“Have you seen Joe lately? It’s like he’s a different person.”
What do we mean when we say that? And if you wanted to become a different person – where would you start?
Well, what’s probably happened to Joe is one (or more) of three things.
- He’s let go of something that’s been holding him back.
- He’s rediscovered, and reclaimed, a part of himself that he was denying.
- He’s strengthened an existing part of himself that was under-emphasized before.
Let’s look at each of those in turn. How could you or I do that?
Joe may have let go of a bad relationship that was dragging him down. He may have let go of part of his self-image that was keeping him from fulfilling his potential. He may have let go of a powerful emotional memory that was distorting his life, or he may have let go of a pattern of behavior that was harmful.
Here’s my three-step approach to letting go.
- Connect. One of the ways in which negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors retain power over us is that we keep them from coming fully into our consciousness, where we can deal with them with all our resources. Sit down and look at the issue head-on – but from the outside, so that the emotions don’t wash you downstream. Observe the sensations in your body and the thoughts in your mind that come along with the issue.
- Allow. By this I mean, let the thoughts and feelings be there; don’t try to push them down or away. You’ve been doing that for years. If it was going to work, it would have worked already. Just let them be themselves and acknowledge them.
- Release. When you’re ready to do so, just allow the issue to go. I sometimes feel a distinct physical sensation, as if I’ve been holding my breath and I’ve finally let it out, when I do this step. If release doesn’t happen by itself, don’t force it; go back to connecting and allowing.
Connect, Allow, Release gives us the acronym CAR. I often use an image of standing beside a busy road watching the cars (the thoughts and feelings) to demonstrate this process. The cars come and go. You’re not in them, you don’t grab onto them or push them away. You just watch them as they come and go.
If you’ve spent much time around Jungians you’ll know about the Shadow. The Shadow is a part of ourselves that we deny, because it holds things that we’re afraid of or disgusted by. But it also holds a lot of our personal power. Every aspect of ourselves can be positive or negative, and often the most powerful parts have the greatest potential to both harm and help.
Here’s a three-step approach to regaining access to those strengths. You need to be ready for this – it’s not something to undertake lightly or in an idle moment, and it may be a process that extends over a long period.
- Connect. Yes, just the same as for letting go. You’ve been stuffing power into your Shadow for years because you haven’t paid direct attention to it. Sometimes it takes a powerful dream, or a significant loss or failure in life, to bring us face-to-face with our Shadow so that we can at last connect to it.
- Allow. Again, just as for letting go, you look at the Shadow objectively, acknowledge that it’s there, that it’s a part of you, without judging, resisting or rejecting it (or justifying or excusing it). Just hold it in consideration. This is a skill that takes some time to develop.
- Befriend. Rather than letting the Shadow go (because it’s an important part of it), look for ways to bring it into your life in a positive role. For example, you may never have allowed yourself to be angry because in your family, expressing anger was deeply unacceptable (or perhaps because a parent expressed it in a way that you swore you’d never imitate). Your anger is still there, though. How can it be a force of protection, not only for you but also for others who are in need? How can it be a dynamo driving positive change in yourself and your area of influence?
Connect, Allow, Befriend gives us the acronym CAB. This time, instead of just watching the traffic, you’re calling a part of it to you and getting it to take you where you want to go.
I’m training at the moment to increase my physical strength, and it has all kinds of benefits in clarity of mind and confidence. Developing your strengths of mind and personality works the same way.
Here’s a three-step process to develop your strengths. (No clever acronym this time.)
- Identify a strength that you want to develop. Write down everything that draws you, everything that you enjoy doing. Pick something that will take you where you want to go.
- Exercise. Look for ways to start where you are and exercise that strength as best you currently can. Train that strength.
- Build up. One of the things that’s amazed me about strength training is how feasible it is to increase your strength many-fold, just by being persistent and building up slowly. Always be challenging yourself to further improvement.
You can become a different person in any one of these three ways – by letting go of the past, allowing your hidden and denied parts to become present, or developing your strengths for a better future.
Which one will you choose first?
Mike Reeves-McMillan writes the personal development blog Living Skillfully: Change Your Life, where he’s running a series on how we avoid change. Last year he created the online course Stop Procrastinating, Start Succeeding.
Photo Credit: Ellen Kooi