If you’re like me, you began reading personal growth articles online — perhaps even here on Thought Catalog— to attempt to better your emotional state and ultimately, the quality of your life. You had a lot going on, seemingly enough to make you happy, and you weren’t.
This didn’t sit well with you and you took a proactive approach to attempt to rectify the issue in the form of some creatively-constructed words of affirmation — stating that what you were going through wasn’t as original as you thought — along with the steps you need to take if you want to achieve the success and fulfillment you always dreamed of.
I’m not here to argue any of that.
I’m here to assert it probably didn’t make much of a difference beyond a matter of days.
Now, I realize that’s a bold statement — possibly an unwelcome one. After all, who am I to assert anything about anyone’s life outside of my own?
I don’t claim to have answers, but merely a place to come from. A frame in which to look. A refinement we’re failing to make.
The following supposition has allowed me access to a kind of freedom I otherwise never would have experienced and before my enthusiasm for what’s happening in my life wanes, I wanted to be sure I shared it with you.
Experience is put on a pedestal for a reason. We saw how something went and thus, we’re now better prepared to handle similar situations in the future. The more experience we have in a particular area, the more we’re revered for it.
This is all great. History repeats itself, right?
It’s worth noting however — as sure as we were about that experience we once had — now that it’s over, we don’t actually have it anymore.
You can’t have experience beyond the experience itself. Once you have the experience, it’s gone. And what happens next is where we get into hot water.
The experience then devolves into a memory — a representation of the experience.
Those memories — without thinking or applying anything — immediately become the concepts that influence future choices and actions. And while there’s nothing wrong with this, forgetting that experience and concept are separate can completely alter our experience of life.
What happens is the memory — or concept derived from the memory — starts to determine the next experience. The context is no longer “anything’s possible” but rather, the concept becomes the limit.
Enough conceptually-determined experiences and that concept becomes reinforced, eventually leading to concepts overthrowing experiences. Before you know it, you’re not experiencing anything for what it is anymore— just what’s consistent with the concept.
This is why traveling is so sought after — it breaks the hold that concept has on our experience. We’ve never seen the place before, and even though we have an idea of what it might look like, we give ourselves permission to shut off the commentary about how it’s going to go and love every minute of it.
We’re alive again.
Most “bucket list” activities are ones that interrupt all the conceptualizing — all the internal commentary — and force you to be with your own humanity.
As fun as roller-coasters or sky-diving may be, they aren’t required for a fully-experienced life. We simply have to get that we don’t have access to our experiences anymore — just our memories of them (which, as you might consider, are a little distorted sometimes).
We don’t do this very well and instead, opt to predict the future.
This is where the distinction “ordinary” is born.
Unfortunately, because of the way we’re put together, our survival component has an incessant need to link, associate, and generalize almost everything. We strive to know, understand and figure out all there is to know, understand and figure out.
To do this, we take shortcuts by calling things linear that may not be. Or talk ourselves into something being “this way” because its initial qualities look similar to something else.
If we really looked, we could see every situation is specific in its own right. It’s extremely unlikely to be an exact match to anything else on its own volition.
Yet, we refuse to keep it separate from concept. We date the same person with different faces. Bump up against the same challenges in our career advancement. Experience the same letdowns with our friends and family.
The concept becomes what we look for, and our brain won’t allow us to be wrong.
Look, I’m not saying all concepts are bad or anything along those lines — many are quite helpful. This is just about how much more fulfilling life could be if you really got to experience your family instead of the concept of your family.
Your best friend instead of the concept of your best friend.
Your partner instead of the concept of your partner.
You’d be moved by that. Maybe even to tears.
Even if the concepts you have of those people are already great, I promise you, the experience is of no comparison.
This isn’t just for you, either — people can feel it when your concept of them, a situation, or the world in general is at play. When you claim to know what they’re going to say. Or emphatically state what their intent was, what kind of person they are, and so on without considering a word of their own.
It doesn’t feel good to them and it’s the onset of disappointment for you — yet, the need to be right, the need to be safe, perpetuates the process over and over and over.
Until experience and concept are distinguished from one another, you’d have to supplant yourself into completely new circumstances, settings, and social groups every day to really experience anything for what it is.
Not knowing is one the greatest gifts we have — not a curse.
Instead of fear, create for yourself a context of liberation — get out and play the game. You’re going to be fine.
Ever feel a strange sense of empowerment quitting a job and having no plan? You were free from the future being constrained as “having to go particular way”. There was simply an open space for what could happen — and you had no idea what that was.
And that lit you up.
This is it — right here. An opportunity to make a real difference, both for yourself and others.
By committing yourself to seeing concepts as concepts — distinct from reality — who you truly are is knocking at the doorstep.
That bold, unabashed version of yourself that’s been dying to come out.
They’re on the other side of not knowing.
You don’t know how it’s going to go — it hasn’t happened yet.
You don’t know who anyone is — you’re not them.
For you, people and situations are what you create them to be.
People can occur as selfish or as someone struggling to know themselves. Someone out to get you or someone doing their best and falling short. Someone annoying and over-bearing or someone committed to being there for you in life.
It’s your use of language that makes it what it is.
But you don’t get to say how it goes until you step outside of what the concepts say are possible.
Ludwig Wittgenstein said,
“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”
We’re in this world together and each get our own personalized view.
Make sure yours is one you actually want.