The Matrix is one of my favourite movies. It’s such a deeply philosophical piece of work and it resonates with me at a visceral level.
There are so many layers to the movie and of course, some fantastic actions scenes. The thing is it’s not the action scenes that get me, I particularly love those scenes early in the movie where Neo, the main character, is a little lost. Neo is living what seems to be a perfectly normal and acceptable life, but deep down, he knows, he just knows that something isn’t quite right. He can’t put his finger on it, and so he just gets on with the everyday pattern of life. But deep within him there is an unease, an expectation of something different, a desire for something better.
As the movie progresses Neo finds out that his instinct was right. The patterned life that he was leading, was an illusion, created by an Artificial Intelligence to keep him in servitude. Everything he thought he was and everything his life was, was constructed for him, a mirage!
Wow, great entertainment, but what’s that got to do with real life, you might ask. Well, you see, I think it has quite a lot to do with real life and the lives of many of us live, whether as individuals, business owners, or leaders. How often do we simply follow a path, that is in many ways constructed for us, leading to a life that seems almost inevitable, a pre-set pattern? Do well at school, go to Uni, get a great profession, start a business make a shed load of money, work for 30 or 40 years, then retire for some happiness. The thing is, that often as we go through this life, living this pre-set pattern, it’s OK, we’re doing OK, but, if we listen, listen deeply to our unconscious we might find that it’s not OK, something is missing.
We might find ourselves, for example, in senior leadership positions or as owners of businesses that are hugely successful – but they don’t feed our soul. The result might be that materially we have a very successful life, with all the material rewards, houses, cars, holidays etc. Sometimes though, this can come at huge personal cost. If the business we lead, doesn’t fulfil a purpose that is aligned with our values, then every day we turn up to lead it, a tiny bit of our soul is crushed.
For some of you reading this, you are perfectly happy with your life on all levels and there is probably little for you to gather from this article. That’s OK, congratulations, perhaps you have found and are living a life of purpose – if so, spread the message! For those of you, that have that niggling feeling, the question is how do you break out of your Matrix? The answer is, it’s pretty simple, but it’s not easy.
You have to get to know yourself, you, the real you, as you are at this moment.
“Know thy self”
Inscription in the forecourt of The Temple of Apollo
How do you get to know yourself, what does that mean?
Modern life, for many of us is a long series of distractions. Meetings, deadlines, internet, TV, social media etc. We are overly stimulated and under aware. Simply, but again, not easily, we need to slow down and pay attention. We need to pay attention to ourselves physically, we need to pay attention to ourselves mentally and we need to pay attention to ourselves emotionally. Any of the physical, mental or emotional realms can offer us a way to get to know ourselves.
Physically, modern life has taken us away from our natural abilities. Many of us spend most of our days sitting, hunched over a computer or laptop, tightening our shoulders, hips and hamstrings. We no longer move we the grace and poise of our ancestors. So, what do we do to correct this? Engage in any of the movement disciplines and you will gradually become more bodily aware. Yoga, gymnastics, dancing and martial arts, all offer the chance to recover essential physicality and increase your self- awareness. Start a movement practice by walking more, seriously, from an evolutionary perspective, we are designed to walk great distances, slowly.
Mental over-stimulation surrounds us and keeps us in an artificially heightened state, which raises our cortisol levels. Not a great position to be clear minded or in touch with what matters to us. Given that the pace of modern life is unlikely to slow down, how do we regain control of our thoughts, how do we calm our racing minds? We build down time into our daily schedule. We unplug, we breathe and perhaps we meditate. At the very least we learn to sit still, and notice. Notice our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions. As we increase the regularity of our practice, we will notice patterns of thought and if we pay attention to these patterns we start to learn about ourselves, we develop our self-awareness.
Emotional self-awareness, again, simply but not easily, comes from paying attention to our “gut- feeings”. We know, when we are living a life that is right for us, it feels right, deep in our gut. We also know when we are living a life that is not right for us, but often, sadly, we override this, and this is often when we get that “sinking feeling” in our gut. The key is to live a life that is aligned with your values. Of course, this assumes that you are consciously aware of your values. If not, you can increase your awareness of your values by considering what matters to you, what’s important to you about how you see the world.
We’ve talked about, the physical, mental and emotional separately, but of course they are not separate, you are a unified being and all these realms interlink. The Cartesian separation of mind and body is an illusion, much like the Matrix! You can, however get to know yourself by increasing your self-awareness in any of the realms. As you become more bodily aware, for example, you may notice that you become more aware of your thoughts, as you become more aware of your thoughts you may find you become more aware of your emotions.
As business leaders or owners, it serves us cultivate our physical, mental and emotional fitness, through our increased self-awareness. This will help us to create and lead businesses that add great value and bring us joy.
Join us and break out of your personal Matrix!
Sean O’Leary is founder and Chief Wonderer of Fit to Lead, a movement that teaches members how to be their best in life and business.