Today's Reading

When the Wheel of Self is moving well, all five parts of the self are in harmonious, developmental motion. On the motivational side, you are driven by a curiosity about your subject matter and are inspired to devour materials that will lead you to your aim. Behaviorally, you seek out and explore articles, blogs, and books about freelancing and start connecting with people who are already working and living as you wish to do. The feeling of joy, an emotional signal of developmental movement, permeates your days, and you are excited and hopeful for what your future will bring. Your mind is drawn and attentive to anything to do with your new idea and will often get absorbed in reading articles or watching videos late into the night. Yet, despite the late nights and early mornings, your body feels easily energized, responsive, and restored.

When development is going well, all parts of the self work together, seamlessly supporting the change. When in the midst of this process, we don't have to try to change, apply willpower, or develop habits to keep our new behaviors. It happens organically, as if all parts of the self conspire to develop a new way of being. When the Wheel of Self is moving well, we don't try to develop, we simply do.

What happens when the Wheel of Self stalls? Abhinav, a 46-year-old physiotherapist, spent his 20-year career working too much. Now he had a full roster of clients and was a managing director of the clinic. He was heavily burdened with both clinical and administrative duties. Most evenings he would come home after his children had already been put to bed. During infrequent family vacations, he would get so anxious and desperate to continue work that more than once his wife suggested he return home early and at least let the children enjoy their few days on the beach. He knew his lifestyle was unhealthy and had tried to change, with no success.

With time, things got worse. He felt he was drifting away from his wife and was not as close to his two children as he wished to be. His health was deteriorating. His practice was full, yet he was still taking on additional patients on recommendation, particularly if they were elderly and had complex rehabilitation needs. In the previous decade, he had tried over and over again to cut down on his work, but his strategies to build new behavioral routines never seemed to work. His friends would tell him, "Just stop working that hard." Abhinav tried, of course, but his attempts left him feeling guilty, anxious, and broken.

Framing the problem of self-change as that of behavior change is a common misconception about self-transformation. We forget that behavior is influenced by all the other parts of the self: motivations, emotions, thoughts, and old patterns that we carry in our bodies. When we try to change behavior in one direction (trying to work less) while our minds, emotions, and bodies are fighting the opposite tendency (wanting to work more), what we are producing is
not a self-change but a form of self-fragmentation. We have tried moving one part of the self while all other parts are stubbornly static or moving in the opposite direction. It is the kind of change that leaves us stressed, exhausted, and full of guilt once we revert to the old behavior. For a successful and lasting inner change, we need all the parts of the self to move together. This is when the self develops organically, without effort.

When stalled, however, the parts of the self start doing something very different.

Motivationally, in terms of wants, instead of thinking of what we want as simply adding to our life, such as wanting to be a freelancer in the earlier example, we'd think of it as something that would fill a gap in our life. The want may get very intense and may turn into a desire—a chronically unfulfilled goal. This kind of desire does not affect only one part of our life but colors its totality in dark hues. Whenever Abhinav's strategies to work less failed, he could no  longer fully enjoy other parts of his life, whether family, friends, or recreation. During the little time he did spend with his family or friends, he wasn't able to be fully present. He would drift away mentally, fantasizing about how amazing
his life would be if only he could work less. It's as if the one thing that remained unchanged was a dark cloud over the rest of his life.

This intensification of a want into a desire, punctuated by occasional hopelessness, is a natural motivational outcome of chronically unfulfilled wants. When we don't get what we want for a long time, we can lose hope, yet even this hopelessness is temporary since the motivational system evolved to press its claims until fulfilled. We can try to stop wanting some change or pretend to ourselves or others that we no longer want it, but the desire would surge again. The motivational system has evolved to continue pulling us forward, despite our trying to give up.

Behaviorally, desire and hopelessness would lead us to alternate between overdoing and distractions. Desire makes us hurry to achieve our goals, and we pour time and energy into self-change. Like a dieter who keeps starting new diets, we would keep overdoing activities that never seem to add up to self-change. At times it would seem we are getting ahead, but these advances would be temporary and opposed by the constant and lurking threat of the relapse into our "old selves." When this happens, overdoing gives way to distractions, where we abandon what we desire and try to
forget about it.


INTRODUCTION: Between Our First and Last Breath

PART I: The Wheel of Self

1. When the Wheel Stops Turning

PART II: Working with the Wheel

2. Motivation
3. Behavior
4. Emotion
5. Mind
6. (Em)bodied Past

PART III: The Wheel in Motion

7. Concerted Action


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