Updated: Aug 2
How to be just a man: becoming a self directing person
by Dylan Thomas, 2022
The idea of becoming a self directing person is a hugely important one, that if implemented would help us live our lives in a way that we choose and to minimise internal tension (psychological tension). This idea has wide spreading applications, implications and consequences, as such it hard to cover every detail in such a short article. So instead here I will simply offer a general introduction and overview. I should also say that the gender label in the beginning is interchangeable, to say being just a man is a true as saying to be just a women or more generally to be just a human or person.
This idea of being just a man or woman or person is a shorthand way of saying acceptance of oneself (the organism and personality) as it exists in this moment in time and within the future, this if implemented as a long term personality change dissolves or minimises psychological tension. The person who can be just a man or woman isn’t burdening themselves with the pressure to succeed beyond what is achievable for them, isn’t pressured to meet superhuman or divine standards in a human body (perfectionism), holding themselves or their lives to unreasonable ideals of perfectionism that we see in society such as: societal beauty standards, measures of success eg; financial, aspiration for approval or power or promotion/ acceptance in a hierarchy structure/ social group. The above examples are huge psychological drives that create a great deal of psychological tension, the formula being this tension dissolves upon the acceptance of the human upon himself at that moment and what he will be in the future. Take a person who is expecting a promotion at work vs one who isn’t - the former probably is putting much more internal pressure on himself to act, behave and perform in a certain way, whereas the latter is oblivious and doesn’t feel the need to be anything other than himself. Now this takes us into the territory of drive, motive and evolution: is it better to have drive, therefore expectation therefore psychological tension to achieve goals improving our quality of life? Or is better to try to live without this internal drive system and leave the stress of trying to improve behind? The fear being if we allow ourselves just to be who we are, and relax into being that, then won’t we simply get left behind? - take for example if we were ok with the reflection in the mirror, the ever growing mid drift and bulging jean size then surely we would loose the motivation to workout or exercise, but critically would we be making our own decisions. The same could be said if we settled for our position within our chosen career without the desire for further advancement, would that be good thing or would in terms of our personal growth be handicapped? But - then are we making our own decisions and does it matter?
A man or woman without meaning or a soul
The answer perhaps lies in the meaning we place upon certain external markers of success, how it blinds us and our self directing decision making powers, studies showing that people who are more content with themselves have less desire to attain or move further towards these markers of success, on one hand “Personal and professional success may lead to happiness but may also engender success. Happy individuals are predisposed to seek out and undertake new goals in life and this reinforces positive emotions, say researchers who examined the connections between desirable characteristics, life successes and well-being of over 275,000 people.” in the same study stating “evidence from the cross-sectional studies confirm that a person's well-being is associated with positive perceptions of self and others, sociability, creativity, prosocial behaviour, a strong immune system, and effective coping skills.” (American Psychological Association, 2005). Whereas, on the other hand studies conclude fairly comfortably “that people tend to feel happier the more money they make only up until a point of about $75,000 a year.” (Harvard Business Review, 2020) which then suggests after having basic financial and survival needs met; enough not to fear being repossessed or bankruptcy, that after this point other factors come in to play - the want for time, experience and meaning. Therefore, once we attain basic survival needs we are left with a great deal of time to think: and to make choices, but do these decisions arise from you, or are implanted in us from the conditions of society.
What is missing in most of the modern world - in our work, social lives, urban structures is an emphasis on the individual - a man who Is just a man (or woman) and self directing . In C.G Jung’s book the undiscovered self he speaks about mans loss of individuality, that we are slowly being swallowed by the capitalist system and perhaps now more then ever the issue, in the 21st century the advancement of technology and the use of technology not only in industry, but in the way we socialise and interact, talk, play and communicate. That as he says become a unit as opposed to an individual human:
“We ought not to underestimate the psychological effect of the statistical world picture: it displaces the individual in favour of anonymous units that pile up into mass formations. Science supplies us with, instead of the concrete individual, the names of organisations and, at the highest point, the abstract idea of the State as the principle of political reality. The moral responsibility of the individual is then inevitably replaced by the policy of the State (raison d’état). Instead of moral and mental differentiation of the individual, you have public welfare and the raising of the living standard. The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only real life) no longer lie in individual development but in the policy of the State, which is thrust upon the individual from outside and consists in the execution of an abstract idea which ultimately tends to attract all life to itself. The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses.” - ( Jung, 1958)
Jung talked about the reduction of the human individual to a mere unit, a number on a spreadsheet. Worryingly for human kind this situation appears to have deepened, in this most gross but fair example from 21st century living - can we clearly define ourselves as separate from our screens and phone devices when for most of the day we are plugged into them? Most people would attest to the experience of loosing themselves into an iPhone screen, an everyday experience, the addiction that if viewed from an objective standpoint would seem like a science fiction horror film. Simply put we are more disconnected from ourselves as a people than ever before - We have become human doing’s rather then being’s, but more shockingly, perhaps not even human - a unit. This is not a new phenomena, noted in the similarity in the thoughts of Marx, that a man looses himself in a system - the result being alienation from his work, life, himself and his own sense of meaning. The further tragedy being that a man or women discontented from themselves might believe they are having original thoughts, values or opinions, but it is simply the views of the society they live in (or indeed now the technology they are implanted into).
A self directing human who is someone who has a strength enough in himself to know who, he or she is, enough to know that he is a individual with a soul who exists in this system of units, that he has final choice on his ideas, values, thoughts, views and opinions. Therefore this person can just be a human being without needing to do anything. This person can accept themselves for who they are and make decisions as an individual. If we go back to the words of Jung, this individual would make decisions autonomically, knowing they have made a decision. For example, the self directing human would decide to go on a diet because it is what he/or she wanted - not because it was a decision made for them based on outside or totality influence. The person who can self direct knows his or her own mind and therefore makes informed decisions from that place of knowing themselves. It is when someone gets to know himself more clearly in this way, make self directing decisions can that person work to accepting themselves and enjoy their true personality.
Doing to Being: Personality change
It takes a certain amount of time to change your way of being: from doing to being, we do because we assume we have to and it is true to say that it is rare we question: why we do? What we do on a day to day basis - is it sociality conditioning or is it self directed? Being is an important aspect of learning to be with ourselves without doing, do we like ourselves or indeed can we like ourselves if we are no longer doing or doing in the way society expects us to. It is true the paradox, the harder we try the more tension (psychological) we experience. Segal, Williams and Teesdale talk about the doing and being modes quite effectively in their method, mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
“the doing mode ( we might have also called this the “driven” mode) is triggered when the mind sees things are other than it would like it to be. Stated more formally, the doing mode is entered when the mind registers discrepancies between an idea of how things are (or of how they are expected to become) and an idea of how things wished to be or ought to be. Such discrepancies so two things: first, they automatically trigger some form of negative feeling; second, they set in motion certain habitual patterns of mind that are designed to reduce the gap between present (or anticipated state and desired state)”
So If we say then that all modes of mind and ways of being are doing, unless we have done so form of action in self directing way. Now the question is can we say for sure that we can be 100% self directing without outside influence without knowing ourselves, this would suggest we need to explore who we really are: our basic humanness, to explore being just a man or woman and then what we value as individuals to have any real choice.
So then the being mode:
“The full richness of the being mode is not easily conveyed in words - it’s full flavour is best appreciated directly, experientially. In many ways, it is the opposite to doing mode. Recall that the doing/driven mode is goal oriented, motivated to reduce the gap between how things are and how we would like them to be; our attention is devoted to the narrow focus on discrepancies between desired and actual states. By contrast, being mode is not motivated to achieve certain particular goals. This has two implications; First, there is no need for constant monitoring and evaluation of “how am I doing in meeting my goals?” Second the focus of the being mode is acceptance and allowing what is, without any immediate pressure to change it.” (Segal, Williams & Teesdale, 2002)
In regards to long-term personality change, someone who is more often in the being mode will exhibit a greater degree of self-acceptance, from this place there is nothing to fix, act or compensate for, thus creating a solid base of choice for true self direction. It is only the man who doesn’t have to act, isn’t compelled to out of necessity or can stop himself from doing so - who can truly act freely and direct himself as he wishes.
Just a human
The very powerful experience is that once a person can step away from being a unit in the crowd of other units - as if they don’t, can a person ever truly stop compensating, proving to the world they are worth more then a unit? The consequence of that is the person can never discern or discriminate if their actions, goals, motives and thoughts are their own or that of external implantation, because of this they lack original ideas and creativity that is truly their own - they never stop long enough to enjoy who they are, what makes them an individual. The paradox being that once someone gets a taste of exactly who they are and starts to make self directing decisions from that place, they tend to find they enjoy themselves more then they knew, just for being a person, perhaps not doing anything remarkable - but perhaps they enjoy that life, more simply, because it is their own. However the joy in being an individual, that being just another man or a women is one of the unique gifts of life.
American Psychological Association. (2005, December 19). Review Of Research Challenges Assumption That Success Makes People Happy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2022 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051219090811.htm
Dunn & Courtney, 2020, (Harvard Business Review) Does More Money Really Make Us More Happy? https://hbr.org/2020/09/does-more-money-really-makes-us-more-happy
Jung , C.G (1958) The Undiscovered self. Routlegde (p8, p10)
Segal, Williams & Teesdale (2002) Mindfulness based cognitive therapy for depression: The Guildford press, new york (p72-74)