Gaining Independence From Our Past Selves
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Maybe it was Independence Day, our annual celebratation of freedom from an oppressive British crown more than 200 years ago, that got me thinking about "liberty,'' but in the weeks since the Fourth of July my thoughts have turned to a more personal kind of breaking free.
Do I allow myself the most important type of liberty that exists? Am I unable to break free from my former self?
We all want to make changes. To get better. To improve the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us. But this requires us to make serious effort and become better versions of ourselves. We can't keep living the same old stories we tell ourselves day after day -- the ones we've been telling for years and years.
Acknowledge that change is hard.
In fact, it's really hard. It demands we escape from the shadow of our former selves. It means we must say, “I am a new person today, and who I was yesterday no longer matters. I’m only as good as what I do and how I live in the present moment.” And while this sounds simple, it’s a difficult thing to do.
I’d be willing to bet that most of us believe in the concept that today is more or less a blank slate. If that’s truly the case, why do we bring the self-imposed limitations of yesterday into today? Why do we do all the same things that keep us in the same place rather than the things we know will take us to the next level? We hold on to the ways people have viewed us in the past. Why is it so challenging to believe we can become something different than what we think we are or what we've been until now?
For starters, we must have a burning desire to change. If we don’t want to change -- or think we do but don't understand the "why" behind it and the "what" that will result -- we won't act to make it happen.
Envision how you'll benefit from new behaviors.
Try this: Envision exactly what your life will become if you’re able to successfully make the changes you’re considering. List all the ways your life will be better one, five and 10 years down the road. If the list is inspiring enough and the "why" is strong enough, you’ll have the ammunition you need to begin down the arduous path of making that difficult change.
Once you’ve convinced yourself you really want to change, you need to give yourself permission to make it happen. You must tell yourself a different story, because that's all life is: one big story. The story you believe will determine whether or not you can achieve the progress you so greatly desire.
Let’s apply these steps to a specific change: Imagine you want to wake up earlier because you know that new habit will have a profound impact on your ability to accomplish some very meaningful goals. You might try haphazardly at first and fail a few times. You tell yourself you're just not a morning person. But that’s not entirely true. You just haven’t done it yet. Waking early wasn’t part of the previous story you lived, but it absolutely can be a part of the story you tell yourself today. Start by envisioning yourself as a morning person, really enjoying those early hours of productivity and the focus on self improvement it gives you. Now you're looking for ways to make it happen instead of excuse why you can't adapt.
Why? Because you can't live out of alignment with your story and sustain that dissonance for very long. It's a universal law -- one of the principles of consistency -- and it can work against us or we can make it work for us.
Apply this technique to other areas of your life.
Want to make a change? Start telling yourself a story you want to live:
- You’re not a bad writer. You just haven’t had enough practice to become the writer you’ll eventually be.
- You’re not an egotistical jerk. You simply haven’t told yourself there's another story that would serve you better. Maybe you're actually a person filled with compassion and love who receives the greatest benefit from serving others.
It's essential to separate moments and experiences from your identity as a person. For example, you've undoubtedly experienced anger in the past and will feel that emotion again some day. It doesn't mean you're an angry person. You are free to choose how you will deal with that anger, and your behavior largely will be based on the story you tell yourself. If you believe you're an angry person, you will continue to react poorly in these situations. Start telling yourself you’re someone who can identify when that emotion builds and respond to it effectively. If you slip and fail to live out your story, recognize it as a learning moment. Don't resort to defining yourself as someone who is naturally unhappy.
What story are you telling yourself? If you flipped it on its head, how could you lead a more fulfilling life? Start telling yourself the story that serves you best. Then align your actions with that particular story. You’ll find yourself in harmony with the person you want to be but haven’t allowed yourself to become -- yet.