I've often been told what to do in my life. From those times as a child when my parents said I shouldn't steal, peel the wallpaper off the wall or punch my brother, to more adult moments concerning my career and finances.
And, of course, much of that advice is incredibly useful, but when do the messages we receive about how to behave turn into something more insidious?
EVERYONE WANTS A PIECE OF YOUR MIND
Advertisers, politicians, the media… they all want to own a corner of your brain. One of the best ways for them to do that is to make you afraid, whether that’s by poking at your insecurities (hair loss, lack of muscle tone, your relationship status) or painting a picture of the world where threats lurk around every corner. And even the most independent thinker is unlikely to be totally immune to the effects.
They tell you: listen to what we’re saying; do as we suggest; buy into our products, services or perspectives and you’ll be safe, accepted, successful and respected.
A MANTRA OF DIMINISHING RETURNS
You must work harder.
You should be a better father/son/husband.
Don't let them see you're vulnerable.
You need these things to be successful.
Real men look like this…
These externally generated fears and beliefs tend to creep inside and become self-imposed limitations – or, if you prefer, an array of different sticks you can beat yourself with. Use them often enough and you'll really start believing them. Before long, you'll be sure that you don't have what it takes, you’re not up to scratch and you will always be lacking.
The more real estate such negative messages take up in your brain, the less room you have for your own thoughts. Equally those imperatives – the SHOULDs, MUSTs and DON'Ts – often clash with our natural instincts, resulting in anxiety, depression and internal conflict.
And it’s not just multinationals and governments that affect the way we think about ourselves. Friends and parents have an impact too. For example, the words and actions of a dismissive or disinterested father can ricochet out of childhood, creating a man who always believes on some level that’s he’s not good enough.
A PATH TO freedom
One antidote is to cultivate ‘free-mind thinking’ and space in your brain where you consciously choose the thoughts you want to think – and notice when you start getting lead up someone else’s garden path. You don’t have to go there. Or read that newspaper, engage with those ads, spend time with those people or scroll your way through social media – not if it’s not serving you. And by that I mean supporting, enlivening and sustaining.
Notice what’s habitual in your behaviour rather than an active choice or a SHOULD instead of an enthusiastic YES! And take heed if your actions are frequently driven by OUGHT instead of pleasure or excitement at the prospect.
OK, so not everything is going to light your bonfire. For example, doing your accounts isn’t necessarily fun, but if you’re playing the game of life to your rules, those numbers will ideally be serving a bigger purpose: supporting an engaging career that pays for what you want and need in life to thrive.
It comes down to knowing why you’re doing something rather than acting blindly and without forethought. Consider the alternatives and make active choices.
And one of those choices can be who you spend time with. Quality time with people who support you, love you and think you’re great can help move you away from the belief that you’re not good enough. And with that comes the confidence and, above all, freedom to be the man you really are.
Of course, in the spirit of this post, you could ignore everything I’m saying, so let’s call this food for thought. I’d love to know what you make of it.
Image: Jay Dantinne