Posted by Shelly Eweka.
Recently, while waiting patiently for the latest version of my phone’s operating system to install, I got to thinking: Wouldn’t it be nice to go online and install a new and improved version of myself? A kind of Shelly 2.0. It’s a pity there are no easy ways to upgrade the software—or wetware—in our brains.
Is your wetware due for an upgrade?
In fact, we’re more similar to machines than we might care to admit, complete with hardware (biology) and software (culture). And while you can’t change your hardware, your software is another story. We also have a processing speed, better known as IQ. We can’t magically increase our processing speed to Artificial Intelligence levels, but we can upgrade the software – reprogram our behavior to align it with goals that have real meaning.
Bombarded with information (especially online) think about how much mental bandwidth we waste, processing meaningless noise. When you rethink your goals, you start redirecting your attention only to the people, places and pursuits that serve those goals. Your brain gets more selective about what it chooses to process: Valuable knowledge, only relevant information (think less cat videos, more online courses).
Running on outdated software
In my career I’ve encountered razor-sharp intellects expertly proficient at acquiring skills and knowledge, only to have a change of heart mid-career. Pressured to follow a certain path by their culture, they had created a version of themselves prefabricated by other people’s wishes and expectations—but in the end, they realized it wasn’t what they really wanted. It’s almost as if they’d been using an operating system from 2000 all those years. Sure, everything worked, and they were able to do brilliant things, but they weren’t fulfilling their true potential.
To focus on wants/needs, weed out your wishes
Have you noticed how in science fiction movies, it’s when the androids start developing human emotions, start wishing for things, that the trouble usually starts; and the machine begins to malfunction? Of course we can’t stop dreaming, it’s what makes us human. But for the purpose of setting goals, I find that wishes can muddy the waters.
To have a perfect body is a popular wish, but do you really want to put in the gym hours and adopt the kind of diet regimen required to make this happen? Wishing upon a star gives you something high to aim for, and to orient yourself toward a better you, but on a practical level, sometimes it’s better to focus on your wants and needs rather than your dreams.
So, write down three lists: My wishes, wants and needs.
I tried it around a year ago and it was genuinely like a reboot to my system. Anything that ended up merely in the “wishes” circle (my wish that my family was a certain way; to retire by age 50) I decided was not in alignment with my wants or needs. So I made the conscious decision to let go of these vague dreams that had been haunting and frustrating me for years.
Wishing for that perfect body was in there too. Being more realistic meant acknowledging that I wanted to lose a set number of pounds and making this happen with tiny steps, like skipping dessert or replacing sugary treats with apples. Incremental changes are powerful, since the benefits accrue exponentially, like compound interest.
My needs include things like ensuring my mortgage payments can be made in the year ahead—whatever the chaos of life throws my way. And that’s why an emergency fund, for example, is a goal everyone should have.
When I graduated college in 1994 I made a promise to myself: I would only return to school when there was something I really wanted to study. 22 years would pass before I found a course I really felt passionate about.
Being at a stage in life where all my needs, and many of my wants, were taken care of, grad school is a wonderful luxury. I haven’t even defined how it will help me in the future; learning something new, diving into an area of great interest to me, has value in and of itself.