For a while now we have been talking about being a good person.
I’ve addressed what it means to be a good person – i.e. someone who is willing to do what is best for himself and others
And further discussed what it means to be a good person according to Jesus – which I summarised as someone with an unwavering love for humanity (which is a stellar value to uphold).
But all these still didn’t say exactly what you should do or shouldn’t do. In fact, the last piece argued that being told what to do or not do (i.e laws) comes with problems of its own.
That is why this piece won’t go on to tell you to;
- Don’t smoke
- Drink plenty of water
- Don’t drink too much alcohol
- Don’t eat too much sugar
- Don’t spend carelessly
- Don’t drive recklessly
- Give to the needy
- Don’t cheat
- Don’t kill people
- Always speak the truth
- Don’t say hurtful things to people
- Gift people, you care about
- Be grateful
…that is just condescending (if you ask me)..
No list/law can ever encompass all the good or bad things you should or shouldn’t do at each moment.
Besides, what we know and what we do are two very different things. More often than not;
- Smokers know that cigarette kills yet they smoke packets of cigarettes daily
- Lazy people know being idle is bad (for themselves and the world at large) yet they never get off the couch
- Even “stupid” people know ignorance is not helpful yet they will never read a damn book
Is it the money, time, or effort required?
Of course not.
Saying no to cigarettes saves money and is healthy.
Exercising improves physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Learning and working brings in more money and respect.
Those excuses for not doing what is best for ourselves (and others) are often just a distraction – a smokescreen covering the real issue.
The problem is not a lack of laws, knowledge, time, energy, or money. But the lack of awareness of how values are formulated and influenced.
This is understandable as life can be overwhelmingly exhausting. So we often forget about “thinking”, and just want to do what ‘feels good’ even if it’s at the expense of our health, financial freedom, and respect.
(Note that values are not mere feelings, or vague ideas, but standards that are upheld due to very clear and strong reasons).
Someone with good values (like love, honesty, loyalty, courage, etcetera) will seek and do the right things, even if it doesn’t feel good. While someone with bad values (like domination, violence, pleasure, etcetera) will seek and do the wrong things, most likely because it feels good.
And the scary part is, we are mostly unaware of our values. Hence, most people lack a rigid explanation of why they act the way they do. In other words, they do not know who they are.
Thankfully, this piece is going to, at least, reveal what formulates our values, influences us, and makes us act the way we do.
With this knowledge, I believe that to a large extent, we can start transforming ourselves into better people.
And, without further delay, the two main factors that influence who we are are;
- The content we feed our mind (which creates our mindset) and…
- The environment we find ourselves in (which creates the influence).
We will discuss them one after the other.
Curate The “Content” You Feed Your Mind
Daily, we find ourselves faced with a myriad of internal conflicts – struggling to act (or not to act) in certain ways.
Interestingly, the Bible is famous for noting that “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” But what does this mean?
Well, I believe that humans are born as blank slates. And all our decisions are to a large extent driven by what we put on that slate.
While many people might think our minds only store mathematical formulas and botanical names of plants, our minds have a way of storing behaviors too.
Most of our impressions are simply our subconsciously learned behaviors seeking expression.
Just as we learn our languages along with their exclamations. We study social situations along with their expected behaviors (albeit, mostly unconsciously).
Hence, what we pay attention to, consume, and study, ends up creating “the abundance of our hearts” – our mindset, values, personality, or attitude.
In other words, what we read, listen to, view, and even imagine drives our behavior (whether good or bad).
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”– Luke 6:45 (NIV)
To explain let me share three quick personal stories with you;,
- On my 21st birthday, I got drunk. Drunk to the point I got “unconscious”. (But I didn’t fall into a ditch.) In fact, during this period of “unconscious awakeness”, I told a girl I had feelings for (but refused to admit it) that I loved her. Of course, I was staggering and vomiting all over the place so it was an awful scene, and I didn’t particularly get an “I love you too” in return. Before that night I have been particularly fond of her. We talked, played, and sometimes fought. I was also inclined to do her favours and throw her compliments. Yet I refused to see or admit what was obvious. On that day, the abundance of my heart – which had driven my “goodness” towards her all these while – was made overt, as I lay wasted in vomit. I didn’t need a list of what to do [or not to do ]to be good to her. My mindset pointed me towards all the “right things”. In other words, if you fill your heart with ideas that make you love your fellow humans, you will not act badly even when it is not explicitly unlawful. However, if you have been fed ideas that people are “unholy”, “infidels”, “slaves”, “unworthy”, “dogs”, “scums”, “douchebags”, etcetera. You’ll end up resenting and treating them badly even when it is explicitly unlawful and unhelpful. (This is how reading good books make good people; and how propagandas work). Whenever someone says, “I didn’t know what I was doing or saying”, usually, it is the real them who did or said it. It is the underlying driving factor exposed. (It is me drunk and revealing how I felt). Our actions are driven by deeply (unconsciously) held ideas. And they can strangely find expression when you are barely conscious. It may be just a Freudian slip of the tongue or a full-blown outburst.
- Last year, my Dad got very ill. It got to the point where he started experiencing delirium, confusion, and psychomotor abnormalities. One thing I noticed was that certain sides of his personality got exaggerated/emphasized. During the episodes, his usual attention to detail turned into an obsession with keeping things in order (even when they were). Furthermore, his sense of humor got out of control as he kept making jokes about every and anything. Prior to (and even during) the illness, he was a technician and a clergyman. So that even though the condition distorted his personality and influenced his actions he did not transform into an entirely “new” individual. For example, he kept praying for his visitors even though he totally forgot about their visitation moments later, and also wasn’t pleased with the filth on the hospitals’ toilet walls. If you learn (maybe from the Bible or some other good book/source) and practice doing the right things long enough, they become who you are. The reverse is also true.
- When I started my personal development journey back in 2019, I read a lot of books and some of those books included “Richest Man in Babylon” and “Rich Dad Poor Dad”. When I finished reading those books, I felt a huge urge to start making money for myself; particularly as an entrepreneur. I could not unsee the limitations of working for someone else and the boundless opportunities and potentials that abound with working for myself. Years later (even as of the time of this writing), I still struggle with working for others. For example, I can comfortably write this content that is over 4,000 words long but will struggle to write 750-word long content for someone else (even when they are offering to pay me money). If it were laziness I wouldn’t have been writing on this blog (for all these years with little to show for it). I would have been watching yet another Netflix movie or series. But here I am hellbent on creating something I can call my own. You should be careful of the books you read. Sooner or later, the ideas you read about possess and become who you are. If I were you, I would read only books that help me become a better person.
“Be as careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as the latter.”– Paxton Hood
You Are What You Consume
When I was little, my brothers and I often played wrestlers. Sometimes I am John Cena, other times I am Ray Mysterio. When I started seeing action movies, particularly those that featured Ninjas as the heroes, I started developing a passion for stunts and started practising. I got decent at them (at least I can do a backflip).
Anyone who has lived in a neighborhood with kids will often notice the male kids, after watching a soccer match on TV, playing and pretending to be Ronaldo or Messi. Some kids get really good and even compete in local leagues making money. Some very lucky few get to play in the big stadium in front of the world and make a name for themselves.
The fact is, many people gradually become what they fixate their attention on. It is no surprise parents panic when they see their children watching very violent or erotic movies.
And, if you’ve been following this piece attentively (absorbing the details of the stories), you will notice that not only children get influenced to act in certain ways due to the things they’ve been reading, hearing, watching, or thinking about; adults are equally susceptible.
It is easier to be a better version of yourself when you;
- Read good books.
- Listen to quality podcasts or conversations.
- Watch a master in action as an apprentice (or take courses).
- Think good thoughts day and night.
It’s a plus if you practice these things….
It is no surprise those who pay less attention to the distractions on social media and the world at large but rather focus on what is important, good, and ennobling end up steering their lives in the right direction.
I remember telling a lady to unfollow pages that spotlighted relationship pangs, and dramas because I was certain she was going to unconsciously stir her relationships toward those. I hope she listened.
When you realize the extent of influence the content you consume has on you (how it influences your behavior and life), you will be more intentional with what you give your audience (be it online or offline).
“Take hold of instruction; [actively seek it, grip it firmly, and] do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.”– Proverbs 4:13 (AMP)
Optimize Your Environment
A few weeks ago, some government workers came to my place and shared “deworming meds”. They advised me it was best to take it first thing in the morning but I kept forgetting for two days in a roll. To end the forgetfulness, I hung the sachet of the meds on my door handle before going to bed so that it was the first thing I saw when I wanted to leave the room the next morning. It worked.
Many people seldom realize how powerful the position of things in their rooms or houses influences their decisions and actions.
A big television with a DSTV subscription only screams one thing, “Sit down and spend an obscene amount of time watching TV shows”. On the other hand, a huge library also screams one thing, “You have so much you do not know so you better start reading”.
“It’s inevitable your environment will influence what you do”– Duncan Sheik
The apps on your phone also have a tremendous effect on you. If you have WhatsApp, Instagram, and TikTok all lined up on your Home Screen with their notification badges counting upwards, it is very unlikely you will go the whole day without opening each of those apps at least once (and spending at least ten minutes on each). On the other hand, having an ebook reader, the WordPress app, and other productivity apps on your home screen nudges you to spend your time better.
Before I started writing this post I had a weird kind of writer’s block. I couldn’t keep writing about personal development because I felt I was getting worse. The problem was that Instagram, Facebook, as well as TikTok were driving me into the unproductive habit of doom scrolling. So, I had to delete Instagram and TikTok; and removed Facebook from my Home Screen. Furthermore, I added Google Docs, WordPress, Mail, LinkedIn, Apple Books, and Duolingo to my Home Screen.
The first thing that happened was that my consumption of mobile data plummeted, my focus improved, and my productivity increased. Secondly, for the first time in a while, I was able to sit down and plan my affairs, rather than stimulating my brain with yet another Reel.
I’m not saying social media is bad (I rely on social media to a reasonable extent for my business); I’m just saying you need to be conscious of how you use it (before it starts using you).
We are social beings, and the people we surround ourselves with have an immense degree of influence on us. If you want to act a certain way, it will behoove you to find a group of people who already act that way.
Let me explain with a few examples
- I’ve on multiple occasions found myself unable to work when around a romantic partner. This very piece has been put on hold for over a week because I’ve spent that whole time in close proximity with a romantic partner. When I pointed out this observation, she got a bit offended. And, it reminded me of something a former romantic partner had told me, “David, I can’t concentrate when I’m around you”. I’ve skipped lectures, spent beyond my means, and done other unusual things when I’m around people I’m attracted to. And it is only now I’m beginning to acknowledge and plan for it – i.e. schedule time and budget resources for such indulgences. But, it is not only romantic partners that warp my personality.
- For years, I thought of myself as an introvert because I usually kept to myself. But I was forced to reconsider when I started making friends and indulging in more stimulating conversation. I figured I talked a lot. However, I was only that way around people I was comfortable with, and on topics, I was confident or excited about. This led me to the conclusion that I was an ambivert. Depending on the people I was with, I was either a ghost (introvert) or a Cynosure (extrovert). This also made me consider the reality that many people are not “hypocrites” per se, but simply different people when in different places or around different people. They may not even be fully aware of the transformation or may have little insight into how to manipulate it to their advantage. For instance, men generally get more courageous around someone they love. Footballers do better with cheering fans, and even clergymen flourish in a lively congregation. Sometimes, the place and people around can be the difference between happy and miserable, bold and shy, a killer and an empath.
- It’s been over a year since I saw him… Though I’ve mostly been alone, I found myself laughing and enjoying the conversation about sexual behaviors I thought I didn’t support anymore. After the call, I wondered what had happened. I usually avoided or shunned such conversations (not because they were criminal, but because I think it was “not good”). It is a popular fact that many teenagers want to leave home so they can enjoy freedom. But what exactly is this freedom? When you probe, you will find that this could be freedom to drink, smoke, have sex, or do whatever they wanted to do which their parents would not have supported. In other words, they wanted freedom from values. Needless to say, when we are around people who do not support our values (or lack thereof), it often feels stifling. But the company of those who support our values (no matter how wise or ill-conceived) feels like a breath of fresh air. Anyway, the call with my friend made me realize I didn’t really have any “values” regarding romance, but rather “whims”. And being whimsical is no way to be a good or better person. So, following the call and a difficult/honest conversation with the lady I was currently involved with, I started formulating my values for romance (and like all helpful values, it requires effort to uphold). The point is if you still feel comfortable hanging out with people whose behavior you do not fully support, it is because you haven’t fully formatted yours. And; given time (since your actions are still based on whims) they will influence you to act in ways that are not right…then you blame them. But; it is in fact you who have failed to formulate your values (so that such influence will stop feeling like fun, but rather repulsive).
The point is, to be a better person, you will have to first choose your values, then carefully pick the people that you will have around you, or, at least, how much access or proximity they will have with you.
“The people you surround yourself with influence your behaviors, so choose friends who have healthy habits.”– Dan Buettner
Nudge yourself to be a better person:
If you want to nudge yourself to become a better person (as I highlighted in the previous section) you might want to
- Curate and rearrange things in your home: For example, to start reading more books, you can decide to NOT buy the TV (or at least, don’t subscribe the cable), get a library or bookshelf, have a book by your bed, and set a reminder. To cut down on alcohol intake, you can decide to NOT stock up the refrigerator with drinks.
- Curate and rearrange the position of apps on your phone: Delete apps that suck your time away. Install apps that help you learn or work better. Bring important apps to the home screen to nudge you into using them more. Bonus Tip: Use a wallpaper that reminds you of what is most important. Right now in my life, it is this blog and brand (Pawns), so I have it as my wallpaper.
- Curate and reorder the importance of people in your life: Choose them wisely and be conscious of how much time and attention they receive. If someone isn’t nudging you to become a better person or is not part of the picture of your better life, you simply have to let the relationship wither away. You don’t have to feel bad that you are not still close to your childhood friend or classmates. Only focus on nurturing important relationships. This doesn’t mean you should block or cut people off (only do that when they are toxic) but you should set your priorities straight.
“Accepting complete responsibility for your life means that you refuse to make excuses or blame others for anything in your life that you’re not happy about”.– Brian Tracy
What if I’m Demon Possessed? (Why do people cry out, scream, and mimic a demon during exorcisms?)
It is a common practice in Christianity to cast out demons from people. Though I can’t say it is all a sham, the truth is that most people are being limited by their mental health, mindset, amongst other factors rather than by demons (and no amount of prayers can set them free from that).
For example, while a clergyman may correctly tell me that I struggle with focus and consistency, it will be faulty of him to pin my lack of diligence on some spirit (or lack thereof).
Interestingly, I have figured that what happens with many of those whose demons get exorcised (or who got impacted a spirit) is that they stick closer to the clergymen and try to live up to the expectations of that clergyman (which in this case is that they start being more focused and determined). This accountability in a way forces them to get focused and consistent which eventually wrought the miracle. In other cases, there is an actual cathartic “liberation” as the person is made to talk about issues they’ve compartmentalized during the session, and is thus relieved (or “freed”).
“In general, people tend to live up (or down) to your expectations of them”.– Kevin Eikenberry
It is no surprise then that even atheists who figure that they are hunted by similar “demons” and get an accountability coach or visit a therapist get similar results without the exorcism or impartation parts.
(There is strong reason to believe responsiveness to hypnosis, Freudian hysterics, and Cluster B personality disorders are contributing factors to the creepy, erratic, and dramatic responses, movements, and overall behavior of people during exorcisms. I’m speaking as someone who has witnessed several “deliverances”, firsthand). Even bizarre actions such as cutting oneself, eating non-food items (like chalks, foam, paint, etcetera), loss of control of one’s impulses, excessive stubbornness, and so on, can be traced to Intellectual disabilities, Pica, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), to name a few.
Surely there is no shortage of successful and unsuccessful theists and atheists. So I am not going to try to convince anyone to join or leave any camp.
However, I strongly recommend you seek professional help, with proven results before surrendering your fate to faith (or more correctly, naïveté).
Conclusion: You may never be good, but never stop getting better.
It is common for you to find people throwing shades at others calling them hypocrites when they fail to live up to their professed values. I do not support that, and I think it is small-minded, wrong, and should be stopped.
Everyone has ideals and values they want to live up to. If, for example, someone has decided to live up to a certain religious ideal – and are always consuming religious contents and getting into religious places – yet fail to live up to the religious figures they look up to, I think it is very okay. I also think it is okay to be broke despite having Elon Musk as your inspiration.
It takes time to become a better person. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Not everyone will ever become a billionaire, just as not everyone can come close to the kind of person Jesus was. But it is still okay to strive to be better.
It is interesting that when Jesus was called “good”, He questioned the label, and instead said, “no one is good except God”. And I think His point was that we should keep striving to be better (and forget the idea of ever achieving it). Don’t look at the goodness or success of someone as the ultimate, but seek to approach and if possible surpass it (aiming towards the goodness of God which is infinite). The point is that you aim upward.
If you feel like the content you consume and your environment is bringing out the best in you, and it feels like you are coming closer to who you want to become, then who is anyone to make a mockery of that?
“Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that”– Jordan Peterson
You may fumble many times but that does not make you a failure or a hypocrite. Be happy about your progress (no matter how little), and keep growing up, leveling up, and stepping up.
The point is, and in summary;
- Consume content that helps you become who you want to be.
- Create or get a into an environment that enables and reinforces who you want to become.
A Self-Help Writer And Editor Who Keeps It Simple (Yet Elegant)