Friday, August 31, 2007

How To Find Your Self

For almost as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be an organized person.  A successful person.  An attractive, charming, intelligent, friendly...  well, you get the idea.

But for an equally long time, I've felt frustrated at my seeming inability to actually be any of these things...  as opposed to "having" or "doing" them.

See, even if there were lots of situations in which I displayed some of these qualities, it never really felt like "me".  Those were just things I did, or qualities I had in some moment.  I never felt like I could say that I "am" organized, or friendly, or anything else.

And I tried a lot of things over the years, including buying an NLP book called "Transforming Your Self - Becoming Who You Want To Be", by Steve Andreas.  However, I never could get very far into the book from a practical perspective.  I read many chapters and understood the ideas intellectually, but I couldn't relate at all to the examples or exercises.

See, the book encourages you to begin understanding how your brain represents your self-concept, by considering how you think about some positive quality that you have.  And I found this very confusing...

Because I didn't seem to have any positive qualities!

And if I tried to use the example qualities in the book (like being "a kind person"), I could get an intellectual sense that maybe the quality applied, but I had no real connection to it and thus couldn't locate the mental "database" that the book said should exist for the quality.

So, maybe half a dozen times in the three and a half years since I bought the book, I've gone back to it and tried to get into it again, thinking that maybe this time, I'll be able to "get it" and actually change something about myself.

But the most recent time I did this, I got lucky.  I happened to open the book by accident to a later chapter, that I hadn't closely studied before: chapter 11, "Changing the "Not Self": Resolving the problems caused by...

"Thinking of who you are not!"

And as I read it, I began to understand what was going on with me.  All of my "qualities" databases were defined negatively.  For example, instead of thinking of myself as kind, I'd be more likely to think in terms of other people generally being unkind!

Desired qualities (like "being organized"), on the other hand, I thought of in terms of specific other people having the quality.  For example, if I thought of the quality "patience", I would picture some instances of my father being patient.  If I thought of "being organized", I would see images of my long-time business mentor being organized, and so on.

And nowhere among these mental images was there any representation of me actually displaying any qualities whatsoever.  When I tried to think of times when I had actually been organized or motivated or whatever, I mentally classified them as merely incidental situations, or perhaps as "abilities" that I had.

It seemed that, somehow, I had ended up with...

A self-image that didn't include my "self"!

Armed with this new insight, I started digging deeper into the book.  Unfortunately, the "Not Self" chapter mostly described what sort of problems could arise from this sort of self-concept (e.g. emptiness, disconnection, depression, paranoia, etc.) and spent very little time on how to change it!

And the one simple suggestion they did give (transforming negative examples into positive ones) didn't seem to work for me.  I could easily enough turn examples of other people doing good things into examples of me doing them, and turn examples of other people doing bad things into examples of me doing good things, but they never gelled into a self-concept; they still just felt like disconnected examples.

But I was still encouraged that I was generally on the right track.  Now I could shift my focus to what was stopping me from assembling a positive self-concept from my experiences and abilities.

After some experimentation, I gradually realized that I had a few qualities that I actually defined in a positive way -- as long as the characteristic itself was defined in terms of a distinction from other people.  For example, I viewed myself as having a refined taste in certain things -- but the sense of taste itself was defined by how it was different from other people's tastes!

So I began brainstorming and making notes of the issues that I found during my investigation, including such things as:

  • I tended to lean towards whatever qualities I have presently as being more "real" than qualities I had in the past -- if I'm fat now, then I'm fat, period, even though I've spent about a third of my life being slender and physically active.

  • I tended to think of any imperfection in a quality as meaning that I didn't "really" have that quality

  • I felt it would be too proud/arrogant (or at any rate, not humble) to claim good qualities as something inherent to me (because I was taught by my parents' religion that this would be a sin and send me straight to hell)

  • I felt like if I became too much like other people, I would lose my soul or sense of self altogether

Now I felt like I was getting somewhere.  At this point in my career as a personal development consultant, I have plenty of tools in my arsenal for dealing with these kinds of beliefs and problems.  If I could just knock these out, I'd be in good shape.

Now recently, I read a wonderful comment by Richard Bandler, about how pioneering family therapist Virginia Satir used to "always ask the right questions."  Apparently, if someone said they were shy, Bandler reported, she would never ask "stupid questions" like "How does that make you feel?"  Instead, he said, she would ask the best possible question you could ask in that situation:

"What Would Happen If You Weren't Shy?"

"What would happen if?" questions allow you to leapfrog your mental barriers, and find the missing pieces of the puzzle.  It forces you to imagine what it would be like to not have your problem.  And sometimes, just doing that alone is enough to make a difference.

More commonly, however, it will simply help you discover what your real problem is -- a solvable problem, instead of a place where you just run into a block and get stuck.

So I imagined what it would be like if I did manage to have a positive self-concept, thinking of myself as organized and various other things.  This immediately brought up several strong negative feelings...  which I immediately pounced on with a technique I call the "Gateway Of Desire".

The Gateway of Desire is a para-hypnotic questioning technique that takes negative feelings and turns them into deeply positive ones, by resolving the inner conflicts that created the issue in the first place.  I use the technique extensively in my workshops and with my clients, as well as on myself.

The technique begins by simply addressing a feeling or belief or unwanted behavior, and asking it:

What do you want?

In this case, I had two parts of myself that objected to having a positive self-concept, because they believed I needed to define myself in terms of the difference from other people.  The first one wanted me to "stand out" so I could "shine", so that I could experience "being".  The second wanted "attention", so I could have "comfort", so I could be at "peace".

The catch, of course, is that no matter how much attention I get or how much I stand out, neither of these parts of me would ever even reach their second-order goals (of "shining" and "comfort"), let alone their third-order goals of "being" and "peace".  The truth is, no amount of activity can ever bring you the satisfaction of something you believe you lack.

In other words, if you are trying to please people to be loved, because you don't feel lovable, then it doesn't matter how much you please them or how much positive reaction you get: it will never really reach you, on the level that you want and need it to.

I call this phenomenon a "hole in the soul", because it's almost like having a part of you where good things can come in, but then pour right out again, leaving you...

Empty and Unfulfilled!

Now, at the time I wrote my June article, "The (W)hole In Your Heart", I already knew about the Gateway of Desire technique, but it wasn't until later that I realized it was the single fastest way to repair such holes.

It works by a clever trick: in the process of ferreting out the qualities you seek (like "being" and"peace"), it forces you to have an adequate mental representation of what those qualities are like.  In order to really know what "peace" is, in other words, you have to feel it.

And if you can feel it, then clearly you have it.  Which means you don't need to do anything to get it any more!

And just like that, the hole is gone...

And the "whole" returns!

There are several more fine points to the technique, to ensure that the change remains stable and generalizes, but I won't dig into all that in this article.  Really, the whole technique discussion is a slight digression from my main points here:

  • To get past your mental blocks and limiting beliefs, ask yourself, "What would happen if I didn't have this problem?  What would I do, and how would I feel?"

  • If you feel bad or sense resistance when you do this, don't back off.  Instead, pay attention to your resistance, because it means there is something else you want, too.  You just don't believe you can have both without a conflict.

  • Find out what the other thing(s) you want are, not just on the level of action, but on the level of deep feeling.  What do you want?  What are you afraid of?  Can you have the qualities of being that you want, without doing the things you think you have to?

Oh, and of course, there's the rest of the story I was telling, about how I got my "self-concept" to actually include a "self"!

But there's really not much more to that story, except the aftermath.  Once I took 20 minutes or so to resolve my internal conflicts via the Gateway, I was able to easily begin adding positive qualities to my self-concept database, as described in Transforming Your Self.

And a few minutes after that, I began enjoying all the positive ways I could now describe myself, like "a successful entrepreneur", "published author", "speaker and personal development consultant", "healthy and active", and so on.  Although these things have been factually true of me for some time, they never felt real to me before, never felt like they...

Were really "me"!

And as I walked around the house, occasionally noticing things that needed picking up or putting away, I experienced the joy of feeling "neat" and "organized" -- instead of feeling frustrated at my lack of neatness or organization.

And as I prepared to write this article, first making a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish today, estimating how long they'd take, and choosing an order to tackle them in, I got to feel good about being "disciplined" and "motivated".

So if you have qualities you want to develop, qualities you sometimes express but still don't feel like you "really are" that way, I suggest you check out Transforming Your Self.  Just make sure you read the chapter on the "Not Self" as well as the chapters about working with positive qualities!

And on the more mundane level, any time that you find yourself being or doing something that you don't want to be, I suggest looking for the corresponding "hole in your soul".  Because you can never get enough from the outside, of something that's missing on the inside.

--PJE

P.S.  Full and Associate Members of The Owners' Circle get to participate in my monthly workshops and coaching groups, where I help them eliminate the holes in their souls, and learn the Gateway process for themselves.  Check it out today!