Introspection Part 9, Being interesting
In the last blog post, I described the difference between existence (you as you are right now) and being (you in the process of becoming what you want to be). Being is preferable. Being means frequently asking yourself where you are headed in your life, your head, your values and morality. Being isn’t just about goals, although they play an important role in being. Being is about a constant desire and attitude about wanting to be a better version of yourself, however you define “better.” The state of “being” is the ability and desire to say to yourself “I am right now in a better place in myself and my life than I was (pick a time in your history) and headed in the direction of being in an even better place.” Being is central to the importance of introspection because existence requires no self-awareness—being does.
I have a number of clients who probably met their initial therapy goals within the first year or two of seeing me, but then came back later or continued their therapy for other reasons. These clients sorted out the particular issues that were bothering them when they first came to see me. In the process of sorting through these issues, they became accustomed to “being,” to self-examination with the purpose of continuing to move in a direction toward greater satisfaction with themselves and their lives. They also became accustomed to having someone to help them continue the process, to set new goals for themselves, to regularly challenge their daily decisions. Many of these clients see me infrequently (once a month or less). They have embraced being as a way of life for themselves. Many clients also figure out how to do this on their own by the time they are done with therapy, and no longer need my assistance or encouragement. Either way is fine with me. As long as they continue the practice of becoming more of what they want to be for themselves, I will be happy for them.
You can set your mind to particular directions when thinking about what you want to become. Start with what you are—really get to know who and what you are right now. For more on ideas and tools for this, see Introspection Part 4. At some point in the process of getting to know yourself as you are, you will have the capacity to think “what about myself do I want to emphasize, what part of myself do I want to grow, to focus on, and become more of that?” It is much easier and more likely to lead to successful outcomes if you can say “I want to be more of thisabout me” than to say “I want to be more like that person.” Although having good role models is also an important method for self-improvement. Also, when you do think of other people, you can ask yourself, “what do I like about that person, about their personality, their lifestyle, their behavior, decisions and attitudes.” From there, you can ask yourself, “what parts of those things are already a part of myself that I want to grow and encourage?” In either case, start with you and become more of whatever that is, so it will always be genuine, so you won’t be trying to become something you’re not, just because you see it in someone else and think you should be like them. You shouldn’t. You should be like you, only more. This is being. This is being… interested in yourself.
One of my favorite questions when getting to know a client is to ask them, “what do you think makes you interesting?” Obviously, I don’t just ask this out of the blue. I also ask this question in many different ways, depending on the context. And it is certainly not one of the first questions I ever ask anyone. I think I like the question for two reasons. First, I am almost always surprised and delighted to hear the wide variety of answers I get. Often clients have to first reorient their thinking about “being interesting” because they might never have thought of themselves as interesting, or asked themselves this kind of question so directly before. The process of therapy can be very helpful in this regard because it is by its nature demonstration that they are interesting—they can see by my curiosity about them that I am interested in them, that I find them interesting. After what is usually a fairly short period of time, most clients start to become much more interested in themselves. They don’t just wait for the next therapy session for me to suggest questions about themselves. Clients start asking themselves all kinds of questions on their own, in between sessions, which is fantastic! Once clients are able to see themselves as at least having the possibility of being interesting, they are full of answers about what makes them interesting.
I have had clients tell me they consider themselves interesting because of the thoughts they have that they rarely if ever share with others, so others don’t think they are as interesting as they think they are. Clients have histories and curiosities that they find interesting, but often tell themselves that others won’t find those things interesting. I think this might be partly why social media has become so popular—it is much easier and much less risky to find others interested in what you find interesting, regardless of how narrow or obscure that topic might be. Lately, I was taking a look at Reddit. It was really amazing how diverse people’s interests are. It took me easily half an hour just to scour through all the “subReddits” to decide which ones I wanted to follow when I signed up. I unchecked categories of groups and didn’t even look into many general and specific topics I might have wanted to see. This was a really great way to see the huge variety of interests that others have which I do not share. That’s fine. That’s great in fact, because it opens up so many ways others can connect to their own interests, which will almost certainly be shared by some other people, no matter what those interests might be. Once a person begins to think they might be interesting, they begin to take their own interests more seriously and become more curious, more invested, more confident about pursuing those interests. In doing so, they become even more interesting.
Another reason I like asking others what they think makes them interesting is that it is the kind of question I am constantly asking myself. “Am I interesting?” “If I am interesting, why?” “What do I find interesting about others that I also possess?” “Can I be more interesting in that way?” “What do others seem to find interesting about me that I like about myself?” “Am I doing interesting things?” “Are there things I used to find interesting that I am not doing anymore and want to resume?” “When I am with others, are we doing things and talking about things that interest me, that interest them?” “Am I open to ideas about how I can be more interested in my life, in my relationships, in my work, in my future, in myself?” I actually do ask myself these and other related questions all the time.
What does it mean to be “interesting?” To be honest, I am not entirely sure how to answer this most basic question. Maybe that is also part of the reason I like the question—no matter what I say now, there will likely be a better answer later. I do think being interesting has something to do with complexity, with being multidimensional, multi-layered, of having many facets. I have told this story before elsewhere, but it bears repeating here (in a shorter version), to demonstrate what I mean about being multidimensional. When my son was 12, he asked me what I wanted him to be when he grew up. After thinking about it for a while, I told him I wanted him to be as compassionate and honest as he could be, and to be interesting—how he did those things was up to him. Later, in his mid-twenties, he was so focused on his music (he’s a musician), he had lost interest in many other things in his life. I told him I was concerned that his focus on music was interesting, but because his focus excluded so many other parts of his life (his education, relationships, curiosity, time for other activities), he risked becoming one-dimensional, and therefore risked becoming uninteresting. He was hurt, of course, but understood, and agreed to some extent. It is a struggle we all face—to be interested in what we do, while also staying open to activities, ideas and ways of being that take us away from what we do, what we know, what is comfortable and familiar.
Another way to think about how complexity makes us interesting is to think about why we consider things outside of ourselves interesting—what sustains our interest in that thing. A painting of a single object like a flower might capture our interest for a moment, but without some level of complexity in the painting, like the background in which the flower is situated, or differing facets of the perspective in the painting, we will lose interest quickly. Or, take a real flower. We might adore a single rose in its prime, but we do so usually because it is complex and there is much to consider. We don’t feel the same way about a single daisy. For a daisy, we’d like to see many of them, maybe all swaying together in the wind in front of a row of trees. Complexity also sustains our interest in food. We tend to stay interested in food that has some mixture of sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Any food that has just one of these tastes might be satisfying at certain times, but it won’t stay satisfying. The perfume industry is constantly trying to find new formulas to capture our interest long enough to use that scent again and again. They do so by combining many different scents, to form a “bouquet” of subtle overtones and undertones. We joke about how wine and beer manufactures will describe in great detail the complexities of their products, with beers for instance claiming their product has undertones of chocolate or cherries, while also bringing to the palette a hint of almond or honey.
Why do we need complexity and multiple layers or dimensions to keep us interested? Because we are complex. We are multilayered. We have many dimensions. All of us do. No exceptions. I emphasize the “all of us” part because I have met so many people who exclude themselves from this proposition. I can guess with some level of certainty that there will be those who read this and think, “not me, I am not complex, I am not multi-dimensional, I am simple.” Or worst of all, “I am not interesting.” There is something to be said for simplicity too, when appropriate. AA has the saying “Keep it simple,” which seems to mean don’t make a thing more complicated than it needs to be. Simplicity is not our natural state, though. It cannot be. We are complex because life is complicated, relationships are complicated, trying to ascertain and predict things that matter to us is complicated. That is why our brains are arguably the most complicated thing we know about in the universe—we need the complexity of our brains to navigate the complexity of human life.
Embrace your complexity! Try to understand it. Become more open and interested in your complexity as part of being more open and interested in yourself. Being interesting requires becoming interesting as a never-ending process. Becoming interesting means seeing yourself as having multiple outlooks, feelings, thoughts, attitudes, perceptions, all the time, and trying to see them all simultaneously whenever possible. Being interesting means being interested, interested in your life, your thoughts, your desires, your goals, your relationships, and being interested in all that you, as a complex person, can bring to these dimensions of yourself. Be interested in yourself and the world and you cannot help but be interesting.
Copyright, Michael Kinzer. Blog entries and other materials available on Jupiter Center’s website are only intended to stimulate thoughts and conversations and to supplement therapy work with Jupiter Center clients already in therapy. If you or someone you know suffers from a mental illness, you are strongly encouraged to seek help from a mental health professional. For further information about this blog, or Jupiter Center, contact Michael Kinzer at 612-701-0064 or michael(at)jupitercenter.com.