What is Really Controlling Your Life and How to Control It Instead
Years ago I was on a plane heading to a three-day conference. No one I knew would be in attendance. I decided that I was going to be different there. I was going to be someone else: the outgoing, magnetic, fun-loving person I really wanted to be. No one would expect different of me because they didn’t know me. This was going to be my chance to shine. I was going to be an extroverted queen of the universe! And do you know what happened?
Nothing happened. As soon as I was approached by someone I responded in exactly the same shy, guarded and honestly disappointing way that I always did. No matter what I told myself I was going to do, I did what I had always done before. Why was I unable to act differently? It turns out that the expectations of others was not what was controlling my behavior. It was something much, much closer to me.
Have you ever wondered where our personality comes from? Or why some people achieve and others fail, even if they came from the exact same environment? Or even why and how people fundamentally transform their personality? You may have seen such a shift (for better or worse) in someone who lost a significant amount of weight, started spending time with a new group of friends or went through a traumatic experience.
The answer to those questions is deep and takes serious study to fully understand. However, one piece of that puzzle that is substantially larger than the rest is our self-image: the image we hold of ourselves deep within our subconscious minds. We all have one even though most of the time we unaware of it. But this image, invisible to the world and obscured from our own vision, is literally controlling our lives.
Dr. Maxwell Maltz, plastic surgeon and author of the ground breaking book Psycho-Cybernetics, sums up this idea in this quote: “Self-image sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment.”
If your self-image says you are successful, you will act in ways that bring you success either intentionally or simply because your awareness is such that you notice things that others overlook. If it says you only make enough money to just scrape by, guess what? That is exactly how your finances will play out. Subconsciously you will find ways to sabotage yourself by either what you do or what you fail to do. Do you constantly find yourself being taken advantage of, abused or otherwise mistreated? Perhaps your self-image is one of a victim, and your mind deliberately misses clues that someone or some situation is to be avoided so that the image of victimhood can be satisfied once again.
All of this happens without our conscious awareness unless we intentionally begin to notice our behaviors and move to make deliberate change. Even then, it can be tricky because our subconscious minds act insidiously, automatically and without regard for our conscious likes or dislikes. It constantly brings us back into alignment with that deeply held self-image. If we want to change the behaviors that are sabotaging our efforts to be happier, healthier or more prosperous, we need to first change our self-image. If we do not, any changes we see will be temporary.
So how do we change something we cannot see, hear or touch and that we barely know even exists?
I’ll be honest, it is not easy and is seldom an overnight process to change our self-image. The good news is that it can be done. Before I get into the “tips and tricks” part of this blog, let me tell you another story.
For much of my life I suffered from nearly crippling shyness. However, the things I wanted to get out of my life would not be supported by that way of being. When I started a business with my best friend, I knew that something had to change. There was no way I could speak in front of potential customers as the person I was. So I joined a Toastmasters club and began speaking in front of people.
Don’t misunderstand – I was completely petrified. My terror followed me around all day before giving a speech. I couldn’t eat, waves of anxiety crashed over me and I would look for ways to avoid giving the speech I had committed to doing. When I began speaking, my voice shook, I was short of breath and my mouth went dry. My whole body trembled. I hid behind the lectern and prayed that I wouldn’t make a total ass of myself.
I later gave the student speech at my college graduation in front of hundreds of people, frustrated at the short time limit I was given because I wanted to speak for longer.
Trust me, this was not an issue of getting better with practice, although that certainly took place. I had literally changed a part of my self-image from “I’m a mute turtle” to “I am fully capable of delivering a high quality speech or presentation.” A number of things came into play for this transformation to happen that you can put to work in your own life.
1.Want to change. Ask any smoker who tried to quit because they knew they should how successful they were. Chances are not very. You have to want to make the change deep inside. For me, I had seen the life results I’d gotten so far and I was not satisfied. I wanted more, and I wanted it enough to do something about it.
2.Hold a specific picture. Self-image will change over time due to more and more experiences. It will change without your conscious direction, for better or for worse. When you are deliberately making a change, being specific is important. If you can hold a mental image of the specific attribute(s) you are trying to change and hold on to the feeling that the change has already taken place, it will eventually become so. It has to, because your subconscious mind works in pictures and cannot tell the emotional difference between a real experience and an imagined experience.
I like to imagine looking at myself in the mirror, seeing myself confident, happy and successful. (Actually doing this is also highly recommended!) You might try adding features such as holding an award if you are trying to win a competition. If you can see it in your mind, you can hold it in your hand. Once this image becomes integrated into your self-image, your subconscious mind will begin directing your activities in ways to bring you closer and closer being that image.
3.Have a reason. For me, it was a burning desire to not just improve my own life, but also that I did not want to let my best friend down because I was insecure and afraid. People often talk about having a “why” and that’s because if you don’t have a compelling reason to change, you won’t progress any further than the minimum it takes to be out of mental or emotional pain. Your why is what pushes you. Interestingly, even after the business ended I continued to attend Toastmasters because my why had progressed right along with me.
4.Change who you are spending time with. When I began going to Toastmasters, suddenly I was presented with a large group of people who were all trying to do the same thing I was – to improve a specific skill – so there was the power of group mind at play. It’s also an incredibly supportive environment. Everyone at my meetings wanted me to succeed. When you are trying to change what you believe about yourself and what you believe you are capable of doing, a strong support team is essential. People who drag you down and discourage you are not the ones you need in your life. Choose wisely.
5.Do things that support your new self-image, even if they are painful. I had to give a lot of speeches before I had changed enough inside to believe I was capable of giving that speech to a large audience. They hurt. I felt embarrassed. I made a lot of mistakes. But with each completed speech or presentation, whether it was at a club meeting, at work or at school my self-image changed a little bit. I had done it. I didn’t just talk about it, I took actions as though I believed I was capable of public speaking. Your subconscious mind notices these things and adjusts its beliefs and expectations accordingly.
6.Believe it. Easier said than done, right? Beliefs are created in a number of ways. In this example I changed my belief and self-image by straight up forcing it through hard work, but my favorite way to help supplement belief change is reading a listening to affirmations. You can read yours aloud or record and listen to them with an app like ThinkUp. I wish I had done this earlier – it would have helped my transition happen faster. I use them now, though, and can feel and see the difference in subtle ways, just as it should be. Your affirmations should be stated in the present and ideally start with “I am.” If I were to write an affirmation for my old self, it would be something like, “I am confident and capable as I communicate my message to large numbers of people.”
I recently watched a couple of YouTube videos on changing your self-image that I found really useful. I’m loving the worksheet method Leeor Alexandra and Aaron Doughty discuss and am implementing it for some changes I am looking for make for the new year. This one from Your Youniverse also discusses a good method for your visualization that I’ve found useful as I often find it challenging to visualize in a first person perspective.
If you are working toward transforming your life and struggling to do so, your self-image may be the culprit. In addition to the work and study you do on your own, I highly recommend hiring a coach. The outside perspective I get from mine has been truly instrumental in keeping my life on track, focused and moving in the right direction. You can find her website here.
Blessings to you as we move forward into 2019. May your year ahead be an ocean of abundance, and may you be the captain of that ship!