As if it wasn’t already hard enough to know yourself. “Self” alone appears to be an illusion under any real scrutiny. On top of that, anything that you can start defining as “self” is generally nebulous and scattered. We are rarely the same person from one moment to the next, much less from day-to-day. Even our patterns, which seem like they should be consistent, are so easily affected by our environments that it seems we’re much more a product of our outside than our inside sometimes.
This is unfortunate for some of the work I’ve already described putting in to become my better self. Most of it, if not all, have been intellectual efforts. They’ve been theoretical and largely internal. If the internal is at war with the external, it stands to reason that the world, being a huge place, will win against the mind every time. Well, that would be so if the world weren’t actually the mind. Now I’m not suggesting anything esoteric, neither am I playing Morpheus and revealing we’re in The Matrix.
Rather, what I’m reminding myself is that the mind is formed of impressions from external stimulus. Everything we experience is sensory. We don’t actually come face-to-face with the real world per se, so everything we know about the external world is actually mental. This is extremely useful. It means that I can play with the more malleable parts of “experience” to sign a sort of peace treaty in the war between internal and external efforts. It means I can make the world at large play in my favor in reinforcing who I want to be.
Intention Isn’t Enough
In the previous blog post, which if you haven’t read please do so now, I described a series of techniques to outline one’s self and the qualities of one’s self he might care to enhance. For me, I isolated my self-image as a warrior poet, my quality of life as a series of growth challenges, my internal narrative as a life quest, and my behaviors as calm yet ready for confrontation. As I’ve said there are several external influences that are under no obligation to encourage or trigger the experiences or behaviors I described. But, so long as these are qualities that are in some way present in myself, and I described at the beginning of this exercise that they should be, then they can be made more prominent.
Now just picking from the menu doesn’t mean I’ll get my order. What could I do to make sure that this meal is a’cookin in the kitchen? Well, I’m no master chef but I’d say if we have the recipe, my description, and the ingredients, my innate qualities, The next step is to get the proper pots, pans, and utensils. Yes, it’s time to create and use some tools to help me accomplish my goal.
There are a number of tools that already exist in our common culture. The one I’m going to focus on right now is not my favorite but it is popular. I’m going to take a moment to talk about vision boards. Vision boards in some ways are great. Using a series of spooky explanations, vision boards are supposed to subconsciously train you to seek out and attract the things you place images of on it. This is all based on the idea that the subconscious thinks in images and is also capable of subtly altering reality enough to bring opportunities to you to achieve what you want.
The Problem with Vision Boards
A disclaimer here: I did say the external world is essentially mental, but I meant it in a very different way. I meant that our experiences are always filtered by the senses and our perception of the senses. If you stub your toe, you don’t actually experience stubbing your toe. Rather you experience a signal that your toe received damaged and construct an experience based on your narrative. You could say “that this is just your luck,” or you could read it as a good reminder to move something before you trip over it and more seriously injure yourself. I’m going to move forward with this definition of a mental universe, not because I don’t believe the other but rather because this version is more defensible.
Once you start to operate without the notion of the magic behind vision boards the truth is, or at least I find it is, that no one ever really uses them. You construct it, you look at it, and then you leave it to your subconscious to hopefully do what it needs to. The problem is that our minds are exceptionally good at getting used to things. After the initial novelty of the vision board has passed, there’s a tendency to treat it like just another piece of art on the wall. It’s nice to point out when your friends visit so you can tell them how actionable you are with your goals, but once they leave you aren’t really so actionable at all, are you?
I also find that creating a vision board creates a type of satisfaction that you’ve done all you need to do for your goal. In other words, they fizzle out as a tool. I personally am a big fan of rituals and discipline. You get to come back to those every day, and while they aren’t for everyone (some people are more spontaneous or work better with fluid boundaries) they provide a great model for maintaining novelty. So long as the ritual space is kept consistent, you can even swap out the ritual in case even that begins to lose some of its subconscious effectiveness or novelty.
This is why I prefer my idea over vision boards. And that idea is to utilize an ancient tool to create a type of vision board that you return to. A visual you are prompted to return to regularly and feel an emotional drive to interact with so it doesn’t become stale. This age-old tool is called a shrine. A vision board is essentially shrine that you give up on in the first week. So what I’m going to do is make the personal shrine compelling to return to. By charging an emotional connection I will engage the subconscious but also motivate real-world activity.
This personal shrine will be composed much like a vision board but will use five pieces of imagery. They can be drawn, printed, or cut out from a magazine if necessary. The five images will each represent my self-image, internal narrative, experience of life, and behaviors. The fifth image will be a representation of my Eidolon, or idealized self. It will go in the center and the other four will surround it. In fact, it would be best if the images were faces of the role models I picked out in the previous exercise all looking toward my Eidolon. That will give me a visual sense that they are lettering my transformation. Bonus points if you are following along and also do this.
If the thought hasn’t struck you yet that having a shrine to your better self makes your home, or at least your room, into a temple then take some time to consider this and what it means! Turn your space into a sacred den in honor of your best and favorite attributes and your own potential. Remove things that don’t pay homage to the qualities you want to feed and move in things that do. Imagine that you’re incubating your identity in your space. The idea is to make it more than just an idea. By actively making your space into a 3-dimensional vision board, and upgrading the vision board to a personal visualization focal point, I’m intensifying the subconscious and engaging myself in the act of changing my environment to change myself and my behaviors.
So now I’ve made a personal shrine to myself. Or at least an ideal version of myself. This is all very nice and aggrandizing, but how is this better than a standard vision board? How does this encourage me to come back often and reinforce my sense of active and subconscious work? Well, we will play with a little bit of psychology. We will create a very simple daily action. One that is very easy to do and is satisfying when completed, but is visually and psychologically made to give us a sense of failure if missed. We’ll create a simple chain that is not to be broken. I fill in my journal.
Every day I write in my journal, it serves as my personal shrine tribute. This is doubly effective because not only does it provide a simple daily action, but it’s an action that forces me to assess my day and actually consciously stay on my goals. Every day that I do the task I get to feel like I’ve put effort toward my goal. Now the problem comes when you miss a day (and I do now and then) and that feeling of defeat sets in. Nothing hurts more than that empty page. It’s almost enough to make me want to give up completely.
Almost. Instead, I put in a penance. This is my sacrificial tribute to my personal shrine. It doesn’t need to be much, but it needs to be enough that you notice. If you can afford $10, make it a ten-spot. If you can’t, make it a quarter. Send this money away to a cause that doesn’t affect you directly, but feeds a value of your ideal self. And there you have it, a set of physical tools that feed into my progression toward my ideal.
I’ve gone through the trouble of creating an example of the 5 image placement shrine template. You can get it with the button below, then simply tack your role model and personal Eidolon imagery onto the poster and hang it in whatever room you will do your identity exercises and journaling.
Get a copy of my personal shrine template poster
In the next post I’m going to talk more about my journaling exercise and how I turn it into a sustainable daily strategy, and also ways to make it even more powerful. Until then, design your personal shrine and pay homage to everything you can and ought to be. I wish you luck on your journey and I’m glad that we’ve come along together so far. Au revoir.