Because of the radical change in scenario we have welcomed the new year with at Acebe, we’ve been discussing the importance of knowing what drives us in this next chapter of our lives. We already devoted one of our most recent entries to exploring the effects that limiting beliefs can have in our present; and so, knowing what drives our decisions in life can be considered as a necessary second step in building greater self-awareness. Indeed, what drives us as individuals now? This is a deceptively simple question whose real answer can be quite tricky to get to.
We all believe that we have quite a solid understanding of our underlying motivations when it comes to making an important decision, choosing a path, opting for a career, and so on. Though this is generally the case on the surface at some level, getting to the core of our real and most intrinsic motivations is an incredibly challenging task. This is probably the reason for the existence of so many psychotherapists out there!
There are countless layers of confusion and vulnerability and obligation and guilt and prejudice and embarrassment built around our innermost desires and motivators; so many, in fact, that we can easily trap ourselves in a self-made bubble of misbelief for an entire lifetime. And so, one can actually spend entire years of her/his life focused on the achievement of a particular goal, only to realize, much later, that our actual inherent motivations were not exactly the ones we always thought.
This inability to get to the heart of what drives us is often not even due to a lack of inquiry on our part. For all we know, we may have actually been asking ourselves the ‘why’ questions lots of times before: ‘Why am I doing this?’ ‘Why does this mean so much for me?’ ‘Why is getting ‘this one thing’ so very important for my life?’ ‘Why do I want it so bad?’
Sometimes, getting to the underlying essence of our dreams is not so much a question of asking, but more a matter of timing and actual preparation to face the answers. Surely, to really get to the heart of who we are and what we honestly want requires an ability to welcome vulnerability and disappointment. Vulnerability as in the ability to stay with the discomfort that facing answers we have sometimes worked at for years to cover up can bring; and disappointment once we expose the truth of our authentic, innermost motivations. Because these answers can sometimes be ‘not the ones’ we would have liked.
Is chasing our dreams then good or bad?
It is perhaps with regards to this point that our opinions at Acebe are a bit more plural or nuanced. Jonas, for example, is a ‘project person.’ He thrives having a project or idea –in fact, myriads of them at a time– and thinking, imagining, visualizing, and strategizing how it will look and feel and be like once complete. He also enjoys the chasing, the process, as much as the awareness of having reached his objectives. And so, for him, chasing dreams, visions, goals, you name it, is a natural component of a life worth living, and adequately so, as this way of doing life has taken him to his amazing present.
For Alba, though, the motivations, while still there, are of a different sort. While a few years ago, externally, her life seemed to be all about pursuing the one goal, she came to realize that even the driving force underneath that one pursuit was actually not really getting that thing at all. For her, there are no real extrinsic motivations, projects, ideas, or objectives to chase that can drive her much in any one way; but rather, an inherent and heartfelt desire, a longing or passion even, to explore ‘her Truth’ to its limits and learn as much as possible about herself along the way. And this is completely independent from any one project.
So, there’s really nothing wrong with 'rolling' one way or the other, with chasing dreams or not, particularly if whatever you are chasing exhibits the traits of a higher purpose –as in where your objectives actually help others, contribute to people's education, or allow you to share something meaningful with others, motivate others or do good in general. Whatever comes naturally to you is probably the right way for you to go. And if you want something, it definitely helps to visualize it, to think of how it’ll look like once you get there and how that can be a springboard for even cooler things to come. Still, there is one possible caveat you must face if you are a ‘dream-chaser,’ and this has to do with putting too much emphasis (or else, all the emphasis) on ‘making it,’ on achieving the dream and not on the dreaming. That’s when one’s drivers can really turn into stressful, unrewarding nightmares.
Identify your drivers, values, and the core ideas of your True Self
The key, then, is to really spend some quality time with yourself away from anybody else’s judgement and openly welcome, and then analyze, your reactions to life’s varied tests, reflecting on the nature of the type of decisions you’ve made in the face of these. This is, in a way, the path suggested in Jnana Yoga. As we said, most of us do in fact ask ourselves about the ‘whys’ of our lives, but we don’t always dare to take inquiries much deeper than that. Unfortunately, it is ‘down there’ where it sometimes hurts, or throbs, or feels slightly uncomfortable to go on digging, that our truest answers lie, however embarrassing they may be to admit. Finding your truest answers, then, is tantamount to you finding your truest Self, and what can be more rewarding than that?
It is often in the process of 'getting butt naked,' as it were, that you realize that many of your drivers have a certain ‘childish’ component to them. We already noted this when talking about limiting beliefs. We mean 'childish' here in the sense that, it is often beliefs established during childhood –whether positive or not– that later dominate or drive our desires, decisions, actions, fears, and whatnot. Separating ourselves from whatever those ‘childish’ tendencies may be, though, is no easy task. Which is why having at least one very good friend, a true confidant, can often come in handy. Because, it is sometimes easier to see what’s nagging and shouting at us from the depths of our being when the part doing the looking is not strongly and emotionally involved.
In the yogic view, we are supposed to stay with the looking, going further and further within until we hit rock bottom. If you want some aid with that, it might help to check Yogarupa Rod Stryker's eloquent talk on finding your 'four desires,' which is a summary of the contents of his 2011 book by the same title. But back to our topic, according to the yogic view, we’re supposed to stay focused and not flail or give up in the pursuit of greater self-awareness. That is the one gift we as humans possess that other species don't, and we are meant to honor such an opportunity for self-improvement by actively engaging in our own evolution. And so, if what we feel is that we crave or long for 'X' or 'Y,' then, the process is for us to actually analyze the 'whys' of us wanting “X or Y” firstly. If we can answer that question with a feeling or emotion –as in: ”well, I actually want this or that because, once I get 'X' or 'Y' I will feel this particular way”– then, we have already accomplished something right there. Knowing the feeling we crave points to some form of perceived lack, or need, or deficit. And so, in the yogic view, the next step will be as ‘simple’ as projecting the reality of that emotion back into the craving, completely forgetting about the dream and the chasing. That is, to sense, see, or feel whatever it is we really long for as already a part of us –because, according to yoga, it really is already a part of us– and to do so now. So, it’s basically all about making our present already about having achieved whatever we may feel we do not as yet have.
Granted, this is not a process many of us are ready to accomplish. It requires a certain level of self-awareness and stamina, a lack of egoic identification with the projects we embark upon, as well as the ability to take things deeper slowly, and let them settle for some time before further work can be accomplished. And to do so on our own. For people like us, often too impatient when it comes to beginning to feel the results of the activities we engage in, this is not always viable; which why we have things like asana! But the take-home idea here is to take a bit of the pressure we’ve put on the dream or objective off of it and back onto the path that should get us there. This is one really trodden notion right there, “focus on the way,” but that’s truly the best recipe to guarantee that you will not end up hating it once you make it, nor actually need to ‘fake it till you make it.' And so, if you manage to actually be able to enjoy the process, however ephemeral the actual moment of completion or achievement of a given dream may be, it’ll still feel great.
So how to tell if what drives us is harmful or misleading?
A clear sign of wrong priorities or false drivers is if we can plainly identify our reasons as 'egoic,' not in a selfish way but in an ego-driven way. If the path or goal we are pursuing is essentially a means for us to gain recognition from others, respect and praise from peers, to feel superior, to externally validate our views, thoughts, and opinions, or else to feel better about ourselves (implying that we don't as yet feel good about the way we are without getting that one thing), then, we may need to analyze the actual reasons forcing us to seek so much external validation and approval.
Indeed, when the motivations for a given dream cannot be mapped directly back into ourselves or the greater good, we cannot control their outcomes. And this is so, even when we actually ‘succeed’ and achieve our dream. What if the reactions from our peers fail to live up to our expectations? Or, when what we achieved fails to trigger the feelings of self-worth and validation we hoped for? Or, when we do get the feeling of superiority we craved but it passes by super fast? As long as we make others responsible or accountable for how much enjoyment we will derive from actually achieving a certain something, we’ll be trapped in a hamster wheel: forever running, chasing one dream or project after another, never fully satisfied by however many fleeting moments of actual high we get.
Hence, it is really a wise investment to learn to develop a bit ‘procedural joy.’ To be more about the ‘becoming’ in a Deleuzian way; about the changing, the failing, the interacting, the learning, and the process, and less about projecting feelings of over-idealized gratification at the end of a certain path. And again, we are aware that this idea right here is really second- or third-hand at best. It’s emphatically quoted in beautifully handwritten lettering on the walls of a myriad 'influencers' with slightly different filters... But process IS key. And if you fail to realize that, you’re in for a whole lot of suffering.
So, in a way, all it takes for you to identify your true drivers is a change in the way you look at things. If you don't believe us, just consider the often quoted phrase “the way to happiness is… [now complete the sentence with anything you want].” If you look at it carefully, you will realize that this phrase we culturally cherish as a slogan for life is really a word pun that has the answer to happiness written precisely at the very beginning of the saying: 'the way.’ That’s our ‘process’ right there. Indeed, our emphasis on the accomplishment of landmarks and achievements of all sorts is a cultural habit, a way of doing life we have cultivated and learnt. One that is great when practiced with moderation and balance, but that can, if not, become quite destructive. As a cultural habit, though, it is also liable to change, provided we are willing to put in the effort. And so, spending some time identifying the true nature of what moves us to do the things we do and care for the things we care about is one of the keys to changing our behavior for the better, so as to live a life of purpose and freedom, whatever form this will take.