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Truth and Awareness

Friday, September 16th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

Download MP3: truth.mp3

In today's program were going to explore the subject of truth and specifically, how to understand and accept the reality of your life circumstances as they are right now.

Let's begin with a simple story. When I was a child my parents liked to pretend, like many other parents, that Santa Claus would bring us presents at Christmas. So when my siblings and I would wake up on Christmas morning, there would be a bunch of presents, supposedly from Santa Claus, sitting in front of the fireplace.

Well, it wasn't long before my younger sister and I figured out that there really was no Santa Claus, and that our parents were the ones putting those gifts out. But of course, when we confronted our parents about it, they denied everything, and tried to maintain the illusion that Santa existed.

My sister and I would try to catch them putting out the presents, but we'd always oversleep. One Christmas morning, I happened to wake up early, and so I went and got my sister up, and we walked out into the living room. I was probably about 8 years old at the time and my sister was 6. Once again, we saw we were too late. It was totally dark in the room, probably around 5am, but we could see the presents from Santa Claus were already sitting in front of the fireplace.

Just seconds later, though, our mother came around the corner carrying a couple more gifts to lay out, and when she saw my sister and me moving around in the dark, she was so startled she almost had a heart attack. But my sister and I had finally proved to her that we knew that she was the one pretending to be Santa Claus.

I suppose you think I'm going to tell you the moral of the story is not to spoil the surprise. It's actually quite the opposite. See, my sister and I already knew the truth about Santa Claus, so we weren't spoiling anything for ourselves. But we thought our parents were in denial about the whole thing, and so we took steps to prove to them that they weren't fooling us.

How does this apply to your life? Well, in every area of your life, you have the option of either facing the truth willingly, or living in denial of the truth. Now, when you linger in a state of denial or ignorance, you risk having the truth forced upon you. Your external world will eventually prove you wrong. In my mom's case, the truth was forced upon her — the truth that she wasn't successfully fooling us kids into believing that there was a Santa Claus — by my sister and me.

Which parts of your life could benefit from a bit more truth? For example, is it your health? Your relationships? Your career? Your financial situation? Is there any part of your life where you sense you've been avoiding facing the complete truth? What part of your life do you feel hesitant or fearful to take a deep long look into? Another way to think about this is to ask yourself; where in your life do you experience the greatest degree of procrastination? What are you putting off, what are you avoiding looking at?

Whenever you find fear, you'll find an unwillingness to face the truth. Why? Usually it's because some part of you doesn't want to know the truth. I'm not saying that ignorance is bliss, but sometimes you might find ignorance more attractive than completely accepting reality. Because at least if you're ignorant, you have the option of giving yourself the benefit of the doubt. You can take some comfort in the possibility that things might not be as bad as you suspect they are. So if you don't face the truth, you can continue imagining this full range of possibilities, but if you get all the facts, then most likely that range is going to be significantly narrowed, right?

Unfortunately, as we know, ignorance will often make the problem worse. You can't solve the most difficult problems of your life until you fully understand them. Or, as Albert Einstien said, "The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them." But in order to move to a higher level of thinking, you first have to understand the situation you're actually in. And that means dragging the whole messy thing out in the light and taking a long look at it, and eventually confronting the truth of the matter.

Many people avoid facing and accepting the truth, because they feel that even if they know the truth, they still can't do anything about it. So maybe it's better just not to know. Of course, we know that that's a mistake. In the long run, facing the truth is empowering. When you move past your denial and ignorance, that empowers you to take action. Fuzzy thinking is very de-motivating. Not knowing the truth is de-motivating. But clarity — even in the face of circumstances you'd rather avoid thinking about — clarity has a way of providing its own motivation.

So first, you have to face the truth. Then, once you've done that, you'll be in a much better position to figure out what to do about it. But keep these two steps separate. When you're looking to face the truth of your situation, don't worry about how you'll handle it afterwards. Facing the truth should never be conditional upon your knowing how to handle each contingency in advance.

As an example, for many years, I worked as a computer game developer. I got started in that field when I was 22 years old, but after working in that industry for more then a decade, I started to see that that work wasn't as fulfilling to me as it once was. I was entertaining people, of course, but I began to feel that I'd be better suited to doing something else. So in my early thirties, I knew I didn't want to devote my entire working life to developing entertainment software. In fact, I knew, most of all, I really wanted to work in the field of personal development; but when I thought about that, I immediately started thinking how can I possibility manage such a big transition. These are completely different lines of work.

I was deeply involved in running an independent game publishing company. So because I couldn't see a way to make it work in advance, I, of course, sank back down into a state of denial. I tried to convince myself that my current line of work was just fine, and that I'd be best off sticking to my current plans. I told myself, Well, someday, I'll be in a position, where transitioning will be easier.

I was avoiding facing my feelings and lowering my awareness, to sink back into the work that I was already doing. I was just avoiding facing my true feelings, and doing my best to just keep on working as an excuse to avoid thinking about it. I was making the classic mistake of avoiding facing the whole truth of the matter, and living in denial of the truth, because I didn't see that I could actually do anything about it.

Eventually, I realized that this was the wrong way to go about things. I was actually lowering my awareness by pretending that everything was OK. So I finally admitted to myself that it was not OK. I was in the wrong line of work for me, and even if I couldn't see a way to transition, that still didn't change the fact that I was in the wrong line of work for me. So I actually put myself in a situation where I knew that my current line of work was wrong for me, but I still didn't see how to change it, at least not as quickly as I felt was necessary.

I actually had to say to myself, This is wrong for me, but at least for now I don't really have a choice, except to keep on doing it. That was very strange. I think we have a natural tendency to avoid saying to ourselves this situation is wrong for me, and then to remain in it for a while because we don't see any alternative.

Imagine a smoker saying, Yes, I know that smoking is wrong for me, I know its killing me, but at least for now I don't see a way to successfully quit, so I'm going to keep doing it. Or imagine someone in a dead-end relationship acknowledging that the relationship needs to end, but that they don't see a way to break it off yet.

What do you usually get in those circumstances? You usually get denial, right? People will say, No, smoking is OK, it's not killing me, or I'm not that addicted. Or if they're in a relationship, they're saying the relationship is not that bad.

It's rare that people acknowledge the truth, and then continue doing what's wrong for them. It's rare that people acknowledge the truth that the situation is wrong for them, and then continue on in it, because they don't yet see a way out.

Now, even though that might seem to be a position of powerlessness and weakness, it's actually a much better position to be in than the state of denial or ignorance. You see, once you start accepting the truth, even if you don't like what you see, it helps you become much more clear-headed. You gain access to mental resources you never knew you had, you're finally thinking clearly.

So it's OK to acknowledge your weaknesses, and yet to continue succumbing to them. Just say to yourself "I know this is wrong for me, but right now I lack the strength or the knowledge or the resources to change". Then you can direct your energy on the intention to eventually find the strength to make the changes you need to make, whatever they may be.

So in the case of my transition away from the gaming industry:

As soon as I admitted the truth of the situation to myself, I felt, first, as if a heavy weight had been lifted; and then, I begun thinking very clearly. I would continue doing the necessary work I had to do, while all the while I was still clear that I was going to have to find a way to start doing something completely different.

So I was able to start saying "no" to the things I needed to say no to; and that freed up extra time and resources, especially mental resources, and energy to start saying "yes" to the things that I wanted to transition to. It was only a matter of a few months after gaining this level of clarity that I was able to envision a way to make it happen.

And for almost a year now, I've been working full-time in my new career, and without a doubt, this has been the best year of my life. By far, by far. And it started with facing and accepting the truth of my situation, even when it seemed easier not to.

So stop pretending. Don't pretend you like a job that you actually dislike. Don't pretend you're happy in a unfulfilling relationship. Don't pretend that your health is good when it isn't. If you want things to be better, you have to come clean with yourself, and start accepting the truth. Nothing's going to change until you do that first.

Once you surrender to what is, to what the truth of the matter is, you can finally begin to create what you want. Truth has to come first though. When you accept the whole truth of whatever situation you find yourself in, you'll then be in a position to make better decisions, because they'll be based on reality instead of on wishful thinking, or on denial, or on ignorance.

Surrendering to the truth will also help you manifest the motivation, the energy, the ideas, and the resources that you'll need to act on that truth. You'll no longer be wasting so much energy maintaining an illusion.

Let me give you two methods that you can use to help you start facing the truth in your life:

The first is a simple writing exercise. I do this one in my journal, but if you don't keep a journal, you can just do it with pen and paper, or you can type it up on a computer. So here's how it works: go over each area of your life (below) and simply write a paragraph about each one. You want to answer the question, "How am I doing in this particular area of my life right now?"

For example, you'd write a paragraph to answer the question, How am I doing financially right now? You'd write another paragraph to answer the question, How am I doing physically right now?, and so on. You don't have to be particularly structured or formal about this. Just write whatever comes to your mind.

Now after you've written each paragraph, the second thing you do is give that area of your life a numerical rating on a scale from 1 to 10 — with a 1 meaning that this area is down in the dumps and couldn't get much worse, and a 10 meaning that your results in this area are about as good as you could possibly imagine.

So if you were rating your financial situation, for instance, a 1 would mean you're either broke or heavily in debt, or you have very little income; and a 10 might mean that you've achieved financial independence.

Once you've written your paragraphs and rated each area of your life, you'll have a nice snapshot of how you're doing. You'll gain some clarity as to which parts of your life are going well, and which ones are lagging behind, and this will help you decided where you need to investment more time and energy vs those areas you can probably let slide for a while.

Let me give you a list of a dozen different areas of your life for you to consider. You might even think about how you'd rate these areas on a scale of 1 to 10 right now as you read through to them. Here they are:

  1. Work. That's your career your job or your business.
  2. Financial. Your income savings investments assets and debt if you have any
  3. Relationship. Whatever intimate relationship you happen to have or want to have in my case this means my marriage.
  4. Home & Family. Your home life and your relationships with other family members.
  5. Physical Heath. Your diet exercise habits, staying free of disease, and especially your overall energy level.
  6. Mental. Your knowledge education talents and skills are you learning new ideas and developing your talents
  7. Social. Your friends, your social experiences, networking with other people, belonging to clubs and organizations.
  8. Emotional. How do you generally feel about your life, are you feeling positive and optimistic or negative and pessimistic? Are you paying enough attention to the warning signs of negative emotions.
  9. Spiritual. That's your religious beliefs and your philosophy of life, which would include your sense of purpose and your overall level of clarity as to your existence and your place in the universe.
  10. Character. How strong is your sense of integrity, your honesty, your courage, your compassion, your sense of honour, your level of self-discipline.
  11. Contribution. Are you giving something of value to the world, do you feel your making a difference with your life?
  12. Fun & Adventure. Are you enjoying your life, are your experiencing what you want to experience?

Now this is my own personal list that I've have been tweaking for many years, but feel free to personalize it to suit your own needs. Some people prefer a much shorter list, such as thinking in terms of just body, mind, heart and spirit. Use whatever works best for you.

I find it very helpful to go through this process about once every quarter; just four times a year, that's all. I find that it gives me a great deal of clarity and thinking about where I want to focus my energy for the next quarter. I think you'll find it very beneficial as well, even if you just do it once.

The second way to bring more truth into your life is to get feedback from other people. For example, ask a friend you trust for his or her opinion on the status of your marriage, or better yet, ask your spouse directly how your marriage is going.

Ask your children how they think you're doing as a parent. When I ask my 5 year old daughter Emily, How do you think I could be a better daddy for you?, her answers are often amusing, but they're also very enlightening. Ask your boss or a co-worker for their opinion on your job performance or your future career possibilities; ask them what they think that your key strengths and weaknesses are.

You can also consult with professionals like a financial advisor or a doctor if you want to take a deeper look in specific areas like your long-term financial situation or your health. When you consult with other people, you can also ask their advice in addition to their feedback. One of the best questions that you can ask is, What would you do if you were me?, in regards to addressing some particular part of your life.

So you might ask a close friend, What would you do if you were in the same financial situation as me?. Or, What would you do if you were in the same kind of relationship as me? Now, it may take some courage to ask these questions, but this can help you cut straight to the heart of the matter and begin facing the truth you may otherwise have been avoiding. Most people are flattered when you ask for their advice, especially if they can tell that you're genuinely interested in hearing their opinion.

Other people are able to see things in us that we can't see clearly for ourselves. I've often seen this pattern when doing public speaking, when I receive feedback on a speech from other speakers, for example. They can point out things that I was doing that I was totally oblivious to, like mindlessly picking up the pen from the lectern and twiddling it while I spoke.

Take advantage of these two methods — the writing exercise and requesting feedback from other people. They'll help you raise your awareness of your blind spots, so then you can decide what you want to do about them.

Facing the truth raises your awareness; running from the truth lowers your awareness. One of the bravest things you can do — and one thing that will help you tremendously in your own personal growth — is simply to begin with facing the truth of your life as it is now. Just accept the reality of where you are right now.

I'd like to end this podcast with another Christmas story. In addition to pretending to be Santa Claus, my mother would also do her regular Christmas shopping, and she'd usually have it done well in advance of December 25th. We'd typically set up the Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, and then my mom would wrap her gifts for the family and set them under the tree.

But as a child, I found it rather torturous to see these gifts just lying there for several weeks before I could open any of them. So one year, when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, I got the idea to open my gifts up in advance. When no one was around, I'd grab a gift from under the tree, sneak off to my room with it, and use a pocket knife to cut the tape and open it very carefully. Then, after I saw what the gift was, I'd reseal the wrapping paper with new tape. And then, I'd return the gift to its previous location under the tree. Then I'd repeat that, and a few days later, I'd know what all my gifts were. Needless to say, patience has never been one of my strong points.

Now you might be thinking this would spoil the surprise, but that actually wasn't the case at all. I just had my surprise sooner rather than later, and that made the next month, waiting for Christmas, even better, because I could anticipate the gifts I was actually going to receive. I didn't have to rely on hope or guesswork, because I knew the truth. And because I like knowing the truth in advance, I continued doing this sneaky habit for a few more years before I eventually grew out of it.

I think at some point, my dad figured out what I was doing, because one time when I was a teenager, he gave me a Christmas gift wrapped in barbwire. I'm not kidding! I'll tell you, my mom wasn't too happy about that, but I was able to open the gift with a pair of wire cutters. However, I had to wait until Christmas to open it, because there was no way to rewrap the gift and make it look like it had never been pre-opened. Don't try this with your own children though, OK? My family was a little unusual sometimes.

So the lesson I got from this story was that the sooner you learn the truth, the more prepared you'll be to deal with the realities of your situation. Now you may not want to go sneaking a peek at your gifts like I did when I was a kid, but you should sneak a peek at the different parts of your life now and then, and see how you're progressing. Don't just leave them sitting under the proverbial tree and never open them, even if you think you might not like what you find. While you might see somethings you don't particularly like when you do this, you might also discover some of those genuine gifts that were just waiting to be noticed and appreciated.