the spirit-level analogy

• 4 min read
the spirit-level analogy

I mentioned this during one of the INF Summit conversation (I think…) and it’s an analogy I’ve been talking about for a while now.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been very aware of how I‌ have felt. Around my late teens, when I was seeking some answers, I got really into self-help and psychology books, eventually going on to study a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology after 5 years of working in “the City”.

I consumed and consumed, desperately seeking the answer(s).

What I’ve realised as time has gone on, though, is that as an INFP I am just really sensitive. Highly-attuned to how I feel from moment to moment.

I also like to feel in control, and I can get carried away with trying to get all of my ducks in a row (there are a lot of ducks and a lot of rows!). For a while, now, the big duck, if you like, has been my work situation.

I have definitely invested way too much of my identity, sense of happiness, and projected future happiness, into this whole work thing.

In the worst of moments, it’s lead to burning out, isolation, and hours upon hours of screen-time. Not happiness.

Which brings me onto the spirit-level analogy.

Builders use a tool known as a spirit-level to measure out and construct horizontal (and vertical) surface.

Even if the surface is just a millimetre off of being straight, the liquid will topple to one side and the spirit-level will no longer be, well, level. It looks like this:

photo: OpenClipart-Vectors / pixabay

Well, you see, as highly sensitive beings us INFPs and INFJs have such finely-tuned dials that even the smallest sense of an off-feeling can cause us to feel a little meh. That feeling of meh is just that, it might morph into a bigger meh but it’ll still just be that… a ‘meh’.

What I was doing in the past, though, was feeding these little meh’s and telling myself that I was fundamentally unhappy.

Even now, I’ll have these meh moments crop up. It might be after I’ve had an unpleasant conversation with someone; or if I’ve spent too many hours cooped-up indoors on my computer; or I’ve not got enough sleep; or if I’ve gone too many days without exercise or sufficient movement.

For so long I have told myself that happiness looks a certain way, and “once this, this and this has been fixed, well then I will be happy”.

Or, “once I’ve mastered this area of my life, then I will be happy.”

I feel, though, that this is a fallacy.

We’ll naturally go through cycles in mood, and in experiencing these meh moments. For me, a lot of these moments are quite small, or a series of small ones, and I know exactly why I am feeling this way. Don’t get me wrong, now and then there’s something which has snowballed into a BIG meh (such as when I was working in the City and was just overwhelmed, unfulfilled and creatively-lacking) when we are actually unhappy, and our intuition tells us that a big change is needed.

Today, I consciously choose not to absorb too much information and obsess so much over my personal growth and happiness, but rather I try to keep the foundations in check.

That way, my spirit-level is kept reasonably straight, if it still tilts a little bit… or even if it tilts a lot.

I have realised that, when this happens, more often than not it is my own foolish doing and can be attributed to something(s) I’ve been doing too much of recently, or something(s) I’ve not been doing much of.

In the past, if I felt off (‘meh’), I immediately started to question why and would tell myself:

“I am feeling unhappy, because I am missing [x] big thing from my life.”

For a long time, this “big thing” was the work situation.

These days, I try to notice what’s happening and stop myself from thinking that my life as a whole needs fixing, that I need a complete overhal (#panicstations) or thinking that “I need to urgently do THIS (or get to THIS place) in order for me to feel happy.”

(e.g. “I need to have a self-sustaining business, and then I will find happiness.” Not true, Jas!)

Yes, having a work-setup of this kind probably will be a contributing factor to my happiness.

But if I put ‘all of my eggs-in-one basket’ as it were, doing this creates quite a dangerous ideal which can lead to my hyper-focusing and burning myself out (or, neglecting ‘the big picture’).

A healthier alternative is to take each day as it comes, well-rested and with the right balance and sprinkling of ingredients (sleep, movement, being outside, work, play, etc)… this is because, the more days I have like that, the happier I feel.

In fact, to me, that’s what happiness is. Just feeling well in the moment. As if the spirit-level is balanced. Even if I might experience some moments of turbulence, I can look back on my day and think “You know what… I’m actually OK. No - I’m better than OK. I am at peace, I am content.”

That seems to be far more in tune with my happiness than focusing on ‘what’s missing’, and burrowing a hole (or multiple holes) to get to this ‘new place’ of happiness which doesn’t exist.

Also in the context of working on historical stuff (for those who have experienced therapy, or even if you have not - I feel this is useful for all of us intuitive INFs), at any moment in time, it feels really useful to ask myself:

“How am I feeling right now? What is my spirit-level looking like?”

PS. Oh, and btw, that first question is actually one of the three you’ll find in Jacob Nordby’s ‘Creative Self Journal’, which I started doing this week and I’m really enjoying. It’s the best mini-guide (it’s so digestible) on journalling that I’ve read, and the 3 prompting questions are so simple but so magical.



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