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Subjective Reality

Subjective Reality

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    Then and Now

    When I was a teenager I thought thirty-somethings were dinosaurs. Fossils. Relics. Now I think they’re teenagers. In the eighties I wanted to be a hundred kilos of muscle and five percent body-fat. Now I’m more interested in finding the ultimate cheesecake. When I was a kid I worried about my non-Catholic friends going to hell. The last time I went to mass was twenty eight years ago. I guess I’m over that. Once upon a time I wanted to please everyone. Not any more. At one stage, I thought I had pretty much figured out the whole God thing. I now realise how arrogant that was and how little I know. There was a time when I pursued society’s version of success. These days I’m more interested in my version. For a long time I chased happiness. Now I gratefully accept it. At one stage my life was full of problems. Now it’s full of lessons. For a while there I hated silence and solitude. Now I crave it. In my early twenties I thought that situations and other people created stress in my life. Now I know that I am the creator of stress. And calm. I once obsessed about what clothes I wore. Now I spend most of my life in ten dollar flannel shirts and army shorts. At one point in time, standing in front of an audience terrified me. Now it excites me. There was a phase when my body was my identity. Now it’s just where I hang out. Not long ago I had no idea what a blog was. Now it’s the vehicle by which you and I connect. The meaningless has become meaningful. But only because I made it so.

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    Opening the Door to Subjective Reality

    It’s true to say that the world I inhabited in the eighties and nineties is not the one I inhabit today. And when I say world I am not talking about some physical place or point in time. Neither am I talking about our culture. Or economic climate. Or our collective mindset. Or societal standards. Or fashion. Or technology. No, I’m talking about the ever-changing landscape that exists inside my head. The world I create and the world I inhabit day to day. As I sit here alone in my home office, it is silent. There are no people and no distractions. Just me and my thoughts. But where I’m sitting right now is not my world, it’s my location; Craig’s office in Hampton, Australia. As you may or may not know, your house number and street name have nothing to do with where you live. The message I’m now sharing with you is coming from my world. My world being the place from where my creativity arises. My world being the filter through which I observe humanity, process information, consider my observations and interpret the behaviour of others. It’s my escape when the external noise is overwhelming. It’s the place where I can explore, listen, consider, choose, feel and create. It’s a world nobody can visit unless I invite them. It’s where ideas are born and dreams are turned into plans. It’s the one place where my singing sounds good, my jokes are hilarious and my body doesn’t ache.  And while my world is the place where thinking happens, it’s also where I can escape thought and discover who I am beyond the cerebral noise. It’s the place where I can overcome fear and the place where I can transcend the sum of my life experiences in the physical world. In my world I have the capacity to overcome conventional wisdom and to explore who and what I might become beyond the self-imposed limitations, beyond the group thinking and beyond the weight of expectation.

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    My world is unique. As is yours. My world is self-created. As is yours. Knowingly or not. Intentionally or not.

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    The Stories we Tell

    While I am influenced and impacted by the three-dimensional world in which physical me resides, I am not determined by it. I will create and inhabit my own reality because I have that choice and that power. As we all do. Every day people tell themselves stories which help them deal with, process, react to and understand certain aspects of their life. In other words, they manipulate their internal reality in an effort to help them manage their external reality more effectively. Kids alter their subjective reality when they create an imaginary friend. To the adult looking on, the imaginary friend is nothing more than a childhood fantasy but to the child, the friend is a legitimate and very real part of their (self-created) world. So much so that the arrival of such a friend often brings an observable positive change in the emotional state of the child. Without ever being taught the skill, kids somehow find a way to make themselves happier. Now that is clever. That is powerful.

    The Last Bit

    Coming to the realisation that you have the ability to create your own personal reality – despite your situation, despite your circumstance, despite your history and despite your environment – is one of the most important, liberating and empowering discoveries you will ever make. When you choose to create your own reality, the sky is the limit. And no, this is not some weird-ass, abstract philosophical concept but rather, an invaluable skill – if you choose to make it that. On the other hand, if you decide that this message is nothing more than self-help mumbo-jumbo-fluff, that’s exactly what it will be. For you. Can you imagine living in a place where there are no problems, only lessons? Or a place where every day is a good day because you make that decision? Or what about a place where the only approval you need is your own? I know that for some of you this concept of finding your way to happiness and calm by learning to manage your internal environment might seem like an improbable, overly simplistic and somewhat impractical solution to (what appears to be) a very complex problem or situation. For a long time I was of the same opinion.

    Now I know better.

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    More by this author

    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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