Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life: Part 6

In the first part of Chapter 2, “Who Am I Today?” begin to examine who you are so that you can be sure that you are following your dreams, and not someone else’s.
You can access the already published posts here

Who Am I Today?

Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your LifeLet’s assume you want to change your life in some fairly significant way. You want to lose weight, transform a reserved personality into one you think others will admire, earn a graduate degree, or start proceedings for a long- delayed divorce. Before those things can happen, however, you have to start with who you are today — heavier than you’d like to be, shy, without a degree, still married.

Pretending otherwise is a bit like asking Map Quest to give you driving directions to your destination from a different street than the one you live on, or even from a different city. You may want to be someplace else. You may be heading there. You may firmly believe your life will be better when you get there — and one day you may arrive to find it perfectly to your liking. But today you are who you are and where you are. even if you’re lost, acknowledging that fact can stop you from going around in circles.

The problem with acknowledging where you are, however, is that you often don’t know where you are because you can’t see the wider picture.

Several years ago, when in the midst of a disagreement with a friend about what I thought was true, and she did not, she said, “You may think your opinion is based on reality, but it’s just your opinion. Don’t you know that your perception creates your reality?” “No,” I responded, “Reality is what is. I am only responding to what is there. You are the one who doesn’t see things as they are.”

Do I live my life doing what I like doing so much that it recharges my batteries, even when I’m too tired to do anything else?
If I don’t live this way, how have I allowed myself to live less intensely and less fully than I could?
How can I awaken my heart and live with passion?

Today I realize she was right. I was focusing on the word “reality” and missed the concept of “your reality.” I didn’t know that what I relied on for the “truth” about the world, was only that which I had seen with my eyes, heard with my ears, and felt in my body. The fact is that all of us accept as “real” and “valid” only those concepts to which we’ve been introduced and that seem to make sense to us. Therefore, while reality may be what is, whether or not we perceive it accurately, we incorporate into our lives only that part of the sum total of reality that we hold in our consciousness.

However, once we recognize that perhaps, just perhaps, everything in our powerful, invisible “back- pack” does not accurately represent all of what is, or what is possible, we open the door to moving clos- er to our true selves and our best potential. And one of the simplest and easiest ways to experience more of what is true (that is, easier once we’ve practiced this a few times) is to follow the advice we hear all the time. Live in the moment. Be here now. forget the past. Don’t worry about the future. Live with awareness.

All these injunctions are important if we are to move our brains off autopilot. To create new neuronal pathways, you need to stop using the old ones. The neurons of guilt that continue to fire when you cling to memories of the past, and the neurons of worry that are fired when you fear what might happen in the future, can’t fire when you stay in the moment.

When you’re focused on what is happening now, this mo- ment, you are erecting a detour sign in the brain’s well-worn pathways to the past and future. if, rather than going down those roads, you consciously see, hear, taste, smell, and touch what is right here, right now, you automatically disconnect guilt and worry neurons. That allows you to turn on new neurons of acceptance of what is, not what you hope is true, but what is going on right now in this moment in your life.

• • • • •

Am I Willing to be Totally
Honest with Myself?

Therapists are trained not to believe everything their clients tell them, nor to doubt everything either. That’s a good thing, for as any therapist can tell you, honesty is a hard commodity to come by when clients initially enter therapy, and the same can be true when they begin work with a coach. Some want to impress the “authority” figure. Some are so used to putting on a false front that they can’t stop even in the presence of some- one who can help them learn to live more authentically. others want to deflect any responsibility for their situation onto others because in the past they’ve been humiliated or punished excessively when they did something wrong. Then there are those who, unfortunately, were not raised to be honest, having been allowed to get by with whatever they could. Still others deny their negative qualities (and even their good ones) because they genuinely do not see them, for it can take time to recognize what is often called “our shadow side,” both positive and negative.

Alcoholics and drug abusers are great at lying to themselves, and to others. in fact, one of the major reasons some people have difficulty in staying with any alcohol or drug recovery program is that honesty is required if it’s going to work, and addicts don’t have much experience in that arena. They’ve become very clever at hiding the truth.

When is it most difficult for me to be honest? Why?
When is it easiest for me to tell the truth? Why?

If you want your life to change, telling the truth about yourself is the best policy, even if it’s hard to do. And if you think others won’t approve of how you answer the questions in this book, just remember that there isn’t any authority, parent, child, boss, or friend looking over your shoulder and giving you a sincerity test here. You get to choose which questions you will answer. You are the only one who needs to know how you’ve answered them. There is no one to impress, or disappoint, but yourself.

So the only thing to do is to be totally, completely honest with yourself. it is the equivalent of opening your backpack and looking at whatever you find there. if you do this with an open mind, you’ll not waste your time, energy and, if you’re seeing a therapist or coach, money. The only person whose opinion about “who you are” really matters is you. Give your opinions with honesty and appreciation for all the good things you’ve accomplished and the lessons you’ve learned.

Imagine you are asked to write the story of your life in three chapters titled:
  • What Has Happened To Me Up Until Now?
  • What Is Happening Right Now?
  • What Do I Expect Will Happen In The Future?

What would be the first sentence you would write for each of these chapters?

What Story Do I Most Like to Tell About My Life?

Every story we tell about ourselves is chosen for a particular purpose. We may tell a story so that in the telling of it we can make sense of what is happening in our corner of the world (or in the whole uncertain world in which we find ourselves today). Often in the beginning of the story we may not know how we’ll feel by the end because we’re listening to ourselves and figuring it out as we go along. In most stories, however, we are clear about what it is we believe about ourselves — and we want others to see us as we see ourselves.

Our egos love to share stories based on everything we carry in our backpack. Some of us enjoy telling stores of what we have accomplished. our listeners may be impressed with how confident we seem. others of us, even though we may not be quite sure of ourselves, can pull off a good story to make it appear that we’ve got our act together. It is through our stories that others see us as a loser or a winner, as secure or lacking self-confidence, as generous or stingy.

A story of past injustice is told to let others know how wronged we were, how we were a victim of cruel circumstances, and how our response was the only logical thing to do. As we tell our story, we let others know — through our tone of voice, the words we choose, our gestures and our posture — the parts of the story we want them to remember.

Recently we had dinner with a highly successful businessman who told one fantastic story after the other about his exploits. Each of them was interesting, in and of itself. As the centerpiece for conversation with a table of ten, however, it was too much. If the purpose of his stories was to let us know he was successful, he succeeded. But if the purpose was to connect more closely with us, it didn’t work. On the ride home we decided that he was what one might call “a little full of himself.” I wondered why he felt it important for us to know so much about him. Perhaps he was more insecure than he wanted his stories to convey.

Stretching the Truth

Since there are so many stories that reflect lives that are more colorful than the ones we live, we may be tempted to insert into our stories experiences that never happened. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books (and countless résumés) that present the author’s life as though he or she is more brilliant, more lucky, more creative, and more educated than he or she actually is.

It is not surprising story-tellers view their lives as thin and inconsequential when viewed in comparison to stories they hear on TV and see in the movies. if we could look beyond the spin of even the most sterling of our idols, however, we might discover that the story we hear is not really the whole story. for example, In the Shadow of Fame: A Memoir by the Daughter of Erik H. Erikson illustrates how the private life of a very famous person was far from the picture he wanted us to see.

Without turning her famous psychoanalyst father — who extended Freud’s stages of development to encompass the entire life span and who was highly regarded as an icon of childhood development theory — into a wicked father, Sue Erikson Bloland shares the reality of his life. This included the birth of a son with Down Syndrome who was institutionalized and never spoken of in the family or in public, and a work- obsessed father whose family life was designed to revolve around him. He was effective in presenting his life, but only as long as he controlled the telling of it.

Family Myths

One of the most interesting forms of story-telling is the story a family tells about a member of the family, or perhaps an event, that demonstrates how the family responds to triumphs and traumas. We all have such stories tucked away in our backpacks. They let others know that “our” family is special in some particular way. These stories are repeated over the years until everyone gets the point: The qualities of the people in our story are significant characteristics of our family! The story doesn’t necessarily have to be true, which is why it is called a family “myth,” but it does need to express an emotional lesson for members of the family.

Thus, one family may conclude that Grandma’s shrewd decision to withdraw money from the stock market in August of 1929, two months before the market crashed and the Great Depression began, means she was clever. When this story is told, there is a clear implication that women in the family are astute and shrewd. The truth may be that she had merely cashed out her stocks to buy a farm and the timing just happened to be convenient.

In another family, stories are told each time something unfortunate happens, making the case that their family always has “bad luck.” Consequently, the members of that family don’t have to look for, or acknowledge, the part their poor choices play in undesired outcomes. Any evidence that they, themselves, may contribute to what happens to them is ignored in favor of an interpretation in which “bad luck” is responsible.

Chapter Two will be continued next week.

Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life is reprinted here by permission.

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