We tend to want to reduce the amount of dissonance in our lives, so we do one of two things: we either seek to change our beliefs, feelings, or actions to resolve the dissonance, or we use blame, justification, or denial to rationalize it in an attempt to fool someone (most often one-self).
I have been feeling this cognitive dissonance for several months now, and I’ve been using a combination of all three (blame, justification, and denial) to cover it up. I have been allowing myself to sleep through my life, neglecting my health (mental and physical), and letting my family slide ever so slowly toward oblivion. In short, I’ve been doing everyone I know a great disservice – especially myself. I want to change this.
That’s where I’m at now. I feel like I am standing at the threshold of a great change. The noise in my head – the dissonance – is louder than ever, and the two concepts at war are my two selves, Past and Future Erik, fighting for dominance. Future Erik wants to win – all his merits are the rewards – but Past Erik wants to win, too. Subconsciously, Past Erik likes letting others pick up his slack. He enjoys making excuses out of problems. He thrives on the belief that he is what others have forced him to be.
He’s strong, too. For example, I was supposed to clean the dishes last night, but I only cleaned some of them. I allowed my false position of entitlement to override my (admittedly very weak) work ethic, and I did the bare minimum of what was expected of me – loading and running the dishwasher. Past Erik was running the show last night – but that dissonance was playing pretty loudly in my head when I called it quits. I knew I should have finished the rest, but I just plain didn’t – and Future Erik wanted to call me out on it. He wanted me to take action. That’s what he does.
But it’s not what I do. Not yet. That’s the crux – I want to stop wanting to change, and just start changing.