Struggling to find a direction in life? Try this

Growth zone, how to find direction in life

Some years ago, I had a job where I basically had no free time whatsoever. I barely had time to clean up and rest a bit between shifts. I had to spend my free time preparing for what I had to do on duty. It was a fun job though, about sports and music. But I had to be on it for 12 hours a day non-stop, and spend another 2 hours commuting throughout the day between shifts. Nah, no way. I soon called it quits. I had other plans for what I’d rather be doing with my time. If I could spend 10 hours a day learning, I knew how much progress I’d make in 6 months. So I came up with a plan. I must admit I didn’t follow the initial plan as well as I wanted to, but that plan lead to a much bigger plan. 

I never really had a guide so I simply forged my way through. Forging my way through, naturally, took me more time than it’d have taken me if I had a guide. It would have helped if I knew exactly where I was at each point, in detail, what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to be, and what where I was headed actually looks like.

So when I ran into an infographic that carefully laid out in detail what each step looks like, I was excited and decided to expand on it with what I had learned.

As it is generally known, real change starts with awareness of what needs to change. In this world, a lot of people – if not the vast majority –, lack a sense of direction in life – most especially people in economically stable nations. The people in less stable nations are generally too busy struggling to make ends meet. 

The paradox of having a good life

The pervasive cyclical vision of history

As this quote – from a postapocalyptic novel by the author G. Michael Hopf –, states: «Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.» 

What does this mean? It means in the safe society of today, sometimes, when we’re not facing an imminent threat, we let our guard down and we lose sight of what’s important: to do something meaningful with our lives. This makes us lose the sense of meaning in life as we’re not finding much importance in what we do. Other times, we struggle to find a sense of meaning when we fail to find alignment between our inner self and what we do. Then, when we can’t express our natural talents and innate capabilities on daily basis. 

In the field of personality psychology, genetic biology, even philosophy, each person is built differently and has different unique qualities. Sometimes we’re so busy doing what with think – or we were made to believe – we need to be doing that we lose sight of what we were actually made to be doing with the unique qualities we have as individuals. This makes us fall out of touch with our true passion and goals and we find ourselves drifting around, without any sense of satisfaction or fulfillment. 

Now, how can we wriggle ourselves out of this trap and recover our sense of direction?

As Michael Jackson said, if you want to change the world, take a look at yourself in the mirror and then make a change. Finding direction in life is not about having a good career, nice family and friends, extensive material resources, or reaching other external life goals. Finding meaning in life is about discovering your usefulness to your own self. Then you can extend it to others through self-expression. What good are you to yourself? What quality about yourself do you value most? How satisfied are you with yourself for the life you’re living? A meaningful life is first and foremost, about The Self.

To understand better

In other to secure a win, when training, athletes focus on beating their own personal record. Even on the competition day, all they want to do is beat themselves. If they can beat their personal record on the day of competition, they’d be satisfied with their performance, regardless of the outcome and results of competitors. Persistently beating your personal record automatically makes you the best at what you do, the way you do it. Other people may have different results, but they also did it differently and had a different set of tools and resources. So there’s no point in making comparisons with others but the self.

In a previous post, I wrote about what life is all about. I personally concluded that life is about making decisions that work. It’s about self-expression and making choices that’ll help you become the best self you can possibly be. Okay, now it’s all clear. But, how can we go about this? Use the MB Self-Model.

How to use the MB Self-Model to find direction in life

Some time ago, after reading a bit on personality psychology and some philosophical ideas, I made a summary of what each stage of the self could look like. 

The journey of life is within, your direction in life is where you’re headed on the inside. 

Michael Bright

The MB self-model comprises four stages or levels of self: undesired self, true self, best self, and transcended self.

  1. The undesired self: Undesired self is when you feel anxiety regularly, rarely at ease, frequently uncomfortable, always vigilant. In this level of self, you can’t get yourself most of what you want and you heavily depend on other people. This makes you try so hard to please them that you lose sight of your preferences and needs in the process. To learn more, read this scientific article.
  2. The true self: True self is when you can get yourself most of what you want, and you feel at ease most of the time. You’re easily able to do what comes naturally to you but you struggle with overcoming novel challenges. At this stage, you have a pretty good idea of what you want, albeit a lack of skills to actually get it. To learn more, read this scientific article.
  3. The best self: Best self is the level of self you can get whatever you want even if that means getting out of your comfort zone. You know what your priorities are and your decision-making is based on true value and not on limitations. If there’s something you can’t do, you’d find a way to get it done instead of dwelling on excuses. To learn more, read this scientific article.
  4. The transcended self: Transcended self is when you become highly capable and clear-minded. You find satisfaction in anything you do and you don’t struggle with, nor feel held back by limitations. You have all your needs met and you take life as it comes. In this stage, you start helping other people reach their full potential. You start practicing pure altruism. Abraham Maslow described this stage as “self-transcendence: beyond self-actualization.”

How to transition from one level to another

Now that we have a basic idea of what each level of self looks like, hence getting a sense of direction, how can we actually leap from one level to the other? It’s all about the little actions you take every day. 

Once you have a sense of direction in life, the next step is to know what you have to do to stay in that direction. There are many ways to go about it. There’s actually rarely a wrong way. It’s more about having a point of reference to always check your daily actions and decisions on, to know how to reroute when you’re drifting astray.

In the infographic at beginning of this post, Michael Zaletsky named the zones we could find ourselves in and the qualities associated with each zone. In association with the MB self-model, I’d like to call the undesired self fear zone; true self, comfort zone; best self, learning zone; and growth zone, the road to self-transcendence.

Comfort zone

In comfort zone, the goal is to feel safe and in control. You aim for the bare minimum just to be okay. But this is rarely attainable and hardly sustainable: what would make you internally comfortable, being your true self, may not be accepted in your surroundings and hence causing external discomfort. And what would give you external comfort may not give you internal comfort as you’re forced to put on a mask to blend in. This dilemma may force you into the next zone, the fear zone.

Fear zone

The difficulty in aligning your inner self with your surroundings may trigger unwanted behavior and habits in you. You may find yourself deeply affected by other people’s opinions and taking things personally. The fear of being disapproved may make you find excuses to not take action, fuelling low self-esteem. To get out of the fear zone, hop into the learning zone.

Learning zone

To hop into the learning zone, do these things:

  1. Face challenges:
  2. Acquire new skills:
  3. Read books:
  4. Self develop:
  5. Problem-solve:
  6. Watch less tv:
  7. Plan your day:
  8. Extend your comfort zone:

If you spend some time in the learning zone, you’ll eventually find yourself in the growth zone, on your way to self-transcendence.

Growth zone

Growth zone is the zone where you find yourself free from limitations. The key characteristic of the growth zone is that people will be inspired by you as you live your best life.

Don’t let the opinion of people hold you back. In the process of becoming your best self, you’ll find your true passion, preferred career choice, your definition of success in life, etc. This is how you can live a full and satisfying life.