This week, I started on a 12-week Purposeful Living program that I’m hoping will get me to make some much-needed improvements to my daily habits. My first task was to use the mirror principle to be honest with myself, and take an early step towards self-responsibility.
The mirror principle, to put it briefly, is the idea that the outcomes of specific events are a product not only of the outcome of certain events, but also our responses to said events. Our life coach, Bianca van Wyk, explains that even though you may have no control over the outcomes of certain events, we have full control over the way in which we respond to those events, which affects the tangible results or outcomes of any particular set of circumstances.
In other words, certain things are going to happen to you in your life that you can never control. The way that you respond to events, however, is in your control. And the outcomes of events vary according to the way you respond.
And therefore, week one has been about identifying patterns in our own behaviour that lead to undesirable outcomes. Bianca told us to go out and find examples of situations where changing in our responses will lead to different outcomes. And we need to write down how we would respond differently to change the outcome. Then, we needed to imagine how our friends and colleagues would respond when asked which patterns in our behaviour do us more harm than good. Then we’d need to approach them and ask them these tough questions (if we have the courage).
Self-reflection has never been an issue for me – I’m fully aware of most of my many, many, many, many flaws. There are just so many that it would probably take hours to make a complete list. “Self-awareness” and “self-honesty” as Bianca calls these phenomena, are not my problem. Making the jump to “self-improvement” and “self-responsibility” is what I struggle with. But, Bianca surely knows better than me and I needed to take myself through the paces here to reach the roots of the several barriers to my progress on my journey to living a purposeful life. And Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I’d have to take on Bianca’s “homework assignment” and make some tweaks to my methodology.
I kind of tweaked my approach to the mirror principle in the way that I engaged in a bit of reverse engineering. Like I said, I have countless flaws that are too many to list. So I started off by asking myself what the people who I’m the closest with would say my most self-harming behaviour would be in terms of how I respond to situations. I contemplated the mirror principle quite deeply before asking various people. Friends, colleagues, family… I conducted a fairly light-hearted, politely disguised survey – I pulled out my best journalism skills to approach the questions in a way that maximised the probability of an honest answer.
I decided to ask my best friend, my mom, an old work colleague and one person who I am close to, but remains a relative outsider looking in on my life, rather than being an active participant [a friend who I interact with almost exclusively online]. I chose the latter, because I thought having a “placebo” who would serve to identify my bad behaviour on the Internet is important, given that I spend the vast majority of my days online.
What was really interesting about my survey was just how wrong I’ve been about how people perceive me. I was certain that people were going to tell me I am lazy and undetermined, or that I live too reclusive, that I contemplate things too much and overthink. But, while those certainly did pop up in our conversations, the recurring theme of the day was about something I didn’t expect to be making such a lasting impact on my life… my short temper.
It’s not that I don’t know I have a lot of issues with my anger. I’ve always been very quick to raise my voice. For anyone who knows me, my voice is a bit of a mess and one of my favourite things about having vocal chord paralysis is that I can’t shout. But when my close friends and family are telling me that I “swear too much” and I need to “take a step back” sometimes and “just chill out”, it goes to show that Bianca’s mirror principle has shown signs of leading towards a paradigm shift. I know now, that the first thing I need to address in my journey is my anger.
So I then had a bit more direction in my attempt to complete the first task of the “homework” assignment –thinking of an instance where I know a change in my responses will change the outcome. Something that has been bothering me for some time popped up immediately: My most recent break-up.
Without getting into the details of my relationship, I can safely say that I blew it and missed out on an incredible woman, in hindsight. And even at the time I knew it. But if I look back to the blurry memory of the fight that ended my relationship, I can safely say that, if I kept my anger in check, I may not have broken up with her. And if I were cooler in my demeanour throughout the relationship, it surely would have taken a far better trajectory.
Then I contemplated a step further and considered, is this a slippery slope to abuse? I’ve never in my life been abusive in any way towards a woman, and even when I’m angry, I’m mindful enough to avoid going below the belt. But what happens if I have had a few drinks? Or if I’ve had a particularly bad day, or, really, anything. There will always be circumstances that are beyond my control. Do I think I have it in me to be an abusive man? No. But even I don’t know the limits to which my character may be stretched and the realisation that I am angry and it has spoiled a good relationship has made me realise that this sis something I need to change.
I’ve long since forgotten what my fight with my ex-girlfriend was even about. But I know that if she had criticised me for something and I just listened and took a step back, breathed deeply, contemplated my response and reacted in a measured fashion, rather than immediately go on the defence and prepare to strike back, I might still have that woman in my life today. And therefore, it is something that I can now be mindful of, not just for my future relationships, but several other parts of my life, my interactions with people and my responses to a set of circumstances.
The mirror principle is working for me. You should give it a try.