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Bruce Lee on Self-Actualization

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As we approach the Season of Resolving, it might do us all some good to truly meditate on Bruce Lee's words about how pursuit of self-IMAGE is the death of self-ACTUALIZATION. Not that you shouldn't care about your health, your home, and general improvement... but especially at this time of year I am struck how often people's goals (including my own!) do not include being a kind and generous best friend to themselves instead of a punitive and undermining one.

So we should actualize ourselves, not actualize the selves we think we should be.

Many people dedicate their lives to actualizing a concept of what they should be like, rather than actualizing themselves. This difference between self-actualizing and self-image actualizing is very important. Most people only live for their image.

Where some people have a self, most people have a void, because they are so busy projecting themselves as this or that. This again is the curse of the ideal. The curse is that you should not be what you are. Every external control, even internalized external control—”you should”—interferes with the healthy working of the organism. There is only one thing that should control the situation. If you understand the situation that you are in, and let the situation that you are in control your actions, then you learn how to cope with life.

I would say I both agree and disagree with Bruce's Lee's sentiment in that article. We do have an abundance of capability to become the kind of person we want to become. There is no need to "settle" on accepting lesser of yourself. Your future better, healthier, more successful self is still YOU.

Was Bruce Lee "settling" for his lesser self? NOT HARDLY! I think what he's trying to say is that there are a lot of people who don't know themselves and therefore fall for a false idea of what their better self is... particularly with regard to perfectionism. People want to BE great martial artists, writers, filmmakers, great moms, or just thin and "hot". They don't understand that there is no such thing as BEING any of those things... there is just getting out there and failing but moving forward every day.

Well, that's why I said I both agree and disagree. I agree with the part about not beating yourself up over your imperfections. And about not pretending to be something you are not.  Maybe I misinterpreted (and it may be based on changes in language usage of concepts like self actualization and self image today versus then)...but to me one of the first steps in self actualizing is changing your self image. I don't think you can become "x" while your self image is "y."  You will forever, inadvertently, hold yourself back from being x. 

For example for sales person that works on commission, if he or she views themselves as a person who earns $100,000 per year, they will have a hard time earning $250,000 per year. Whenever they begin o surpass the $100,000 they will hold back. I don't know the biology behind it but for some reason we always act in accordance of our image of ourselves.

So I would encourage Bruce Lee's philosophy to be expanded to not beat yourself up and don't pretend to be something you are not, but believe you are the person you want to be and then you can...then you WILL... self actualize to that person.

Or at least that is what has been the case in my world over the years.

Well this is actually a very interesting convo, and I'm very glad to hear your point of view!

I have to admit that I literally have no idea what it might mean to change one's self-image in the specific way you mention. What mental images form in the mind of a person whose self-image is defined by whether they make $100K or $250K? I honestly do not know. Are they wearing nicer clothes? Lying on the beach, free from anxiety? Writing a lot of checks to their favorite charities?

However, I have seen the phenomenon you mention -- not being able to do things that you can't visualize -- in more specific contexts... for instance, being able to lift large weights. It is absolutely true that if you do not believe you can lift a certain weight, you won't be able to.

But I guess the point I'm making is that there's been a lot of research discussed on this site that having a self-image of yourself when you're successful -- the "goal picture" -- is actually NOT helpful. What's helpful is focusing on breaking down goals into daily practices... and then visualizing yourself doing those things every day. Practices, not goals!

Hi Joyce,

You've actually hit upon one of my pet peeves regarding goals and the anti-goals crowd. (Add that to my pet peeve about "failure is good!" and you have two for the price of one!)

The research in favor of having and writing down goals is so much longer standing, stronger and more abundant than the new goals-are-bad hype.

Many of us who began our careers in an earlier time were fortunate enough to be a part of the hey-day for goals and the psychology of success and achievement. I'm very thankful for that knowledge. I hate to use myself as an example because (a) it's anecdotal and (b) it's not very modest. But there's no doubt that I overwhelmingly attribute my success to setting goals. It's not just about visualizing but it's also about determining the price you have to pay to reach the goal and being willing to do so. The self - image is part of the goal setting for the reasons discussed above. If you don't believe that you can have or be x, your mind will not move in that direction. When you have the goal and the belief and the determination it's not difficult to achieve whatever you'd like to achieve.For me, goal setting has helped me reach career goals, money goals, business goals, lifestyle goals. I'm so thankful that I was able to create the life that I wanted.It really breaks my heart that people are abandoning the practice of goal setting in order to "live in the moment." This, in my opinion, is a recipe for floundering around. Sure, you can then use the concept of being happy with what you have and being peaceful and joyful but why not choose the course for your life? Why not live up to your full potential?

It's challenging to know what your full potential actually is.

As opposed to having an unrealistic expectation for what you think your potential should be.

Goalsetting vs Living in the moment isn't how I think of it. Maybe I'm floundering around (see what I did there?), but I think if it's that easy to reach your full potential or even know what it is... maybe you're not dreaming big enough.

BTW, no offense but mind if I ask: are you somehow in the "potential coaching" business?

I see what you did there.

So it's better to aim for goals you might never reach, rather than realize your limits and strive for less?

What kind of potential do you think is limited, Adam?

I'm just saying that it's difficult to know where the limits of one's talent actually are.

We get so consumed by our goals that sometimes we fail to see that we've hit our limit.

Halibut -- LOL - no, I'm not in the "potential coaching" business. I am CEO of a tech company (online HR software). My background in my early career was in recruiting which is really sales. We worked on 100% commission with no base salary. In that kind of setting you have to learn as much as you can about success and achievement. I'm very grateful for that opportunity.

So the only people I "coach" are myself and my colleagues. :)

It's just an area that I am passionate about ...  if you couldn't tell!

>>>>but I think if it's that easy to reach your full potential or even know what it is... maybe you're not dreaming big enough.<<<<

I never said it was EASY. I said it's doable. That's why you have to determine the price to pay to reach the chosen goals and decide if you are willing to pay it or not. Some are, some aren't.

I think I dreamed big enough. I grew up in fairly typical suburban conditions,went to public schools, etc. I now live in Hawaii. Have properties on Oahu and Kauai, have met various money goals I've had along the way and am in a happy relationship, have a great company with wonderful employees and clients.

Basically it's about living your best life. You just have decide what that looks like for you.


 >>>We get so consumed by our goals that sometimes we fail to see that we've hit our limit.<<<

No doubt there are obstacles along the way! I knew a guy once who analogized it to skiing the black diamond trails. You come across moguls and you have to decide how to handle them. Ski around them, over them, etc.


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