Our goals are not important to us in the way that we think they are (and say that they are), our goals are important to us because we use them to define ourselves. Thus, as we successfully approach the goal we become ‘defined in a positive way’ by this success. We are our ‘successful approaching or attaining of the goal’ therefore, and that’s why the goal is so very important to us. That’s why winning is so very important to us. When I say something like ‘I want so much to win’ or ‘winning is so very important to me’ this is pure and utter redundancy therefore – of course winning is ultimately important to me. Winning is ultimately important to me because I am ultimately important to me. It’s the same thing. There’s no difference. We hold it to be the case that it is a fine thing, an admirable thing, a very healthy thing, to have a strong desire to succeed – the stronger the better, in fact. We would tend to regard those who aren’t motivated so much to succeed as being lacking in some essential element in their character – ambition, or the urge to succeed. And yet – as we have just said – if winning is so very important to me, then this simply means that I am ‘so very important to me’. I am craving to be defined, my ego is craving existence (the fact that my ego can’t have existence because it’s only a ‘made up thing’ only serves to inflame the craving more even more). We all want what we haven’t got, to be sure, but – as it is often said – we want what we can’t have most of all. We want it with a desperation that can move mountains!
As we have suggested, the most obvious way to ‘become defined’ is in terms of our successful approach to the goal. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, it just matters that the goal should matter. That’s all that’s needed for the mechanism of ‘identity reification’ to come into play. This is a of course the principle behind all games – we all know this principle, we all know that the trick is to say that the goal is important, that the goal matters, and then never look back at why we have said it is important, why we have said that it matters. There is no why – we could equally well have picked anything – all we need is a designated target and then this automatically creates the polarity of right and wrong, hit and miss, succeed and fail. So being ‘right’ (or ‘moving in the direction of getting it right’) is one way to get defined; the other (also fairly obvious) way is in terms of ‘getting it wrong’, or ‘moving in the direction of getting it wrong’. As everyone knows, there are two types of identity possible in a game – being a winner, and being a loser. Being a winner is a very good thing (although we can’t really say exactly why), just as being a loser is a very bad thing (although – again – we can’t say why exactly this is). Even though being ‘a loser-self’ is highly undesirable, this in itself serves as a motivation to continue with the game, since who is to say that one day we might not turn our bad luck around and become ‘a winner-self’ instead.
There is some trickery going on here however because this thing that we are chasing so fervently doesn’t really have any existence. So although we might naïvely think that being negatively defined as ‘a loser’ is not a good thing, and that it has nothing to recommend it, it is actually being a loser, or rather seeing oneself as a loser, that acts as the best motivation of all to continue the game. It’s super-charged motivation; as Emily Dickinson says, ‘Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne’er succeed.’
When one is negatively-defined as a loser; then somehow turning one’s luck around and becoming positively-defined instead seems like the most wonderful thing in the world. As far as we’re concerned, it is the most wonderful thing in the world – or rather it would be if it happened! Curiously, therefore, the actual existence of the defined-identity never seemed so real as it does to the ‘loser-self, the self that is not so doing so well in attaining the designated goal. We don’t for a second doubt that there is such a thing as a ‘successful self’ – the proof of this proposition being that we want it so badly! And by the same token, the fact that we don’t doubt for a second the reality of the positively-defined self means that we don’t doubt the existence of the negatively-defined self either. We don’t for a second doubt that there is such a thing as ‘losing’ and that there is such a thing as ‘a loser’ and we don’t doubt that this is what we are! What ‘loser’ doubts that they are indeed a loser? It is the fact that we are so completely sold on the idea that there is such a thing as ‘a successful self’ that keeps us locked into the painful fiction of ‘loser-self identification’.
Another development of the game is where we lose hope of ever making the much-anticipated transition from being a negatively-defined identity to being a positively-defined one. What is called ‘negative thinking’ sets in, doubt sets in, anxiety and despair set in. This is why ‘positive thinking’ is held in such high regard in our culture – because the idea that it is possible for there to be such a thing as ‘a happy and fulfilled self’ (a gloriously realised self) is so crucially important to us. This idea is sacrosanct, and it is for this reason the afflicted state of mind in which we no longer believe, in our heart of hearts, that such a happy outcome is indeed possible for us, is regarded by us with such pure horror. The concept of the ‘winner self’ – the self which has triumphantly broken through all obstacles and is now defined in a completely positive way – is a sacred cow to us and nothing frightens us more than having the possibility of that idol being knocked off his pedestal. We like to think that the deep-seated prejudice against people suffering from mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety is a thing of the past, or that it soon will be a thing of the past, but any changes in the cultural climate that have taken place are purely cosmetic – just as long as we are fixated in the way that we are on the notion of the positively-defined identity, we are always – deep-down – going to experience superstitious dread at the thought of anything that might fatally threaten the integrity of our dream. We are going to reach for our crucifix straightaway at the very mention of it.
No matter how enlightened we might fondly like to imagine we are in relation to ‘mental health’, we are back in the dark ages if we still link the situation of supposedly optimal mental health or well-being with the phantasmagorical fiction of the happy and correctly functioning defined-identity’! The notion of ‘a healthy ego which doesn’t doubt itself and which doesn’t have any problems in saying loudly what it thinks and striving single-mindedly for what it wants’ is buried deep in our unconscious and we aren’t about to challenge it any time soon. For us (both the person in the street, and the highly-educated ‘mental health professional’) the idea that healthy mental functioning has to be fundamentally linked with the idea of the successful ‘doer’ (i.e. the successful and unimpeded ‘carrier-out of actions’) is absolutely unquestionable. Everything is based on this; it’s not just our understanding of what mental health means that we are talking about here, but our understanding of life itself – is predicated upon the sacred cow of the defined identity, and the wonderful possibilities that this identity potentially has in store for it. We are ‘positive thinkers’ through and through, in other words – we won’t give up on the sacred cow.
The fulcrum for our whole worldview (as well as our view of what mental health consists of) is then this idea of the possibility of a successful/unimpeded doer, but this really is the biggest fantasy going. There is one very great restriction, one very great impedance which is permanently acting upon this ‘doer’ and that is the fact that it doesn’t exist. This – by any reckoning – has got to be considered a very significant ‘fly in the ointment’ as far as our prospective mental health goes! If I am to see myself as this ‘doer’ (or this ‘thinker’) then the so-called ‘mental health’ I am seeking to attain is the biggest impossibility there ever was or ever could be (and this isn’t just an example of ‘negative thinking’) It is not wise to base our well-being or mental health on the successful functioning of a fiction for the simple and very obvious reason that there is no such thing as ‘the successful functioning of a fiction’! Of what worth is the success of something that does not exist? What type of lunatics are we to pin everything upon this, and continue to pin everything on this?
‘Things are only going to be good’, we are saying (in effect), ‘when the impossible thing happens’. This is what we are waiting patiently (or not-so-patiently) for. This therefore is the big ‘favour’ that we are doing ourselves – we are making our well-being dependent upon an outcome that is never going to happen. This is what all our hysterical ‘positive thinking’ is all about – we’re struggling desperately to keep ourselves from seeing that the sacred cow we’ve pinned all our hopes on may not be such ‘sure fire’ thing after all. We think that we’re doing ourselves a favour, but really we’re ‘doing ourselves in’ – we’re playing the meanest trick on ourselves we ever could do. No enemy that we could ever possibly have could banjax us any more thoroughly than this!