It is fairly easy to believe that whatever mind state we find ourselves in represents who we really are. But we also know that at different times we feel like different people. Sometimes we feel competent, at ease, compassionate, expansive, and powerful. At other times we feel inept, tense, irritable, contracted, and helpless. These two are only a sample of the many mind states we can inhabit. Which one is the real me? Our minds generate experience with associated affects and thoughts as a means of making sense of the world. Sometimes we have experiences and our minds interpret those experiences, and sometimes our minds apply their own versions of reality to the experiences we have. In other words, sometimes we learn from experience, but sometimes we force experience to fit in with what we think we already know or feel.
It is common for a person to make resolutions or commitments but find that when it comes time to live up to them, he or she no longer feels the same kind of investment in that direction. Sometimes this has to do with short term desires versus long-term desires. What do I want right now and what do I want for the future? We might give in to short term desires only to be disappointed in ourselves because we gave up our long term desires. There is a disagreement between me and me.
Of course at the heart of the matter is our own clarity about our deepest ideals and how to align our choices and our actions with those ideals. When we use other people’s opinions as a measure of ourselves, we are in conflict with our own deeper selves. When we use our short-term desires or our wish to avoid feeling bad as measures of our choices and actions, we also lose sight of the more important, deeper, meanings that make our lives feel satisfying. Ultimately, the only way to evaluate how we are doing as we go along is to look into our own minds and measure ourselves against the ideal self we are trying to grow into.
This focus can be distorted if it is used as a self-criticism based on some kind of perfectionism. It can work against us if we use our ideals as a source of inner pain and disorganization. Instead, we reflectively examine our experiences, which include the reactions of other people, and we use our wish to grow as a reference point for decisions and actions. We are becoming someone that is evolving out of who we are right now. And we just need to know that we are going in the right direction, even if we have a long way to go to reach the state of being our “own perfect person.”