Rebellion Practice

"I just demonstrated to myself and the world around me that I'm not controlled by it."
--Stephen Guise, from How to Be an Imperfectionist

I just finished a striking little book: How to Be an Imperfectionist by Stephen Guise. First of all, let me recommend it--highly--to Casual Kitchen readers. Today I'd like to share just one of the many, many good ideas in it: The idea of practicing "rebellion."

First, a little background. Guise's book is for people who struggle with perfectionism, and one of the central themes of his book is to stop letting your perfectly reasonable desire to do things "well" freeze you from doing things at all.

That our desire to "do things well" could actually subvert us might be a counterintuitive idea for some readers. But think about it: if you can't do something well, it's, well, kind of embarrassing. Our egos hate the idea that other people will see us suck--perhaps suck badly--at something. As a result, our egos will generally try to protect us from embarrassment by giving us rationalizations for not trying in the first place. And of course these rationalizations always seem like real reasons in the moment. No one who rationalizes realizes it--that's how rationalizing works. In fact if you look at this through the lens of evolutionary psychology, this ego activity could even be seen as a survival mechanism.

However, if you think about what the source of that embarrassment is, it's our internal assumptions about other peoples' expectations. So, the idea of "practicing rebellion" gets at rejecting or even defying those expectations. As well as our own.

Thus practicing rebellion means seeking out rejection, discomfort and even embarrassment. It means, as I once phrased it here in another post, "running towards humps." And it means not being a good little boy (or girl), obediently doing all the things we're told to do by our egos, by our peer group, by our modern consumer-driven society, and so on. Rebel.

It's up to you to choose what your rebellion might be, and you can feel free to start small. In his book, Stephen Guise shares some modest examples of his own, such as lying down in public places, singing out loud in public, or talking to strangers.

I'll confess, neatniks like me can't lie down in public places, and I definitely don't want to subject the world to my singing. As far as talking to strangers, that's such a perfectly normal behavior for me that I'd have to rebel the other way and not talk to strangers. The point, of course, is to each his own. You have to pick the type of rebellion that suits you.

Here's a list of possible ways you might practice rebellion, some cribbed directly from Guise's book, others I brainstormed on my own. Feel free to add your own ideas!

Rebelling against a typical way of living
Rebelling against any standard or expectation
Rebelling against "play-it-safe" living
Rebelling against the urge to seek acceptance or approval from others.
Rebelling against expected comportment in a given situation
Rebelling against consumerism, against solving problems by making a purchase
Rebelling against talking about politics or the media's latest outrage du jour
Rebelling against standard relationship types (not marrying, etc.)
Rebelling against the dietary conventions of those around you
Rebelling against fashion or clothing conventions (have an unusual hairstyle or clothing)
Rebelling against gadget trends
Rebelling against Facebook or other false/artificial ways to be "connected"
Rebelling against concern over mistakes
Take a sabbatical in the middle of a successful career
Drive a crappy car, even if you can afford a nice one
Have a radically unusual hobby or pastime
Put yourself into odd or uncomfortable social situations deliberately

... and so on.

Note that we can already surmise a few major side benefits from some of these practices. For example, practicing rebellion against consumerism will make you wealthy. Practicing rebellion against things like discussing politics will make you happier. And so on. What's not to like?

Toward your own identity
The point is to run toward that flinch/embarrassment reflex that we all have rather than shying away from it (for more on the flinch see here and here). Consider it a daily kata to train our egos to become less fragile to embarrassment and the perceived judgment of others.

As Stephen Guise phrases it: "It's very desirable to have a desensitized embarrassment reflex, because it brings you freedom."

What he means is here is this is a step towards finding your own identity. Most of us simply participate, without realizing it, in a set of behaviors and identity characteristics established for us by our society, peers and family. So, by choosing to rebel against this "imposed identity" which has been set for you by others, you become more free to seek out an identity that's truly and inherently you.

Obviously rebellion practice can be done at any level, and I encourage you to think about it both metaphorically and literally, and practice your own acts of "rebellion" to the level you consider appropriate.

"Those who need approval don't know who they are." - Stephen Guise

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