Wind Up Girl, Tel Aviv, 2015
Wind Up Girl, Tel Aviv, 2015


I’m starting to think that February is a month that brings with it a certain amount of unavoidable stress. There are a couple of contributing factors. First, we’re all sick of winter. Next, though February isn’t particularly busy, the spring ushers in a time of busy-ness for just about all of us. So we sit here in February, maybe slightly disgruntled by the persistent drumbeat of winter, and look toward the bright rebirth of spring both in anticipation and in dread. So we find ourselves carrying some stress. Maybe.

Here’s something I now understand about stress that I don’t think I’ve always understood. When we’re stressed we tend to act based on certain default settings that each of us. Stress in an intense phenomenon that each of us experiences in a slightly different way. Think about where people “hold” stress. Some clench their jaws, some have stomach aches, others clench fists. Similarly, each of us handles stress differently. The common thread is that stress pushes towards those default settings. What I’ve decided to call the “automatic self.”

I wonder if it’s safe to say that most people think that the automatic self– the self that reacts based on nature, nurture, memory, and instinct, is an expression of who we really are. No filters. No super ego. Just the pure unadulterated self. I can understand why people think this way. But I completely disagree.

I think our truest self is the antithesis of the automatic self. Our truest self is the self that looks the automatic self in the face and says, “down boy.” Our truest self isn’t automatic. It’s intentional, constructed, reflective, purposeful, and deliberate.

Unfortunately, the idea that our automatic self shows who we really are goes hand in hand with the idea that we reveal our true nature when we’re at our worst. When our selfishness bubbles up, or we don’t listen to a loved one, or we become bossy. As you might imagine, I categorically reject this idea as well.

So next time I feel my automatic self coming through the door I’m going to try and greet him there and have a conversation. We’ll see how it goes.

The Automatic Self