The best thing you can learn from loving someone is how to emulate the best parts of them. I’ve been doing this since I was 16 and borrowing my supposedly cultured older boyfriend’s copy of Light in August. Faulkner was definitely wasted on me back then, but at least I knew how to posture? Still, this is how I learned to love movies, how I learned to actually-for-real concentrate: I observed people who had qualities I liked and tried them on for size, first gingerly and eventually fluently. Even today I choose what book to read next by reading interviews with authors like and buying/downloading any book they mention that I haven’t yet read. I think you learn originality after years of diligently mimicking, and I don’t mind the mimicking phase at all. There’s always been something chameleon-like about my personality. Of course, there’s also a core that stays constant: books, for instance, have always been an anchor for me (binge reading as a non-negotiable time commitment) and the things I choose to emulate are in the end things that are at least somewhat compatible with my base preferences. I could learn to love tennis but probably not golf. I’m not un-judgmental.
My self is the home I can never leave, the vehicle through which I experience the world, and I’m only too happy to modify it to make myself more comfortable. If we lived in a 45% more cyberpunk world, I’d happily get all sorts of cybernetic implants and swap my arm out for a robot limb.
A few things I’ve attempted to change over the years with varying degrees of success:
I used to be super shy and now I’m not. I was terrified of heights and now I’ve bungee jumped, bouldered, biked next to cliffs, etc etc. I hated rejection and now I’m middle of the bell curve about it. I had a compulsive, restrictive relationship with food and now I’m pretty relaxed about what I eat. I hated camping and being outside in the cold and now I actively seek it out. I didn’t exercise for five years straight and now I work out every day.
The truth is, I have so many flaws that being able to fix 80% of them leaves me a normal level of disordered—just barely resilient enough to hack it in this rather terrible world of ours. Which honestly I’m pretty pleased about!
I think it’s empowering (god I hate that word) to think of yourself as malleable. I often see self-love portrayed as unconditional acceptance (which is important!!!) and a little less often as, yes you should like yourself and accept what you can’t change, but there’s no reason not to aggressively make changes that actually leave you healthier and happier. Being shy, for instance, was really difficult for me: I had no friends and I was impressively bad at making new ones. Also I was kind of an ugly kid, which didn’t help. I mean looking back now I think I was adorable, but objectively I was chubby and socially incapable and wore weird clothes and thought I was too good for all the other kids. So, you know, elementary school was a kind of brutal time. Being able to chill out, talk to people, feel comfortable in a crowded room filled with strangers has improved my quality of life by a non-insignificant degree. If I hadn’t tried to change I’d be missing out on a lot.
The above tweet is not a joke. I’ve tried it all and I don’t have one iota of shame about that. I mean, happiness is pretty fucking important so I think it’s logical to be willing to give it an honest go. And honestly, when a bunch of people say something is life-changing, there’s usually something to it. Yoga is pretty much the closest you come to doing psychedelics without doing psychedelics!! More people should do yoga.
My general advice for changing something about yourself:
Find a bunch of testimonies from people who’ve successfully done what you want to do (let’s say, lose 50 pounds.)
Choose someone who seems reasonably similar to you. Write down their method and copy it (i.e. I’m afraid of strangers so I should approach and talk to two strangers every day). If it doesn’t work at all for you, switch to someone’s else method.
Probably you will be inconsistent and fail. Repeat until you achieve consistency.
Keep doing it for months or years until you actually see substantial change.
You’ll fuck up. This is fine. Do not get discouraged!!!
Persistence is key here. I will happily admit that I’m stubborn and probably have an abnormal amount of energy, but hey, people make more drastic lifestyle changes than I do every single day. It’s infinitely reassuring to me to know that everything’s still in flux, that I can be a different person tomorrow than I am today.
Lately I’ve been trying to develop more self-control. I’ve always been a spur-of-the-moment type person, prone to excesses and rash decisions. It’s worked okay so far, but I want to experiment with something different. I’m trying to converge to a more measured version of myself. It’s a work in progress.
S: “I think most people tend to give up on significantly changing themselves by the tme they’re 25 or so.” How depressing is that? All I know is that I like to learn from others and adopt little slices of them into myself. I feel instinctively that a life that’s unchanging is a life that’s beyond redemption: I want to believe that divergence is possible as long as I’m able to believe at all.