I need you to go with me on this, cause it is going to get a little bit weird (just a little, I promise).
The other night, when I couldn’t sleep, I found myself amused at the idea of creating a version of myself that I could build into a computer game (like the SIMS) for other people to play. I started thinking about all the different personality characteristics and behavioural quirks that I would include.
I found myself particularly amused by the idea that for my digital self to be an interesting character, I’d need to program in some of my real world flaws. He’d be boring if he was well adjusted. And so, I started thinking about what I’d program in – a healthy dose of self-doubt + constant need for validation + lack of trust in other’s assessments of me. That would make my character constantly seek approval but get angry when he does. That struck me as funny.
Admittedly I went down a bit of a rabbit hole exploring all my perceived (and maybe actual) flaws and how I’d include them in my digital self. I think the combination of lack of sleep and seeming randomness of the idea made it funnier to me than documenting one’s flaws would typically be.
When I woke up the next day, the idea was still with me, but had flipped. I was pondering which aspects of my real-world character I liked and would bake into my digital self.
That led me to the thought experiment that is captured in the title of this post.
The idea is this. Imagine that the life you are currently leading is Version 1 of ‘you’. You get approached (by some mysterious but convincing individuals) and told that you can be involved in programming Version 2 of ‘you’. This Version 2 of you is still basically you, but you have the chance to make some upgrades, a bit like you might upgrade a piece of software. Now I think the natural tendency is to start by focusing of what you’d ‘fix’ in Version 2, but I encourage you to instead start with what aspects of Version 1 you would carry forward. What are the parts of you that you’d like to remain? What are the parts of you that you would protect during the upgrade?
I found these difficult questions to answer and at present only have a handful of things: sense of humour, creative streak, book smarts, appreciate the beauty of nature. But the cool thing is, having asked myself the question, I continue to contemplate it, and try to find aspects of myself that I would retain in designing a Version 2 of myself. Because the process stuck with me, I thought I’d share here.
Psychology as a discipline has spent a lot of time identifying, classifying and finding ways to treat psychopathology. Essentially my clinical training was exactly that. Psychologists are good at locating things to fix.
But I’m definitely seeing a shift in the discipline towards helping people identify what about themselves is working well, their strengths, their positive capacities. A good example of a tool that does this is the VIA – a survey of character strengths that I use in my work (it is built into the Be Well Plan that I am a facilitator of).
“The VIA Survey of Character Strengths is a free self-assessment that takes 10 minutes and provides a wealth of information to help you understand your best qualities. VIA Reports provide personalized, in-depth analysis of your free results, including actionable tips to apply your strengths to find greater well-being.”
The VIA Character Survey helps you identify character traits that you both believe are important and manifest in the way you live your life. One reason I think it is helpful is that many of us lack the language to describe our strengths. The survey results give us that language, and shift the self-reflective process away from identifying what we think we need to fix about ourselves to what we can celebrate about ourselves.
If you notice a strong tendency to always focus on your flaws, consider completing the free VIA or even attempting my strange though experiment. It may feel weird at first to consider the parts of you that you want to keep, but see if you can stick with and formulate a more balanced view of your strengths and challenges.