Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Challenging Who We Are

I thought my theme for this year was tackling my weaknesses and gaining new skills in these areas. But the more I think about it and the more I work towards my goals, another theme is emerging: challenging who I think I am. 

Inspiration from Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Projects
Yesterday, I bought the ebook version of Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin. I had been wondering whether to buy it for ages, because I loved The Happiness Project and this is the sequel, but it focuses on Gretchen Rubin's home life, which is very different to mine. For a start, I have neither a husband nor kids! Two chapters in, I am loving this book and Rubin mentions something that made me stop and think: that you can find evidence for the both sides of any argument.

For example, if you say 'I'm shy' it's easy to think of evidence to support your argument. However, Rubin also discovered that it's easy to find evidence to support the opposite statement, i.e. 'I'm outgoing.' While we usually err to one trait or the other, the truth is that there are many times in our lives when  we were shy and many when we were outgoing. By choosing to 'argue the positive,' we open up more possibilities and feel better.

Fooling Ourselves
We assume we know ourselves better than anyone else, but we are also experts at fooling ourselves. We make sweeping statements about our abilities and personalities, then we scour our memories to find evidence to support them  ignoring all evidence to the contrary. There are benefits to doing this, although most are short-term (they don't call it a comfort zone for nothing), but it's also very limiting.

I'm starting to discover the reality behind my hitherto constant claim that I'm not technologically-minded. The effect of telling myself this for years was that I avoided doing anything technological unless I absolutely had to, or wanted to. I am particularly good at using Word and the internet, because I love writing, reading stuff online and shopping. I dreaded spreadsheets because I was never motivated to learn to use them. When I did a computer course at the beginning of this year, I discovered that not only did I pick things up pretty easily, but I had fun learning.

Stepping Outside Self-Imposed Limits
That I find it fun to learn new things wasn't a complete surprise, but these things were usually related to my strengths and current areas of interest. To have fun learning a different skill, one I both avoided and disliked in the past, was new. It spurred me on to try other new things  so I am now doing a Web Design course!

I've always been a geek, but never considered myself a computer geek. I thought I would find the course extremely difficult and was ready to spend hours feeling perplexed while trying to figure out what HTML is all about. But... I like it!

It challenges me, but I'm picking it up well enough to build my confidence. I won't be winning awards anytime soon, but I hope to be able to build a basic website by the end of the course. There's also a logic behind my enjoying it: websites combine design and communication, both of which have interested me since I was a kid. I wish I'd tried it years ago, but I was too busy telling myself I wasn't technogically-minded!

A Multiplicity of Possibilities
So I've been trying to challenge the assumptions I make about myself. I believe this is especially important as my mental health improves. Mental illness makes you lose yourself  in my case for several years  and it's all too easy to accept assumptions that are actually symptoms of the illness. I find myself thinking 'I'm not the type of person who can walk into a dance class on my own,' but that's purely because of my anxiety. It has nothing to do with the type of person I am. 

Challenging yourself is scary. It forces you to accept that the 'truths' you've clung to for years are nothing more than schemata you formulated at some point in your life. Maybe these schemata protected you by forcing you to stay within your comfort zone, but that doesn't mean you still need them. Challenge your limitations and see what happens  perhaps what's really scaring us is the enormity of our own potential.


  1. This is a wonderful post, Hayley, and it really made me think. Only now, in my fifties, am I really being the person I truly am. All through my younger years, I made the generalisations, assumptions and excuses that you have highlighted here. I think getting older does bring out an ability to accept ourselves for who we are, but I wish I'd discovered it sooner!

    I'm so glad you are enjoying the challenges you are setting for yourself. You have developed such a positive approach to life that is an example to us all. You deserve to feel proud of how far you've come. x

  2. Love your positive attitude, Hayley, and challenging ourselves often brings great results - but is not always easy! I completely agree that we can substantiate both sides of an argument - it's partly what make me sometimes sit on the fence. Thanks for this.

  3. Fabulous post Hayley and incredibly timely. I am just about to step out of my comfort zone to facilitate a series of workshops. I have always run these types of events from the safety of my front room, but I have now booked a venue (eek). Your post made me realise that I'm ready for this next challenge in my life so thank you for helping me see it as a positive. Great news about your Web Design course, enjoy x

    1. Thanks, Shelley — that's great! :-)

  4. Thank you for such an inspiring post, Hayley - I'm so glad I found your blog. I'd never heard of the books you mentioned, but I'm off for a look now.
    It's great you are enjoying your web design course :-)
    Hope I'm not repeating myself - the internet crashed when I posted a comment, so I don't know if it came through or not :-) x

    1. Thanks, Teresa! And don't worry, you didn't repeat yourself :-)