Why We Fail To Pursue A More Purpose-Driven Profession

By Jake Kot

August 27, 2014   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

There is a wealth of books and blogs out there these days disclosing the latest findings on the how and why of our thinking. But even in this information-overload era we live in, the stats for those living a life less desired, especially in their work-life, still remain to be absurdly high. One wonders what’s missing. As an answer to this, let me shed some personal insights on the “why” of this conundrum by sharing these “not-so-obvious” reasons behind your inability to revamp yourself, your work, and your life. I’m also convinced the answers to these dilemmas once you have actually thought about them will become self-evident.

Semantic Memory

Think for a moment how many times you have read an inspiring passage from a blog or a book that seemed to spark something inside of you, or an idea that came to you triggered by a conversation or a video that caught your attention. Now, think about how many of those internal sparks or ideas you had simply vanished. In the moment, you were inspired and potentially excited about taking some action to better your present circumstances. But over an all too short period of time, almost without noticing, those pearls of possibility are gone and everything continues to remain the same.

What I would consider to be one of the main culprits in this scenario is known as semantic memory, termed by psychologist Endel Tulving. In a nutshell, semantic memory refers to information and ideas you have learned intellectually, but are devoid of any personal experience beyond that. What this leads to is best described by the alternate name for semantic memory, short-term memory. Because you haven’t in some way fully experienced what you have learned or associated it with something in your life, it slips away and jeopardizes or ends any possibilities that may have ensued. It quite simply fades from your conscious state.

This certainly was not your intention. You were diligent in your efforts to learn something new, but the necessary follow-through gets lost within your day-to-day shuffle laced with distractions and you continue down the same treadmill probably asking yourself, once again, why?

There is an old saying. Knowledge is power. What’s been learned over time is the framework of that statement is flawed. Knowledge is not power. It “becomes” power when action is taken on it. Some type of personal experience synthesized with what you have come up with or learned opens the door for your thoughts and enlightenment’s to last, which in essence broadens the possibility for action being taken. But without giving some attention to this we foster semantic memory where brain connections are not made and memory is not stored, thus, action is not taken and potential opportunities for change become severely diminished.

Believe into a Belief

There is a difference between what you believe, and your beliefs, and here’s why it’s important that you understand that difference. This subtle difference in the framing of these words and understanding the contrasting planes they represent is a way of experiencing the difference between thinking about an action, “believing” you can do it, and actually turning that proposed action into its physical equivalent and making it a reality. Here’s how this works.

A “belief” is something that is built over time and exists in your subconscious realm, such as a belief in God, or Universal Laws. For that to happen, it involves a time-warranted set of experiences and affirmations. When you state you believe something can happen, it’s an excellent start, but it’s momentary. As an example, let’s take the statement; I believe I can quit smoking. The overtones of that statement need to be acknowledged. If “I’m” hearing someone make that statement, by no means am I convinced in any way that it will absolutely happen. What I hear is someone’s intention to quit smoking, and time will tell whether it comes into fruition, or not. The word “believe” in their statement is acting as a goal rather than representing a finite “belief,” something that would be irrefutable in your eyes.

Here’s another way of looking at this. Saying you “believe” something in my eyes is analogous to positive thinking. It’s not something that’s definitive in your life as much as it’s kind of mentally setting yourself on the right track. (Definitive was the key word there) Don’t misunderstand me. There’s nothing flawed with having a positive outlook. But how many times have you taken workshops, or made resolutions vowing to improve yourself only to find that months later, nothing has really changed? And that’s my point.

To create a life change, especially a life-work change, it has to become one of your “beliefs,” something that is built over time and has moved from a temporary conscious decision to a subconscious affirmation. Neurologists have stated time and time again that we are in subconscious mode 80 to 90 percent of the time. That being the case, making a decision to create a change in your life through constructing a “belief” (something you have programmed into your subconscious) seriously ups the odds for it to become a reality. If you take the time to reflect on past moments in your life that actually had a successful outcome, you’ll begin to understand that you have ran this process before. This change in awareness of the implications of these two words is a subtle, “not-so-obvious” step that could make all the difference.

The Unrealized Physical Component

Think about this statement. I just don’t feel up to what I know is going to be a serious challenge. Every one of us has experienced that feeling more times than we’d like to admit. Obviously, there could be many reasons behind that kind of mindset. But the bottom line is something is just not right, and you’re not exactly sure why. You feel off for some reason, and that puts a halt to any kind of need to take action. Here’s an observation you may not have been aware of.

The stress that almost naturally comes along with any big decision, much less a life-changing decision, goes without saying. It’s common knowledge that stress can be debilitating, and we have heard this spoken to time and time again. But more recent studies in neuroscience have shown that the stress phenomenon actually goes much deeper, affecting not only on your mental state, but your physical state as well.

Here’s a quote from the book Mind Over Medicine written by Lissa Rankin, M.D. “When your body is in the middle of a stress response, your body’s self-maintenance and self-repair functions come to a screeching halt.” Quite simply put, many of the internal defense mechanisms your body owns to keep you feeling centered and stable are on hold, ergo, you start to feel off, or out of sync if you will.

That same stress an anxiety can also physically affect your nervous system, musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and your gastrointestinal system. And what’s the outcome of all of this? The best answer I can give you is one way or another, you’ll feel physically ill at ease, and that uncomfortable state can stop you in your tracks. It was not due to you simply being lazy or lethargic, or unmotivated. It was literally a physical manifestation triggered by chemical reactions in your body. You can literally feel that things are not right.

This in my eyes is an excellent example of a not-so-obvious symptom of why we tend to stagnate without being clear on why. In the midst of important decisions it becomes imperative to understand that your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs can literally alter your body’s physiology. The state of your thinking can actually alter your health and potentially impede your ability and desire to move forward. This is tricky territory for sure, but its legitimacy has been well founded by credible scientific research. I hope you’re beginning to see the value of watching where your thoughts are leading you, as well as the consequences of living in stress-city.

Your Reticular Activating System

Your Reticular Activating System (R.A.S) is a network of neurons and neural fiber that is connected to the spinal cord and runs through the brain stem to the midbrain. Its functions are many, but there seems to be agreement that it is first and foremost acknowledged as a mental filter.

For clarity’s sake, let’s look at it this way. Your subconscious mind is like a
sponge. It picks up data from all of your interactions. Your R.A.S. is constantly
filtering your conscious thoughts for what has been programmed (through
diligence and affirmations) into your subconscious. So if the information
coming in matches your subconscious programming, the R.A.S. confirms and
it remains in your conscious state as relevant information. It’s kind of like the experience of making a decision to buy a new car, and then all of a sudden (due to R.A.S.) you’re now noticing that particular vehicle everywhere you go. In essence, R.A.S. is the attention center of the brain. It’s providing the connections needed for processing what you have deemed to be relevant.

In that light, here’s what you seriously need to consider. If for whatever reason you have programmed yourself with affirmations such as; 1) Nothing ever comes my way. 2) I’m not the type of person that can beat the odds. 3) I don’t ever get a break. 4) I’m not sure if I even deserve a break. These projections are what your R.A.S. is set up to let through from your subconscious state into your conscious realm when a fitting scenario transpires. This becomes your programming. If opportunities arise, R.A.S. will do its job and filter out those opportunistic experiences as they don’t mesh with your programming. Said another way, you’ll simply pass by a potential opportunity without even being conscious of the reason for passing it by.

Think of the ramifications of this. If your image of yourself is in the negative, the gatekeeper (R.A.S.) will continue to let the negative experiences in, and do its best to filter out potential positive ones. That’s what it’s designed to do, react to your programming. Obviously, it would be wise to seriously consider what you have programmed. For the record, this is no longer mere conjecture, but an agreed upon fact due to the extensive research that has been done with today’s technology in the world of neuroscience on the relationship between your conscious and subconscious states.

The Jonah Complex

This might be the most illogical reason of the lot. The Jonah Complex, named after the biblical character Jonah, was conceived by psychologist Abraham Maslow. In essence, the complex represents fearing our best as much as we fear our worst. My reference to “illogical” is my fascination with how one gets to the point of actually shunning (fearing) some sort of success, which seems almost non-sensible.

The complex itself more explicitly refers to the avoidance of pursuing our true destiny, or calling. It represents our reluctance to achieve greatness, to fulfill our potential purpose in life. For some, the fear of success becomes overwhelming. It could be a fear of responsibility, a fear of insecurity, a fear of potentially being outside the norm, or the fear of drawing attention. In addition, and especially in these times, another major fear of success is one’s opinion that friends, family, and colleagues would view us as arrogant for having such aspirations. Where do we get off having the nerve to follow our heart and pursue our passion in these times? How irresponsible of us! Peer pressure runs deep in our society and most certainly has the power to shut down our potential goals and aspirations.

Basically, it’s about the fear of losing control in some capacity. And the outcome of all this; the fear of success becomes as pervasive as the fear of failure. Maslow was a major contributor toward exposing the term “self-actualized.” Being self-actualized is a blend of psychological health and one’s devotion to their work, leading to maximum human effectiveness. He’s also known for the development of what he labeled humanistic psychology, which absolutely refuses to see people simply as machines operating “in response to environment.” One of the steps toward reaching self-actualization is having a real desire to uncover our psychological defenses to success and give them up, a more than relevant reason to be thinking about the consequences of the Jonah complex.

As I previously stated, the mere fact that you have thought about and considered these stumbling blocks that seem to slip under your radar is a giant step toward their elimination. Self-awareness is priceless.

Jake Kot is a freelance writer, author, and life/work coach. His site, The Art of Alternative Thinking found at www.JakeKot.com speaks to those desiring a life of design rather than default.

Jake Kot

I'm a freelance writer and published author. I'm also an Alternatives Coach as I've tabbed it, working with individuals looking to find or create a more purpose-driven job or profession.

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